The HDTV Wonder - Close-up
To test the ATi HDTV Wonder, we were provided a complete Biostar Mini-PC which included an Intel Pentium 4 running at 2.8GHz, 512MB DDR memory, a Radeon 9600XT and the HDTV Wonder. To top it off, a Remote Wonder and Antenna were also provided, which will both be included in the retail package. The final decision on which antenna will be included with the HDTV Wonder has not been made, therefore, images were not included at ATI's request. Below is an image of the Mini-PC received for review.
While this configuration wasn't entirely necessary, ATI was able to let us get right down to business with the system completely configured to run out of the box. The only thing we had to do was scan for local channels and we were on our way. If this SFF PC floats your boat as much as it did mine, you may want to check out the unit Marco reviewed here. But first, let us begin to unravel the mystery that is the HDTV Wonder.
When we look at the HDTV Wonder, it doesn't look all that unfamiliar. The layout is quite similar to many other TV cards, except for the HDTV input. Customarily, ATI uses a Philips tuner as the television signal's entry point to the system. The top-most cable connector receives the digital signal and the second is a standard CATV connection. An A/V input is also included which works in conjunction with an external A/V block that accepts inputs from other devices such as VCRs, DVD Players or Camcorders.
At the core of the HDTV card is the NXT2004 Digital Modulator Chip. This is the key component that drives the digital capabilities of the HDTV Wonder. Digital signal is transmitted in a 8VSB signal over common airwaves which is then translated by the NXT2004 to MPEG-2 format for the computer to decode. A digital demodulator is also integrated to interpret what signals are available in any given area. Along with managing the digital processing, the NXT2004 works to provide clean analog signal as well, ensuring the best possible signal is achieved with both cases.
As we mentioned earlier, the majority of the country is now transmitting HDTV freely over public airwaves. What may surprise some is just how much there is. You can visit the FCC Website which maintains a list of available stations throughout the country. Currently there are over 640 stations and the list is continually growing. Below is a coverage map that shows approximately what is available and where.
The new HDTV Wonder is no doubt an impressive looking product with a great feature line-up, but it is only part of the overall experience. Adding the Remote Wonder and an HDTV antenna to the package makes for a solid offering, but its the Multimedia Center 9 that makes all of the features come together. Next we'll take a look at the latest improvements and features of ATI's latest Multimedia Center revision.