In a quest to maintain their position as a leader in the video card market, ATi is constantly looking to improve the end-user's overall experience. This applies to their latest hardware releases, as well as new and improved software developments. As we've recently seen, ATi has begun to seriously address some issues that have plagued them in the past. Lately, we've seen a marked increase in their efforts to improve driver performance and reliability. It seems like this year alone they have released updated drivers at an ever increasing pace, rapidly addressing any issues that arise with their products. But to really be a dominant player in an extremely competitive market, ATi knew they had to come out with something the "other guy" doesn't offer. The end result of their efforts is the new Catalyst Software Package. What is a Catalyst? Well, let's take a look and see.
So What is "Catalyst?"
Improving The Overall Experience...
According to Merriam-Webster's Dictionary, by definition, a catalyst is "an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action". ATi's new software package hopes to do just that. With their new software, ATi is aiming to improve a user's all-around experience by offering additional functionality that was previously unavailable. The Catalyst software is ATi's latest attempt to bolster the abilities of all Radeon based video cards, bringing new driver enhancements and updated product software. The ATi Catalyst software contains four key components that help ATi achieve this goal: the latest drivers, improved versions of HydraVision and Multimedia Center, and expanded functionality of the ATi Remote Wonder.
Below we've highlighted some of the key features the Catalyst software has to offer.
SMARTGART - ATI's proprietary diagnostic tool to determine the most stable AGP setting (for problematic systems), making the most stable drivers in the industry even more stable.
New Direct3D and OpenGL control panels for all RADEON class products
Give users more control over a variety of performance and image quality settings
HYDRAVISION version 3.1 - Offers a variety of new features, including a new installation wizard to help users get their multi-monitor setup working as quickly as possible.
Component output for RADEON 8500/ ALL-IN-WONDER RADEON 8500DV to drive HDTV
MULTIMEDIA CENTER (MMC) 7.7 - Offers new skin option "Tranquility", DVD Chapter Preview feature, and support for SVCD compliant capture.
REMOTE WONDER 1.2.-- Provides users with a Pre-Defined plug in for WINAMP and MICROSOFT@ POWERPOINT (plus many more to come in the future!)
SmartGart is a diagnostic tool that aims to take the headache out of troublesome configurations. We've all been through it at some time or another. You just installed a new piece of hardware, like a Radeon 8500 All-In-Wonder for example, and the system becomes unstable, experiencing random lockups or the dreaded Blue Screen of Death. This can be caused by a wide variety of conditions, from incorrect driver installation, BIOS configuration or, ATi suggests, inconsistencies in the system bus. What ATi has done to combat these issues is incorporate the SmartGart Diagnostic tool into the driver installation process. The SmartGart Diagnostic tool has been coded to analyze the system bus anytime there is a change made to the drivers. Once the optimal AGP setting has been determined, SmartGart configures the system automatically. This is all done behind the scenes, helping to insure that the system performance is both optimal and stable. Not only will this aid the user by intercepting and correcting problems before they even know they have any, if it does it's job well, ATi should save a few dollars in the Technical Support arena.
Multimedia Center Version 7.7:
ATi's trademark Multimedia Center Software, which accompanies all of their All-In-Wonder products, has a fresh new look. For starters, MMC 7.7 now offers a new skin called "tranquility." If there is one thing that I think all of us using ATi cards would like is a little more variety in the software's appearance. Let's face it, this is the day and age of "skinning software" and people love to play with the way their software looks. Previously, the skin could be toggled between two choices, Classic and Modern, and these changes would affect then entire Multimedia Center Package. In this instance, however, the Tranquility skin strictly applies to the TV, DVD Player and Stills Gallery, leaving the remaining components unchanged.
Fortunately, a new look is not the only change that the Multimedia Center has undergone. ATi has added the much needed ability for direct SVCD capture compatibility. Adjustments have also been made to improve the MPEG-2 encode quality and, from what we've seen, the quality is quite good. To top it all off, the updated software has not only improved the Audio capture quality, increasing it to 48kHz., they've implemented changes that improve the stability of the Multimedia Center Software.
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Additionally, the ATi DVD player has been tweaked a bit, adding a more functional Chapter Preview feature and Subtitle Support. With the Chapter Preview feature, if you are watching a DVD and wish to bookmark a section in the movie, the software can preview the first 10 seconds of a chapter to help you remember where you were in the movie.
Remote Wonder 1.2, HydraVision 3.1 and The Drivers