You can get a high-quality video card for well under a ton, but ATI Technologies is hanging a far bigger price tag on its latest All-in-Wonder Radeon 8500DV video card — around £300.
It throws in much more functionality for the money, though. As a high-performance graphics card, the 8500DV is equipped with what ATI calls its newest state-of-the-art video chip, the Radeon 8500 (pictured).
But the 8500DV goes beyond standard graphics, offering a selection of video inputs, including TV reception and recording. It supports a range of outputs, too, notably FireWire (IEEE 1394). An included wireless remote control can manage video devices and double as a mouse.
The card performs hardware DVD decoding, resulting in a better DVD image than software decoding can produce, because the processor on the video card frees up the PC's CPU for other tasks. The DVD player employs enhanced processing to reduce artefacts that sometimes occur in scenes involving substantial motion.
Also integrated into the card is a stereo TV tuner. The tuner uses a standard coaxial connector on the back of the card, though ATI recommends using an amplified antenna or cable source. The technology builds on ATI's entry-level TV Wonder USB tuner.
In addition to receiving a TV signal, the 8500DV supports real-time Mpeg-2 encoding, so you can capture video on your PC's hard drive. Bundled ATI Multimedia Center version 7.5 software enables you to use the card as a VCR, with controls for recording manually and scheduling recordings.
Functions similar to those of TiVo and other digital video recorders let you pause a programme and return to it later, while the PC continues to record. But unlike TiVo, the 8500DV permits you to move that video on to other media, because the video is saved on a standard hard drive. You can copy it on to other optical media or even back it up on to tape.
An included wireless remote control uses radio frequency signals to control such devices as the TV tuner, the DVD player and a web browser.
Does a £300 video card make sense in a world where you can get a pretty darn good card for a quarter of the price? The answer is likely yes for users who want to record video directly to hard disks (and save the recording). It may also appeal to people who want TiVo-like recording capabilities without paying a monthly fee (and who have an immense hard drive).