ATI Radeon DDR 32 MB Video Card

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  • JonMarsh
    Mad Max Moderator
    • Aug 2000
    • 15213

    ATI Radeon DDR 32 MB Video Card

    Not obviously an audio or video device for home theater, this video card, nonetheless, is rapidly becoming a favorite for HTPC (Home Theater Personal Computers) due to it's remarkable image quality for DVD.

    There are numerous configurations of the Radeon Video card, including a 64MB DDR version, an "All in Wonder" version with conventional Video inputs and outputs, and software to support disk recording and playback of video. I've only checked out the 32MB DDR version; there are also dual display lower cost versions, the VE.

    Check out this site for product information on the available lineup:



    ATI has a checked reputation in the industry for driver quality, frequency of driver updates, and other issues affecting the consumer experience. These are all factors which affect the overall "ownership experience". My interest in this video card stems primarily in the video quality for DVD, and also 2D resolutions and quality.

    Gaming performance of this video card and it's brethern are covered extensively on the internet gaming sites, so lengthy comment is not merited here. The Radeon architecture is designed to excel at 32Bit color and higher resolutions; it's technology to reduce the required memory bandwidth comes into it's own, resulting in good performance compared with NVidia Geforce 2 solutions at resolutions of XGA and higher at 32bit color.

    Relevant features to DVD playback:

    Process full-frame rate, full-screen DVD or MPEG-2 video

    Hardware DVD saves the expense of buying a separate MPEG-2/DVD decoder card

    Output DAC is 360 MHz, 10Bit DAC

    Integrated iDCT and motion compensation allows for DVD decoding with minimum CPU usage

    HDTV ready- designed to support HDTV decoding at all 18 ATSC resolution formats


    Features which appear to be noteworth contributing to enhanced DVD playback are hardware IDCT (Inverse Discrete Cosine Transformation) support (this is a calculation intensive process in MPEG decoding), hardware motion compensation, and higher bit intermediate stage processing of video overlay information, with 10 bit output DAC's, instead of the more usual 8BIT DAC's in almost all other consumer video cards.

    The video card evaluation was done in an HTPC built using an ABIT KT7 ("Spawn of Hell") RAID motherboard, built for my living room system. Memory is 128MB PC133; processor is 950 MHz Athlon.

    Drivers:
    Here's where things get a little sticky. I never used the CD that came with the video board. ATI has not "officially" updated their driver since the release of the first Radeon. The only updates available are "beta" drivers, not supported by ATI tech support. The first drivers installed were Beta 7012 drivers, downloaded from ATI's web site. These produced good results for DVD playback, with video overlay performance that was essentially spot on, and a vivid, 3D like image with no apparent edge enhancment, but very good fine detail. Software DVD player used was WINDVD 2.64, because I didn't load the ATI player, which is based on the Ravisent Cinemaster player, and has some issues with color decoding and video quality, in my opinion. The ATI player is modified and improved, but uses it's own DirectShow filters which don't co-exist with other players, so I elected to keep the WINDVD I know rather well.
    Attempts with available builds of PowerStrip to enable 1280X720P resolution failed; it merely made the system run at 1280X1024, with video garbage in the area below 720 lines.

    This week I downloaded both the 7089 drivers, and a new build of PowerStrip Beta 3.0, build 121. This newest build adds resolution control support for the Radeon.

    Note that in addition to a variety of computer mode resolutions, PowerStrip also supports custom resolutions and timing that mimic ATSC HDTV standards. So, a 1280X720 resolution is available
    which follows HDTV standards, and would be the optimum choice for an HDTV display that accepts that type of input. HDTV uses different sync widths and front and back porches; some HDTV displays are fussy about not accepting signals that don't conform closely with those requirements. With this combination, I was able to set a 720P HDTV mode on the Radeon, and confirm the correct timing on the scope. Peak output levels were over 700 mV for IRE100 (max white), so the Radeon should have no trouble driving standard front projectors, as well as conventional computer monitors and HDTV displays.

    Besides having very low CPU utilization, combined with WINDVD this card has the most dimensional, vivid and detailed image I have seen with any of my home systems. Video card for comparison previously in this system, and in my other HTPC system, is ELSA Gladiac Geforce 2. The ELSA card has very good drivers, built in custom resolutions, and good scaling performance. In comparison to the Radeon, even after overlay adjustment and setup with AVIA, the color looks somewhat washed out, the image doesn't have the same depth or punch, and the Geforce shows some posterization in color levels that isn't present with the Radeon. Both tested using WINDVD 2.64. The GeForce is very good on DVD playback; the Radeon is excellent.


    Product Weaknesses:
    Standard Driver CD could be tossed in the dust bin for all it's usefulness
    Standard drivers have "hidden" resolutions that can only be enabled with registry hacks
    Video overlay controls not exposed on standard
    video properties control panels
    Fan noise may be minor issue in the quietest PC's
    16 Bit color 3D speed just average
    Certified driver updates infrequent

    Product Strengths:
    Exceptionally good video playback quality for DVD
    Well above average 2D video quality- tied with Matrox
    Easy driver update install- doesn't require special utilities like Matrox
    Low system requirements for good DVD playback
    3D gaming performance quite acceptable in quality, speed


    Associated Equipment for this Review:

    PC: ABIT KT7 RAID MB, 128 MB RAM
    Amplifier: Sony TAN9000ES, Aragon Palladium
    Preamplifier: Marchand PR41 Passive Pream
    Speakers: DIY X-1 SLAMM clones
    Cables: custom DIY
    Displays: NEC Multisync LCD1810
    NEC XM 29 Plus
    (Borrowed) Sony VPL-10HT
    Videos Used: Lost in Space, Fifth Element, Shakespeare in Love, Leon: The Professional, The Matrix, Pitch Black, Almost Famous, North by NorthWest, X-Men, X-Files Enhanced Widescreen version.




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  • Lexman
    Super Senior Member
    • Jun 2000
    • 1777

    #2
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    • Lex
      Moderator Emeritus
      • Apr 2001
      • 27461

      #3
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      Doug
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