The AIW 9600XT is based upon ATI's 9600XT chip, codenamed RV360. ATI released the 9600 Pro in February of last year for $199 MSRP. The 9600 Pro was the first ATI card to use .13 micron technology. Meant as a mainstream counterpart to the high-end RADEON 9800 Pro, this chip shares many of the same features as found on the entire R3xx architecture. In October of last year, ATI released the 9600XT which is a higher clocked version of the 9600 Pro.
SmartShader 2.1 is ATI's trademark for their Programmable Pixel and Vertex Shaders. Microsoft introduced support for Programmable Pixel and Vertex Shaders in their DirectX 8.0 API released in 2001. The first cards that supported this API had rudimentary pixel shaders with support for up to 12 pixel shader instructions in a pass and 128 vertex shader instructions in a single pass (NVIDIA GEFORCE 3). While many game developers designed games with support for this new standard, the effects in most games were limited to water effects, a trend that continues to this day. ATI released their first DX 8.0 compliant card, the RADEON 8500, with support for 22 pixel shader instructions in a pass and 128 vertex shader instructions in a pass. Microsoft released an DirectX 8.1 update to accommodate this new card.
Of course technology moves forward at an ever-accelerating pace. The next step in the DirectX evolution was about to be introduced with ATI readying a new architecture and Microsoft readying a new update to the API. Microsoft released the DirectX 9.0 API in December of 2002. This new version of DirectX included support for Pixel Shader 2.0 and Vertex Shader 2.0. The new API included bumps to the shader instruction limits to 96 pixel shader instructions in a single pass and 256 vertex shader instructions in a pass with the possibility of more with loops and branches.
OpenGL is the other major API that game developers and hardware makers must support. ATI was the first IHV (Independent Hardware Vendor) to implement a driver to fully support OpenGL 1.5. OpenGL 1.5 introduced support for fragment programs and vertex programs (the OpenGL equivalent of pixel and vertex shaders), the GL Shading Language and vertex array buffer objects. It's likely that OpenGL 2.0, the next iteration of this API will be fully supported by the AIW RADEON 9600XT, as many of the included extensions in 1.5 are also in the currently proposed OpenGL 2.0 specification.
SmoothVision 2.0 is ATI's trademarked codename for their image quality improving features in the R3xx architecture. ATI supports up to 6 sample multisample anti-aliasing on the AIW 9600XT and other R3xx variants. So what is anti-aliasing anyway? Aliasing occurs when a edge or a line is thinner than a pixel. When the line or edge is rendered there is a "staircase effect". Prior to the RADEON 9700 Pro, ATI used a form of Super Sampling. With Super Sampling the card takes the target resolution and doubles the horizontal and or vertical resolution then down samples the image to the target resolution. For example, a 1024x768 image with 4x SSAA would render at 2048x1536 then down sample to 1024x768. Multi Sample Anti Aliasing takes multiple samples from a single pixel, and then blends them together to get a cleaner image.
TV, Remote Wonder II and Bundle
The AIW 9600XT comes with a 125-channel cable ready television tuner. The tuner on the AIW 9600XT is based upon the same tuner as the AIW 9600 Pro that was released last year. The multimedia functions of this card are supplied by ATI's venerable Theater 200 chip, which is due for replacement soon by the Theater 250 chip.
Installing the AIW 9600XT's is extremely easy and straightforward. The included driver CD is based upon last year's 3.10 Catalyst driver set. To install the card's drivers simply insert the CD into a CDROM or DVD-ROM drive and let the drivers install automatically. If you want to install the latest drivers and Multimedia Center, download them off the net for the card and install them in the order prescribed on ATI's site. It's extremely hard to mess it up.
Television reception is dependent on a few factors. One of the annoying things about where I live is that it's near an airport. Whenever an airplane flies over the area the reception that you get from the amplified antenna I use is horrible. On the other hand, all stations are clear when the sky is clear. Local television stations include the 4 major networks (ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC), the two minor networks (UPN and WB) and a host of local stations.
The FM tuner was introduced with the AIW 9600 Pro last year. It's a full featured FM radio tuner. ATI decided to add an FM antenna to the AIW 9600XT package, which is an excellent addition considering the antenna probably didn't cost more than a couple of dollars to make. After attaching the antenna and turning on the computer, the antenna automatically detected the local FM stations in my area. One or two channels were off by .1 or .2 on the tuner, but for the most part, the FM tuner and antenna found all of the stations correctly.
The Remote Wonder is ATI's trademarked name for their remote control device to control the television and other multimedia aspects of the video card. Released late last year with the the AIW 9600 Pro, ATI included a Remote Wonder II with selected cards as a free upgrade plus shipping and handling via coupon. If you have a AIW 9600 Pro and the coupon I would suggest sending it in and getting the Remote Wonder II as its well worth the shipping fee.
Remote Wonder II has a bevy of new buttons and features not found on the Remote Wonder I. Here's a list of the buttons: Aux1, Aux2, Aux3, Aux4, A, B, Power, DVD, TV, Help, PC, ATI, left mouse button, right mouse button, volume up/down, channel up/down, mute 1-0 keys, Word key, power key, go up, go down, go right, go left, C,D, E, F, Play, Pause, Stop, Fast Forward, and Fast Rewind.
There are 6 programmable buttons (A-F) which you can set to do several functions. The functions include Simulate Keyboard Events and Launch Applications. So what keyboard events can be simulated? You can set the programmable buttons to press a shortcut key when the button is pressed. For example you can set the key A to simulate the escape key or page up. The other keyboard events that can be simulated include displays or hides the Start Menu and Shut Down Windows. So what applications can the programmable buttons launch? The programmable buttons can launch CD Audio, Video CD, File Player, Easy Share TV, DTV, or a Windows Program that you can specify.
One thing of note is the improved mouse control on this remote control. The D-Pad on Remote Wonder I was clumsy most of the time, with control being extremely iffy at best. The new control is more like a track ball found on a laptop, except bigger. I had no problems with controlling it like a mouse once I got used to it. The only issue I had with the control was that the mouse buttons (left/right) were too far from the control to use without taking my finger off the control.
The hardware part of the bundle for the AIW 9600XT is in line with the bundles of their previous AIW cards. The input/output block had 2 VGA connectors which were introduced with the AIW 9600 Pro. The other components included a S-Video cable and the aforementioned Remote Wonder II remote control. One thing I do miss from the AIW series of cards is the ability to run DVI-I+VGA as on other ATI cards. In fact I wish AIW cards had dual DVI-I with adapters for VGA connectors.
The software side of the bundle for the AIW 9600XT is similarly excellent. Pinnacle Studio 8.0 allows the user to easily add a title, transitions between video clips of a series and a ending screen. Included with the version on the AIW 9600XT are some ATI DX9 transitions such as the Bacteria screensaver and a transition featuring the ATI box. Matchware Mediator allows the user to make Flash and Shockwave presentations easily on a website. Muvee AutoProducer allows the user to add cool special effects to a movie that was captured by the ATI AIW 9600XT. Different schemes for the theme can also be used by the program.