Fortunately, the Personal Cinema has matured a lot over the last two years. With all-new hardware, a ForceWare Multimedia software suite developed in-house by NVIDIA, and a couple of moves copped from ATI's All-in-Wonder playbook, the Personal Cinema is back with a vengeance. Of course, ATI hasn't exactly been twiddling its thumbs for the past two years. The company continues to tweak its All-in-Wonder hardware and Multimedia Center software, adding features and extending functionality along the way.
Has the Personal Cinema matured from a scrappy rookie with more potential than execution into a multimedia contender with enough polish to unseat the ever-evolving All-in-Wonder? We've snagged an All-in-Wonder 9600 XT and Personal Cinema FX 5700 to find out. Join me as I explore the performance, features, and quirks of these multimedia graphics solutions from ATI and NVIDIA.
At a glance
Before I dive into the specifics of the All-in-Wonder and Personal Cinema, let's take a moment to quickly compare a few key differences between the cards.
|All-in-Wonder 9600 XT||Personal Cinema FX 5700|
|GPU||ATI RV360||NVIDIA NV36|
|Peak pixel fill rate||2100Mpixels/sec||1700Mpixels/s|
|Texture units/pixel pipeline||1||1|
|Textures per clock||4||4|
|Peak texel fill rate||2100Mtexels/sec||1700Mtexels/s|
|Memory type||BGA DDR SDRAM||TSOP DDR SDRAM|
|Memory bus width||128-bit||128-bit|
|Peak memory bandwidth||10.4GB/sec||8.8 GB/sec|
|Output ports||VGA (2), S-Video, composite||DVI, S-Video, composite, component|
|Input ports||S-Video, composite coaxial (TV)||S-Video, composite, coaxial (TV)|
|TV/Radio Tuner||Philips (analog)||Philips (digital)|
|Capture chip||ATI Rage Theater 200||Philips SAA7173HL|
|Remote||ATI Remote Wonder II||NVIDIA NVRemote|
Although both the AIW 9600 XT and Personal Cinema FX 5700 feature DirectX 9-class GPUs, the All-in-Wonder has a distinct fill rate and memory bandwidth advantage that should give it the upper hand in 3D performance tests. It might seem unfair to pit a 9600 XT against the less endowed and usually less expensive FX 5700, but the AIW 9600 XT is actually cheaper than the Personal Cinema FX 5700. Go figure.
What the Personal Cinema FX 5700 lacks in pixel pushing horsepower it makes up for in output variety. Sort of. The eVGA Personal Cinema FX 5700 we tested comes with not only a DVI output for digital flat panels, but also a component HDTV output for home theater buffs. The All-in-Wonder 9600 XT is also capable of HDTV output, but only through a $30 adapter. The AIW 9600 XT gets a couple of bonus points for dual monitor support, but that comes at the expense of a DVI output option.
Moving to TV tuners, I can't help but be struck by irony. Both ATI and NVIDIA use Philips tuners, but the All-in-Wonder's tuner is analog while the Personal Cinema's is a digital affair. Two years ago, it was ATI's Radeon 8500DV with the digital tuner while the Personal Cinema's tuner was analog. In theory, a tuner with digital circuitry should offer cleaner signals and superior image quality. However, given the relatively poor quality of your average cable TV signal, the Personal Cinema's digital tuner may not offer any tangible image quality benefits.
Finally, we have remotes. The AIW 9600 XT comes with ATI's second-generation Remote Wonder II, a product so compelling that ATI still charges $50 for the original Remote Wonder. NVIDIA has a fancy remote, too. However, the NVRemote is going to look very familiar to those familiar with older All-in-Wonder products.