ATI’s newest version of its All-in-Wonder card, the 2006, lets you capture TV programs and burn them to a DVD that can be played in your own computer or a regular DVD player or formatted for the new Sony Portable PlayStation.
But just like the late-night TV commercials … that’s not all you can do. This is the market leader for high-resolution gameplay on the PC. But it’s called All-In-Wonder because you can also watch TV shows, tune in radio programs, edit movies from your camcorder, and use time delay to record shows like a TiVo, being able to go back and review a scene even while the action continues. If you’re good at splitting your attention, this 2006 version can handle two monitors and send different display to each.
As the power and features have increased in this card, the price has come down. The All-in-Wonder 2006 has a list price of $200, about half what earlier versions sold for. You can store just as many movies as on a TiVo if you have 40 gigabytes or more of available hard disk space. The Gem Star service, which is used to program the recording of shows from any channel, any time, comes free with this card.
This is certainly the best deal ATI has ever come out with. Game play is extremely sharp, with up to 17 million colors and 2048×1536 resolution. If you are willing to use 1280×1024 resolution — high enough for even the most discriminating players — you get a screen refresh rate high enough for movie quality. Speaking of movies: the “Muvee” software that comes with the All-in-Wonder, for editing your own videos, is our favorite because of its ease of use.
You need 256MB of RAM and a processor faster than 1 gigahertz to use this card, but you get at least this much in reasonably new computers. All connectors are color coded for easy setup, and there are input blocks that can be put in front of the computer, so you don’t have to fumble around to find the right sockets in the back. Basically, this is all good stuff. You can find more specs and details from the Web site: www.ati.com.
The Google Sidebar: You download it from www.desktop.google.com. What you get is Google Desktop, an organizer that adds a search feature to the Windows desktop. You can search your own computer’s files and folders, and then search the Web in the same window.
You also get a sidebar that sits on the right of your screen and lets you click on sections for the latest news, weather and stock quotes, create a slide show, take notes, call up recent files or Web sites you’ve looked at, etc. Google Desktop is still in beta testing, but everything on Google always seems to be in beta testing.
You can edit the sidebar sections. For instance, if you click on News and the section opens up with sports results you don’t want, you can click on a menu choice that says, “Don’t show me items like this.” You can block out brutal killings, political speeches, etc.
Picasa 2: This is a free photo editing tool, just revised. Go to google.com and click “more.” You will find Picasa 2 under Google Tools. Download it.
What do you get? You can search your hard drive for all your photos, and then you can create slide shows, e-mail a picture, easily find and eliminate duplicates, and best of all, you can label similar photos and they will be put into an easily identifiable category. If you right-click any photo, you can label it and also find out where it is on the drive. You can label pictures individually or as a group, then export that group to its own folder.
You can also edit pictures with Picasa. The standard tools are here: remove red eye, “flash fill” to lighten dark pictures, increase contrast, color saturation, etc. Few people would need more tools than you get here. If you do, there are many other photo editing programs, but you’ll have to pay for them.
Blingo.com: A search engine powered by Google, but offering something else. Every time you use Blingo to search the Web, you have a chance to win prizes, some big, most small: movie tickets, iTune gift certificates, a year of Netflix movies, a Sony PlayStation, etc.
Whether you win anything or not, the search results are the same as Google. You can choose to invite friends to use Blingo by giving out their e-mail addresses (we hope they’re good friends). They have to accept by e-mail, then if they win a prize, you win the same prize.