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November 1996 Reviews TOC

11/96 Reviews HW: ATI 3D Xpression

Xpress Yourself in 3-D

By Marc Spiwak

If you want to get real, 3-D acceleration provides authentic-looking perspectives and textures, straighter lines and more fluid motion. ATI's 3D Xpression is one of the latest of the new crop of 3-D accelerator cards. It's powered by the company's 64-bit 3D Rage chip, the current generation of the mach64 accelerator-chip series. The 64-bit chip provides 3-D software support for Microsoft Direct3D, Microsoft Reality Lab, Intel 3DR, Criterion Renderware, OpenGL and ATI CIF under Windows 95. The card is bundled with a trio of 3-D games specifically designed for the 3D Rage chip: MechWarrior 2, Assault Rigs and Wipeout.

Graphics in the 3-D version of MechWarrior 2 have sharper outlines and fewer jagged edges than those in the regular version. But I found the Xpression's 3-D capability less impressive than its ability to accelerate video, particularly MPEG I video. The card comes with ATI's own software MPEG player, which ran Video CD movies beautifully in a small window and very well in full screen, only dropping a frame here and there. Designed like a big-screen TV, with similar controls and buttons, ATI's MPEG player is very easy to use.

The 2MB card I tested accelerated 2-D graphics adequately, although it's not as fast as 128-bit cards I've seen. Our Word and Excel macros completed in average times of 23.6 and 15.3 seconds, respectively, at an 800x600-pixel resolution with 65,000 colors. This speed is more than adequate for most applications. I noticed slight flickering at 800x600 pixels with 16 million colors; even though the card lets you change the refresh rate, 60Hz is as high as it will go at that resolution and color depth. A refresh rate of 75Hz (or higher) is desirable.

ATI also makes a very nice TV tuner accessory for the 3D Xpression, the ATI-TV, which lets you watch television on your PC. This $129 add-on installs in a free ISA slot and connects to the 3D Xpression via a ribbon cable.

The card also offers special features not found on regular TV sets. For example, the close-captioning mode can not only display the text, but it can also record a transcription of it for you. Another potentially neat feature, but one that I couldn't get to work, lets you enter keywords that might show up in the close captioning. Then, when one of your keywords is spoken, the TV window pops into view over whatever else you were working on. This lets you catch a stock quote, a football score or a news item. The tuner also offers a digital zoom and the ability to capture video and still images. The card has a cable input as well as S-video and composite audio and video inputs. You can set the screen size from postage-stamp size all the way up to full screen. Some detail is lost in the full-screen mode, however.

Not many of the faster cards on the market can do a better job of accelerating video than this one. I'd rather have a graphics accelerator that's better suited for multimedia and video applications than one that can scroll text faster than I can see, or pop open windows a few milliseconds quicker. And video and multimedia are not just for games anymore: Educational, presentation and conferencing applications abound, and will become more important in the future. For the money, the 3D Xpression is a very nice package indeed.

--Info File--
ATI 3D Xpression
Pros: 2-D, 3-D and video acceleration
Cons: 2-D could be a bit faster
Platforms: 3x, 95, NT
ATI Technologies
905-882-2600, fax 905-882-2620
WinMag Box Score 4.5

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