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Computer Evolution Revolution

by Ralph F. Mariano

Many should remember the "fabulous" four color and eight color "killer" VGA and the "minimal" SVGA cards that were in use for a number of years long ago and very far away from today's technology.  My, my how we've come speeding along the Technology Highway. That was the humble beginning.

No History Lesson Please

There's no need for a history lesson we've all, well ..almost all of us... have seen them. In the last six months, the evolution of computers towards being the centralized source of entertainment and a home entertainment center has dramatically surged forward at a remarkably furious pace. While the mainstay of computers is and has been productivity, the alternate uses of computers have revealed a myriad of wonderful and equally amazing opportunities for users.

Protect the Programmers

In the areas of graphics, gaming & entertainment we now have the abilities to make studio perfect music and video. Of course, none of this would be possible without programmers. So please, don't use pirated software as this will only promote the premature demise of newer and stronger programs to make your creation of entertainment sources absolutely superb with your computer.  In the course of this article, we'll cover the software and hardware we've found to be ideal in bringing about your own Home Theater Entertainment System.

Computers for entertainment, now there's a nifty idea...

Today's machines, when equipped with the right hardware, ie., video cards, sound cards, cd burners, dvd burners, audio/video inputs and outputs, can become a complete source, control center and programming center for a home theater entertainment system.

Home theater system? Yup! That's the ticket, the name of the game. From a time when TV's were hooked up to a VCR and HiFi receiver to today's setups of Satellite receivers, cable receivers, video cassette recorders, dvd players, Big Screen TV "receivers", both today's normal TV and tomorrow's HDTV, and any other video/audio inputs one may desire from Pro Logic Surround Sound to Dolby 5.1, DTS Surround Sound etc., to powerful outputs that give better than theater/concert quality sound reproduction, you'll have it all.

The Marvel of it all

Imagine slipping a dvd disc into the player, it comes up and the picture quality on the TV is almost photo-like, unless of course you are using an HDTV then it is photo-quality. On a computer monitor like the 21" Hitachi super scan we use, its BETTER than HDTV! The Sound quality is superb... just as if you are there, right in the middle of the music or action, you'll experience a sense of total presence with a level of fidelity that literally knocks your socks off.  Not loud oppressive sound but sound that's live and vibrant. The type of sound you listen to all day long in everyday life. In other words, you are there. Life-like video and sound. Surround Sound "only" ( Did I say only?) enhances the full Home Theater Entertainment Center Experience. When watching Jurassic Park 3, you are almost able to smell the jungle and feel the mosquitoes bite!  Fabulous, simply fabulous.

The "Nuts and Bolts" ... The Bottom Line starts here

This is what computer entertainment is all about. Now, let's get down to the "nuts and bolts" of setting up such a system. In the course of this article each area will be covered and the products used will be reviewed thus affording you, the reader, an opportunity to gain the knowledge to not only "know the products" but to be able to use and setup such a system.

You must begin with an adequate computer. No, not the VGA PC we mentioned earlier, but a new or existing computer meeting the basic requirements to accomplish the tasks we plan to do. That computer should be of the latest genre, a Pentium type (Intel or AMD) 1ghz or higher with at least 256mb of ram and a hard disk of 20gb or higher. It must be capable of accepting an AGP video card, PCI Sound Card and other hardware add-ons. That means the motherboard must be of the type that you can add peripherals to.. some motherboards in use today, (mostly in cheap discount chain garbage we find out there... the disposable computer lines whose claims of performance hoodwink consumers into thinking they have a real computer.) offer little or no expandability thus trapping the user into a feeble configuration.

Our test machine is using a Jetway motherboard... about $80.00 it is equipped with an AMD 1.6ghz Processor, 512mb ram, ATI Radeon 8500DV, Audigy 5.1 Sound and 190gb of hard drives ( 3, 1-40gb, 1-50gb and 1-100 gb), a Plextor 12/10/32s CD/RW and a Panasonic LF-D325 DVD/RW . The power supply is 400w. We strenuously recommend that no less than a 300w power supply be used in any computer. Some, if not most, of the "cheapie" units come with a 250w supply and then there's the entry level, deep discounted junk like E-Machines etc., that have anywhere from 75w to 125w "limp along," screaming for mercy power supplies.

Sorry if I offended some of the package deal manufacturers or owners of such machines, but that's the truth. If you have an "E-Machine" type unit keep it as a beginner's learning tool for the kids and put together a real computer. Lose the "toys", they're ersatz computers (junk). Far too minimal and incapable of any "real" computing.

A real "Champion" in every sense of the word

We'll first look at the AGP Video card.. (make it a good one) In our test machine, we chose ATI's new All in Wonder 8500dv model AGP video card with 64mb of "onboard" video ram.  Its a powerhouse.


ATI has released an outstanding card with the 8500 All in Wonder... below are its "Vital Statistics".  STReport highly recommends this card.


With 64MB of DDR memory, unbelievable graphics, TV and video capture & editing features, the ALL-IN-WONDER® RADEON™ 8500DV is the revolutionary all-in-one 3D graphics and multimedia experience.


  • Powered by the RADEON™ 8500 GPU
  • 64MB DDR memory
  • Connect a digital camcorder to a PC
  • Digital and analog video capture & editing
  • Wireless radio-frequency remote control
  • Stereo TV-tuner
  • TV-ON-DEMAND™ Time shifting
  • Integrated Interactive Program Guide
  • DVD video playback with Dolby® AC-3 digital audio output*
  • Reliable customer service from ATI
  • Designed and manufactured by ATI

* Actual Dolby® 5.1 AC-3 decoding is done by the external AC-3 decoder which is not included


Feature comparison between the ALL-IN-WONDER® RADEON™ 8500DV and NVIDIA® Personal Cinema

Get unparalleled TV features on your PC
  • Stereo TV tuner with 125 channels
    • Pause live TV or record live broadcasts and watch them later
    • Get instant replays of favorite programs
    • Click through the transparent live TV window to access your desktop - no more moving the TV window to get to your work!
  • Use the integrated Gemstar GUIDE Plus+™ Interactive Program Guide1 to view and search TV listings by category, actor/performer, or date. Schedule and record programs at the click of a mouse - all the benefits of a Personal Video Recorder without the monthly fees
  • Amazing TV features including:
    • TV Magazine1 - images and text from TV programs allowing you to read and archive TV programs
    • Hot Words1 - real-time notification when selected words are detected in programming
    • Zoom & pan - zoom in on the action on-screen and choose your own close-ups
    • Intelligent Teletext on your PC2

1Available in North America only 2Available in Europe only

Experience home theater with DVD And digital audio on a PC
  • Industry-leading DVD playback with AC-3 Digital Audio output to enable Dolby® 5.1 surround sound
  • ATI's VIDEO IMMERSION™ II technology integrates industry-leading digital video features for unprecedented video quality

*Actual Dolby® 5.1 AC-3 decoding is done by the external AC-3 decoder which is not included.

Radio-frequency remote control
  • Control the TV, video, DVD and gaming features of the ALL-IN-WONDER® RADEON™ 8500DV from another room in the house using ATI's remote control*
  • No need to point the remote control at the receiver - connect your PC to your TV and watch DVDs, search channels, or record TV shows from your couch

*Available USB port required

Experience easy digital and analog video editing
  • Connect a DV camcorder to your PC to view and edit true digital video using the IEEE 1394 ports and cable included in the box
  • Capture still images and digital video at up to 720x480 30 frames-per-second resolution with no loss of quality
  • Powerful video editing software allows you to add effects, transitions, sounds, and more to digital video footage. Create your own personal productions.
Dual display technology
  • Connect to a TV and a monitor (VGA or DVI) simultaneously
  • Hydravision™ software enables you to display information on a TV and monitor at the same time
Awesome 3D gaming and graphics
  • Powered by the revolutionary RADEON™ 8500 GPU and 64MB DDR memory for the most advanced 3D graphics in its class
  • ATI's innovative TRUFORM™, SMARTSHADER™ and SMOOTHVISION™ technologies make 3D characters and objects more realistic
  • ATI's HYPER Z™ II technology conserves memory bandwidth for improved performance in demanding applications
  • ATI's latest 3D rendering technologies, CHARISMA ENGINE™ II and PIXEL TAPESTRY™ II, power incredible 3D processing capabilities leading to unbelievable graphics quality.

Compatibility, Compatibility, Compatibility - Play it again Sam....  Compatibility, Compatibility....

ATI has provided a set of drivers that absolutely SINGS with precision in Windows XP Professional.  Not the first hiccup.  The drivers installed smoothly and perform flawlessly. The bundled software is more than sufficient to get the job done.  From watching TV, to playing music and DVD's the software delivered quite well.  The only drawback we found was in the DVD player software.  We installed Cyberlink's PowerDVD 4 XP and found a whole new world of DVD playing joy. The features added by PowerDVD greatly enhanced the overall performance of this Home Theater Entertainment Center.  There were no problems with compatibility with PowerDVD and the ATI Radeon 8500DV CARD's software... if fact, they worked together so well you could easily think PowerDVD was part of ATI's package.  (Hint to ATI; take a good look at PowerDVD as a possible bundled product. Its great stuff!) You'll see coverage of this program later in this article.

ATI's software recognized the PCI Card Soundblaster Audigy immediately and proceeded to interface with the Audigy's functionality completely.. we'll talk about the Audigy later in the article.


Speaking of DVD'S

DVD RAM 2000 Winner Award Image

We installed a Panasonic internal DVD player/burner model # LF-D321.  A entirely new world of playing/burning/copying/creating awaited us.  Imagine making your own movies!  You can plug your video camera in the ATI card's connector and feed your pictures to your computer.  Then with Cyberlink's Video authoring software, Power Director Pro 2.0 (also to be covered later in this article) you can create your own movies on DVD.  Additionally, you can copy your video tapes to your computer and then burn them to dvd.  You can even add many visual treats, (titles, quips, graphics, etc.), to your video tapes with Cyberlink's Video Director Pro 2.0.

The DVD Burner we have, the LF-D 321, from Panasonic does it all; DVD-R, DVD RAM 4.7gb and DVD RAM 9.4gb with the DVD Ram discs you can format them like you would any other disc. In other words, once formatted you have a 4.7gb hard disk or a 9.4gb hard disk.  It works the same as a hard drive, you can erase,  add, move files at will. The DVD Ram disks will perform as if you installed another hard disk.  This internal DVD Burner/Player plays the DVD movies you either purchase or rent perfectly.  When coupled with the array of software and hardware goodies covered in this article, the Panasonic DVD Burner/Player performed flawlessly.  In fact, its overall performance was not only stunning, it was highly reliable.

The leading producer of DVD-RAM drives, Panasonic's third-generation 4.7GB single-sided and 9.4GB double-sided rewritable industry standard drives record to both DVD-RAM and General DVD-R media, and provide superior performance and reliability. Fully compliant with the DVD Forum's standards, the single-sided media is capable of storing a full two-hours of MPEG2 video. Panasonic's new drives and media offer unprecedented media interchangeability and seven times the capacity of CD-R and CD-RW...all for less than $.005/MB. Offered with both SCSI and ATAPI interfaces, the drive reads industry-standard DVD-ROM, DVD-Video, DVD-R, CD-ROM, CD-R/RW, CD-DA, Photo CD, and Video CD media. The random-access, drag-and-drop storage media provides in excess of 100,000 write/rewrite cycles and data life in excess of 30 years.

Panasonic DVD Burner Image

Model Number: LF-D321
Capacity: 4.7/9.4GB DVD-RAM (rewritable)
2.6/5.2GB DVD-RAM (rewritable)
4.7GB DVD-R General Use (write-once)
Data Transfer Rate (IF Interface): Ultra DMA Mode 2:
PIO Mode 4:          
max. 33.3MB/s
max. 16.6MB/s
Write Data Transfer Rate: 4.7GB DVD-RAM
1385KB with verifying
690KB with verifying
1385KB without verifying
Read Data Transfer Rate: DVD-RAM (4.7GB):
DVD-RAM (2.6GB):
2770KBps (2x)
1385KBps (1x)
8310KBps (6x)
3600KBps (24x)
1800KBps (12x)
Average Seek Time: DVD-RAM:
Write Compatibility: 4.7GB DVD-RAM
4.7GB DVD-R (General)
Read Compatibility: CD-DA, CD-ROM/XA, Photo CD, Video CD,
CD-Extra CD-R, CD-RW at max. 24x
DVD-ROM, DVD-R at max. 6x
DVD-RAM (4.7GB at 2x, 2.6GB at 1x)
Buffer Capacity: 1MB
Power Supply: 12V/5V, ±5%
Dimensions (WxHxD): 146 x41.3x196 mm
Weight: 1.1 kg (2.4 lbs.)
High-Density DVD-RAM ... Ready for the Evolution Revolution

Huge benefits... read on McDuff.  We have a double-sided DVD RAM disk formatted, using XP's format routine, ready to go that will yield almost 10GB of fully "on the fly" re-writable options.  It behaves just like a hard disk. For anything you'd care to do with a hard disk, this puppy will do and its exceptionally strong for performing data backup duties. The supplied software works well too. In Windows XP, the drive was immediately recognized and we able to use the XP routines flawlessly.


With system storage requirements growing at a rate of 98 percent per year, everyone is looking for a newer, faster removable data storage solution. Companies are accumulating vast amounts of conventional structured data, and they are developing centralized data warehouses with all types of information that must be deployed, including graphics, sound, images and even full motion videos.

In these knowledge-hungry times, it is increasingly common for an IS or network manager to be responsible for a Terabyte of data. This data isn't simply stored on tape and filed in a vault, it's information that must be readily available to applications, employees, customers and business partners day-in and day-out.

Today's corporate knowledge is critical to the growth and profits of the enterprise. If it isn't stored and managed well, the results can be devastating. When selecting a storage system, IS and network managers must consider availability, reliability and scalability. Key requirements are:

Information sharing and the ability to move data among systems from different vendors
Business continuance, including round-the-clock support to ensure virtually no downtime and fast, reliable disaster recovery
Seamless system management and maximum data security
Network connectivity and the ability to easily manage and store remote data
Support of application and database APIs which allow users to share data directly with products like Oracle, SAP and others

The challenge has been to choose a removable technology that the company can rely on today...and tomorrow. DVD-RAM meets that challenge.

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