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Review: Wired's Wired4DVD Decoder Card
By Mike
Review date: 2/2/2000

Hardware DVD Player w/TV DVD Out for PCI Slot Macs
Intro | Installation | Player Controls | Card Features
Updates Since The Original Review:

[OS X Note: This review was written before OS X was released, but as of summer 2001 there are no OS X drivers or support for this card and may never be. (On 12/28/2001 a reader sent a copy of an email from Media100 tech support noting that "Wired4DVD has been discontinued. At this time, there is no Mac OS X development scheduled. (Later reports in 2002 note positively that there will be no OS X support and as of 2002.)")]

Last OS 9 Driver/Player Update: As of 2002, the only source of the last 1.28 software (for OS 9.1, not tested with later OS 9 versions that I know of) is at ftp://ftp.wiredinc.com/pub/oldsoftware/Wired4DVD1.2.8c.sea.hqx
(Note Their ftp://ftp.wiredinc.com/pub/ directory lists a 'wiredstream 1.28' version of the software that is said to be a "version of Wired4DVD with an API for application control" but I never tried it.)

Wired4DVD & Firewire/USB Combo Cards: A Beige G3 owner reported he could not run both the Wired4DVD card and any of several Firewire/USB combo cards (Evergreen, OrangeMicro) at the same time. He said the system would not boot if both cards were installed. Other Beige G3 owners replied they were able to run the Wired4DVD card fine with a Orange Micro combo FW/USB card but noted swapping cards around in the PCI slots were required. Here's one example:

" Mike,
I had the same problem, (wouldn't boot) when I had the OrangeMicro Combo Card after (closer to the edge of the mother board) than the Wired4DVD. Everything started to work when I put the Wired Card after (closer to the edge of the mother board) than the OrangeMicro Combo Card.
Randy Nishikawa "

Also see this 11/29/2000 news post for other beige G3 owner comments.

Introduction

Like most G4 system owners, I have been disappointed in the software DVD player that is standard on the new G4 systems. Very sluggish response, lip-sync issues and the requirement to have an ATI graphics card are common complaints with the current software decoder. I was very pleased to see that all these problems vanish after installing Wired's Wired4DVD hardware decoder card, the only Macintosh compatible DVD decoder card available at present.

After using the Wired4DVD card hardware decoder, going back to the software DVD player (which also requires an ATI Rage128 card even with the patched version of the player, as well as a very fast CPU) There's currently no other option to get Mac compatible PCI hardware DVD decoding, TV out and AC-3 audio for the Mac. Despite the higher than PC version price, I consider this card a good value overall for the benefits it delivers at the current pricing [$87.95]. However be aware of the pros and cons listed below. (BTW - the Wired4DVD drivers do not work with the PC ReelMagic card in case readers are wondering.)

Apple DVI and ADC Display Owners Note: The Wired4dvd card has a standard VGA monitor connector - not the DVI connector used on the many previous Apple LCD displays nor the ADC connector used on the current Apple displays. There are no hardware DVD decoders with DVI or ADC connectors at this time. (In 2001, there are some ADC adapters with external power supply, but I've not tested them personally.)

Pros:

  • Great DVD image quality - as good as my Toshiba standalone DVD player even when viewed on a 45" projection TV.
  • Hardware decoding is dramatically more responsive than Apple's software decoder.
  • TV out feature - SVideo and Composite video (RCA jack) allows playing movies on your TV (saving the cost of a dedicated home DVD player if you don't already have one).
  • AC-3 Digital Audio output for owners of surround sound decoders (I was not able to test this feature since I don't have a decoder)
  • Worked Plug and Play in the G4 and B&W G3 systems without needing to disable the existing DVD extensions from Apple. (Tested with OS 9.0, current OS as of the review date. See test system details below)
  • Not dependent on ATI graphics cards. Works with Voodoo3 graphics card for instance (requires VGA port graphics card/monitor).
  • Includes Mac/VGA and VGA/Mac adapters, SVideo to RCA adapter and audio output cable (although the audio cable as very short).

Cons:

  • Costs more than PC versions. (OWC has cheapest price of $79.95)
  • Requires an available PCI slot of course.
  • No DVI connector (or ADC connector of course)
  • Pass-thru design can result in a loss of sharpness at high resolutions
    (My tests using the Apple LCD Studio Display at 1024x768 looked fine, but a reader noted at 1152x870 text was not as sharp, saying he connects the card only for playing DVDs.)
  • No OS X support likely
  • Problems with Pioneer SCSI 303S DVD drive (which didn't work with any DVD player and seems to be a drive firmware issue, but some other wired4dvd owners reported they were able to get the drive to work). I have no other SCSI DVD drives to test but would suggest buyers avoid a Pioneer SCSI DVD drive - Toshiba may be the best bet. (Search our Mac Drive Compatibility Database for DVD ROM owner reports.)

Review Pages:
This review is divided into the following pages:

  1. Installation: Overview of installing the card and software
  2. Player Controls: Options and settings in the DVD movie player application
  3. Card Features: Information on the card's capabilities, specs and ports.



Requirements:

  • Macintosh with PowerPC 100MHz or faster CPU
  • MacOS v8.0 or higher
  • Available PCI Slot
  • 10MB of available RAM
  • DVD-ROM or DVD-RAM drive (*see below)
  • An external amplifier and speakers recommended for best sound



Pricing and Availability:

The Wired4DVD decoder (card/cables/software) originally listed for over $200, but as of 5/18/2001, OWC's site specials page has them for under $88. (Later sold out.) If you also need a drive, you can purchase a DVD drive separately but be aware there may be compatibility issues with some DVD drives and the Mac (not just the Wired4DVD card). Some PC DVD drives do not boot in Macs, and may not be supported by any DVD player. IDE DVD drives seem more compatible in general than SCSI DVD drives in my limited tests and I'd highly suggest you avoid the Pioneer SCSI 303S DVD drive as it did not work with the software or hardware player in my tests here. (I used OS 9, Pioneer's CLD extension and with and without Adaptec's UDF extension. Although DVD discs would play, most would not work beyond the first chapter.) Search our Mac Drive Compatibility Database for DVD ROM owner reports of various brands.

Although PC DVD decoder cards based on the ReelMagic card are very cheap, they are sold by the hundreds of thousands (including OEM versions and bundles) compared to the 10x or smaller market for the Mac. The cost-per-unit, support and development costs therefore have to be spread across a tiny fraction of the PC version's sales volume. The fact this is a specialty card also lowers the potential sales I suspect. Regardless I'm glad Wired put forth the effort to support the Mac.

Pioneer SCSI 303S DVD Drive Tips: [Update - See this 9/21/2001 news page item for a reader's report on a Pioneer driver he found that worked well and it's free. It was the MACDVD.HQX download at this australian Pioneer page.]

Although I was unable to get this drive to work properly I did not have the DVD Tuneup software this reader mentions in his 303S drive tips. However if you don't own DVD Tuneup, it may be cheaper just to get a Toshiba or other SCSI DVD drive brand. (Owners of Apple DVD ROM or DVD RAM drives should have no problems at all, nor should those that have a 3rd party drive that is working with the DVD software player.):

" I have a 7500/100 G3 450 upgrade, a WiredInc Wired4DVD decoder, and the infamous but insanely cheap Pioneer 303s ($115) and I can play about 95% of any DVD so far. I had trouble with the English Patient, that's it. The Matrix, and about 45 DVD rentals from Blockbuster all play to the end without a hitch.

The problem according to WiredInc, is that the Pioneer is a bad drive. But I proved them wrong. For about 2 weeks i spent searching for every possible driver solutions and finally came up with the following that works. However it is not a simple solution, and there's not a company out there that i've found that fully supports the Pioneer 303s on the mac yet.

1st rule: CD/DVD SpeedTools 4.01 does not work for playing a DVD movie, but will allow access to the DVD movie disc and the DVD-rom, CD-rom, etc.

My setup is as follows:

Extensions ON:
Apple CD/DVD Driver 1.1 (a free SCSI driver from fantomdrives.com - is not the same as OS9's)
CD/DVD Drive TuneUp Init (v2.02 from www.softarch.com)
Wired4DVDLib (wiredInc.com - included)
UDF Volume Access (from MacOS9)
Adaptec UDF Volume Access (free from adaptec.com)

Extensions OFF:
Foreign File Access (from CD/DVD Drive TuneUp v2.02)
Apple CD/DVD (from MacOS9)

CONTROL STRIP:
UDF FS Enabler (sometimes need to toggle this between apple or adaptec to get certain DVDs running) - usually leave Adaptec OFF, and Apple ON, but on some occasion might need to flip them around. Eject DVD and reinsert to take affect.

I believe some of it is redundant - like the Apple CD/DVD Driver 1.1 and the CD/DVD Drive Tune UP from SoftArch. But hey, it works.
Marlon Bishop
concept b "

Related Links:

Wiredinc's FAQ includes a Wired4DVD section that includes a note on drive compatibility, but it does not currently note the Pioneer 303S SCSI DVD drive issue I saw, although they are aware of the problems with that drive based on comments and feedback. Basically they say if the DVD drive comes with an Init that allows mounting DVD movies on the desktop it should work. Their FAQ also includes notes on DVD-RAM drive compatibility.

For more info on PC DVD IDE drives in Macs see the FAQ's DVD topic area. In general Toshiba IDE drives seem the most compatible (and Apple's OEM DVD drives are often Toshiba models ). As noted at the main site news and in the FAQ, Toshiba IDE drives are often found in Memorex 6X DVD retail boxes ($99.95 list here at local Office Depot and Best Buy stores).

I highly suggest you buy a DVD drive from a local store or other source with easy return policies in case there are compatibility issues in your system.


Test Systems Hardware Summary:

Details of the test systems used for this review are listed below.

  • Apple G4/450 AGP
  • 3Dfx Voodoo3 3000 AGP (OEM) Graphics Card w/B10 drivers)
  • Also tested with OEM Rage128 AGP graphics card
  • 256MB RAM (two 128MB 222 dimms)
  • Stock 20GB IDE Hard Disk
  • OEM IDE DVD drive
  • Initio BlueNote PCI SCSI card (for legacy SCSI support)
  • OS 9.0, VM off, QT 4.1, QD3D 1.6, std (many) Apple installed extensions. [No Libmoto]

  • Apple 9600/350:
  • 3Dfx Voodoo3 2000 PCI Card with B10 drivers
  • 320MB interleaved RAM
  • ATTO U2 SCSI card and Cheetah U2 SCSI drive
  • External Pioneer DVD 303S SCSI drive connected to onboard ext. SCSI port.
    (This drive failed to work properly with even the patched software DVD player)
  • OS 9, VM off, QT 4.03, QD3D 1.6, [No Libmoto]

For reviews of other graphics cards and related articles, see my list of graphics card articles.


You can follow my preferred path through the review by continuing to the next page,
or use the links below to jump to a specific page.

Index of Wired4DVD Decoder Review

Intro | Installation | Player Controls | Card Features

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