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optical 5.1 surround sound card

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September 13, 2006 1:50:59 AM

Hi,

I have one simple question.

Sorry for the noobieness.

I have a Panasonic SA-HE70 with optical and coaxial inputs for 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS decoding. With a 5.1 speaker setup.

I previously owned a 7.1 card with an optical out, but the optical was only for stereo. The 7.1 in analog sounded horrible, so i had my reciever do Pro Logic 2 off the 2 channels, which sounded incredible in comparison to Pro Logic 2 off 2 channels of analog.

I would like to know what is a good value card that can pump out 5.1 or even 7.1 (for future sound system) using the optical or coaxial cable.

I will be using it primarily for gaming(EAX)(5.1 Dolby Digital in Doom 3 etc..)/dvds(DTS) and if I can figure out where to get 5.1 wma.

Preferrably a low budget one ($$$<50) if that can apply.

Thank you.
September 13, 2006 2:13:23 AM

as far as i know what your asking for is not out there for the price you want best thing you could get would be a x-fi xtreme but its not optical...you can only use 3 different plugs for front rear and sub...
September 13, 2006 2:15:36 AM

Sorry, but unfortunately there's no way to output uncompressed 5.1 (e.g. from games) via a digital connection. This is because no audio standard exists to allow such a thing. I'm not sure whether there's a bandwidth limitation in the cables, or what.

So it's not that there's no good value card that can do this...there's no card that can do it, period. Your best bet is to buy a card with decent analog outputs, because those shouldn't sound bad.

I use the built-in sound on my motherboard (a Realtek chip on an ASUS A8N-SLI Premium), which can output digital and analog simultaneously, so I use the digital output for stereo sources and AC3/DTS passthrough and the analog connection for games. Very convenient.

EDIT: I have to note that if the analog outputs on your previous card sounded terrible, there was probably something wrong with the card. Going to digital almost never has a big effect on sound quality.
Related resources
September 13, 2006 2:16:25 AM

Ok, lets throw the price variable out the window, what is out there that can do that.

So the X-fi Extreme cant do that? what a shame.
September 13, 2006 3:00:46 AM

Quote:
Hi,

I have one simple question.

Sorry for the noobieness.

I have a Panasonic SA-HE70 with optical and coaxial inputs for 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS decoding. With a 5.1 speaker setup.

I previously owned a 7.1 card with an optical out, but the optical was only for stereo. The 7.1 in analog sounded horrible, so i had my reciever do Pro Logic 2 off the 2 channels, which sounded incredible in comparison to Pro Logic 2 off 2 channels of analog.

I would like to know what is a good value card that can pump out 5.1 or even 7.1 (for future sound system) using the optical or coaxial cable.

I will be using it primarily for gaming(EAX)(5.1 Dolby Digital in Doom 3 etc..)/dvds(DTS) and if I can figure out where to get 5.1 wma.

Preferrably a low budget one ($$$<50) if that can apply.

Thank you.


$50 will be tough for a good sound card to do what you want.

Check these out:
M-Audio 7.1 Revolution
Auzentech X-Plosion 7.1
Audiotrak Prodigy 7.1

Avoid cards like the Chaintech AV-710 or the Diamond XtremeSound XS71. There is a reason why they only cost $30+/-. Your best bet would probably be the Auzentech. Creative cards are good if you don't mind having to use the breakout bay to get the digital or coax connection since Creative does not put one on the PCI card itself. Personally, I think Creative cards are over rated. I've got the M-Audio 7.1 Revolution in my HTPC with the digital coax going to my Pioneer receiver. If the movie supports 7.1, 6.1, 6.1EX, or DTS, that's what is being pumped to my speakers. I don't play surround games with it, mostly MAME on the HTPC, but I recommend it nonetheless. Either way, anyone of the three linked above would work.

Good luck!
September 13, 2006 3:12:38 AM

Thank you, I will check them out.

The analog most likely sounded horrible because the old card was a Hercules 7.1 I got from Fry's 2 years back for about $40.

We have two people in disagreement here, chunkymonster saying those three cards will do the trick but feedbrian saying absolutely no card can do it.

Please clarify.
September 13, 2006 3:27:14 AM

Quote:
Thank you, I will check them out.

The analog most likely sounded horrible because the old card was a Hercules 7.1 I got from Fry's 2 years back for about $40.

We have two people in disagreement here, chunkymonster saying those three cards will do the trick but feedbrian saying absolutely no card can do it.

Please clarify.


I'm not exactly sure what feedbrian means either, I'd be curious to hear what he has to say, especially after this statement as it has been contrary to my own experiences...
Quote:
Going to digital almost never has a big effect on sound quality.


The cards mentioned above will/should offer, at the very least, digital pass through from your source signal. As mentioned, if I play a DTS encoded dvd's in my HTPC, the m-audio passes the digital surround signal thru to my receiver so I can hear DTS sound out of the speakers.

From the Auzentech website...
Quote:
DTS® Interactive : A real-time 5.1 encoder that takes any 2 or more channel and encodes it into DTS® bit stream. DTS® Interactive provides a single cable connection via S/PDIF digital audio output to a DTS® enabled surround sound system by encoding all audio into a DTS® compatible bit stream at 1.5Mbps

DTS® Neo:p C : An up mixing matrix technology that turns any 2 channel audio into 7.1 surround sound. DTS® Neo:p C, based upon DTS® Neo:6 matrix surround technology, transforms any stereo content such as MP3, WMA or CD audio, into a 7.1-channel surround sound experience

Dolby® Digital Live(DDL) Real-Time Content Encoder converts PC audio into a 5.1 channel Dolby® Digital bit stream

Not sure what else you would want or could be looking for...
September 13, 2006 3:33:14 AM

That is exactly what I am looking for.

Thank you!

Positive: high quality sound

Negative: $129.99 on that rotten Egg

oh well
September 13, 2006 8:22:26 AM

So the Chaintech AV-710 card wont give me true passthrough for dolby formats?

The Revolution is looking quite good with the software package.

I want all of my sound if possible to be passed through to my reciever. I dont want to be held back. If a movie outputs a certain audio format, I want that format to its fullest extent. Same goes with games that support dolby. I have software dvd player that has the option for S/PDIF output.

Will the Revolution do what I want?

AuzenTech XMYSTIQUE7.1

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E1682...

What about this card?


What about Prologic ?
September 13, 2006 10:20:21 AM

for dolby digital live 5.1 realtime encoding (the sound is output via a single digital stream as a 5.1 discrete channel surround encoded signal), get either the turtle beach montego ddl, or the hda blue gears x-mystique... ~$80 for either... no differences though in sound quality, as they both use the same chipset (CMI8768+)... the x-mystique has both coaxial rca and optical toslink connections on the card, so it may be a better buy for that reason (the montego ddl offers only optical toslink for digital input/output)...

the hda auzentech x-plosion has both dolby digital live 5.1 and dts interative 5.1 realtime encoding... and it has a slightly newer chipset too... CMI8770, so, the sound quality is better then... its about $130 though as you saw...

auzentech also has a new card coming out called the x-purity... which offers all of the above, plus it will rival other consumer sound cards for analog sound quality, SnR, all that (plus other features as well)...

though none of these cards will offer above EAX 2.0... as thats strictly creatives territory, where they put the cut off for 3rd party licensing.
September 13, 2006 3:57:10 PM

Looks like I created some confusion here. All I was saying is that no card can output UNCOMPRESSED surround sound through a digital connection, because no receiver will accept that type of signal. It simply doesn't exist. Stupid, I know. I think HDMI can pass uncompressed sound up to 7.1, but this technology isn't in place yet.

I wasn't aware that any cards were able to compress to DTS or Dolby Digital on the fly. While these are formats that obviously can be passed through a digital connection, they're also lossy compressed formats. With a decent sound card, you'll get better sound quality through the analog outputs than through the DTS- or Dolby-compressed digital output. To that end, I'd recommend picking up a Creative X-Fi Xtreme Music. I think this is about $110 online, and it has very good analog output. I'd stay away from a sound card that compresses the sound before sending it to the receiver--because that sucks! Plus, with a Creative, you get the latest EAX effects.
September 13, 2006 10:53:30 PM

well I will mainly be using the card for gaming, so does anyone know what games can do Dolby Digital and EAX2 etc....

Emphasis upon:
FEAR
HL2
Doom 3
BF 2

first person shooters where its kinda nice to hear exactly where someone is shooting at you.
September 13, 2006 11:04:21 PM

Quote:
well I will mainly be using the card for gaming, so does anyone know what games can do Dolby Digital and EAX2 etc....

Emphasis upon:
FEAR
HL2
Doom 3
BF 2

first person shooters where its kinda nice to hear exactly where someone is shooting at you.


the games themselves dont need to support dolby digital (that would be all handled by the ddl/dts realtime encoding cards)... the games then would offer surround sound as a dolby digital 5.1 (ac-3) signal, regardless of what format they originally come in... most current games already come with 6+ seperate channels anyhow, and the sound card will then combine those 6+ channels into one digital stream to your receiver, just as if you were using multiple analog connections (except its a single digital connection instead)... by going digital, you reduce noise from your computer that gets introduced into the sound too, an overall cleaner signal results then, as its just binary 1s and 0s being sent out, not binary 1s and 0s + unwanted noise...

as far as eax 2.0... the games themselves have to support it, its more of an additional perk than anything, if it has it, good... if not, not a huge loss, but always nice to have either way :) ... youll get 5.1 surround either way with an ac-3 encoded signal... (which, consequently, everything gets encoded into 5.1 surround, not just your games, so music sounds good too)... in the instance of music, since almost all music comes as just 2 channel stereo, those 2 channels then get upmixed to 6 channels (5.1)... so you get surround music too, very enveloping to be honest.
September 13, 2006 11:13:45 PM

yea Doom 3 shows a dolby digital logo on the packaging.

ok cool.

plus

where can i download wma 5.1 made in 5.1 format?
September 13, 2006 11:20:53 PM

Quote:
yea Doom 3 shows a dolby digital logo on the packaging.

ok cool.

plus

where can i download wma 5.1 made in 5.1 format?


well, again... even if doom 3 didnt say anything about offering support for dolby digital, it would still come out as dolby digital anyways (because the ddl/dts interactive encoding cards would make it that way)...

well... the windows media audio format (wma) doesnt come in 5.1 that i know of... if you want music that comes as 5.1 originally, i would look for some ac-3 encoded music...

...again... the dolby digital 5.1/dts 5.1 encoding cards, *make* everything into dolby digital or dts, whether its originally surround sound or not...

the example you gave with doom supporting dolby digital... im not sure it does offer native dolby digital support to be honest... but, whether it does or not honestly wouldnt matter... if you have a card that can offer that for every single sound anyhow.
September 13, 2006 11:48:46 PM

also... in regards to compression...

standard 2 channel pcm is actually an uncompressed format...

dolby digital 5.1 is 16bit/48KHz compression, which is the same quality level offered on virtually all cds and dvds...

dts 5.1/6.1 is less compressed at 20bits/48KHz/96KHz (better than standard dvd and cd quality)... which is the same bit depth found more on SACDs and dts dvds...

then you have dvd-audio discs, which offer 24bit/48KHz/96KHz compression... which requires a dvd-audio player, to be able to take advantage of the surround channels... as its 6 seperate cables... but, if they had a 24bit digital compression format, like, dolby digital or dts, they would probably use that instead of the multiple cables...

...most games wont offer better than cd quality for sound, so in that sense, you wouldnt be losing quality really by using a card that compresses sound to the level of most audio cds and dvd movies (very little compression then to be honest).
September 14, 2006 12:04:54 AM

The creative x-fi extreme music does have a digital out, even if you don't purchase the extra drive bay expansion. The extreme music has a combined 3.5mm jack socket that acts as digital in/digital out/line in/microphone on the back of the pci card.

It is surprising how many people overlook this. All you need is a 3.5mm jack to RCA cable and you have a digital coaxial in/out. However it does not offer optical-TOSlink.
September 14, 2006 2:42:22 AM

Quote:
also... in regards to compression...


You're mixing up terms. When you speak of compression, you actually mean the digitization methods of quantization (i.e., 16 bits or 24 bits per sample) and sampling rate (44.1 KHz for CD, 48 KHz for DVD Video material, and 96 KHz or 192 KHz for DVD Audio). For all intents and purposes, Dolby Digital and DTS are both ALWAYS 16-bit/48 KHz. There are a few unusual DTS disks out there that use 20- or 24-bit quantization and sometimes 96 KHz sampling rates, but these are the exception rather than the norm.

The digitization of analog audio is described using the terms above. Each of these sampling methods produces multiple channels of uncompressed PCM audio. When I speak of compression, I mean it in the sense that MP3s are compressed, that is, much information is thrown out to reduce file size. The Dolby Digital and DTS formats both use lossy compression of this type to reduce storage needs on DVDs.

For example, a 6-channel PCM sound track on a DVD natively requires 4.6 Mbps of data, but Dolby Digital throws out enough data to get it down to 384 or 448 Kbps. DTS is usually compressed to 768 Kbps (sometimes twice that), but that's still throwing out most of the available sound information. In this sense, CDs actually have higher sound quality than DVD sound tracks, as despite having a slightly lower sampling rate, the audio on CDs is truly uncompressed. Higher sampling rates have a debatable effect on sound quality, and going from 44.1 to 48 KHz really does nothing at all.

In short: a card that does Dolby Digital or DTS compression destroys your sound quality by throwing out most of the audio data before the it ever goes to the receiver. Stick with analog outputs for surround sound.
September 14, 2006 2:45:44 AM

I have an old hercules fortissimo 2 with 2 optical ports for in and out.

Might that work?
September 14, 2006 2:47:40 AM

Quote:
The creative x-fi extreme music does have a digital out, even if you don't purchase the extra drive bay expansion. The extreme music has a combined 3.5mm jack socket that acts as digital in/digital out/line in/microphone on the back of the pci card.


I put one of these cards in one of my parents' computers recently, and do use the digital output on it :wink: . I didn't mean to imply that this wasn't possible--I was just recommending it as a relatively cheap card with good analog outputs, which makes it a good choice for games.
September 14, 2006 3:33:58 AM

Quote:
The creative x-fi extreme music does have a digital out, even if you don't purchase the extra drive bay expansion. The extreme music has a combined 3.5mm jack socket that acts as digital in/digital out/line in/microphone on the back of the pci card.


I put one of these cards in one of my parents' computers recently, and do use the digital output on it :wink: . I didn't mean to imply that this wasn't possible--I was just recommending it as a relatively cheap card with good analog outputs, which makes it a good choice for games.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the optical out needing the red light cord or w/e?
September 14, 2006 6:21:36 AM

Quote:
I have an old hercules fortissimo 2 with 2 optical ports for in and out.

Might that work?


nope.

I too have an old fortissimo 7.1, it has optical, however that optical is stereo. The analog port for the front two speakers is ruined, in that the reciever must be turned up to max for it to be at a modest volume, and at that point alot of fuzz or distortion sparks up in the back ground. Plus the sound quality of the surround via analog is absolutely horrible, the card does a horrible job distinguishing the channels, it sounded best with optical put on pro logic II. Then, to make things worse, the optical port no longer works, so i have been using mobo 2 channel sound. I gave up on using audio cards a good 6 months ago, and miss playing fps in surround. It just isnt the same.

Anywayssss.... sorry about the aside there...

Those three cards stated above by chunkymonster, which one do you guys think is king of crop. For its features, price, theoretical sound quality, etc (since I doubt someone has used all three of them)?
September 14, 2006 10:40:40 AM

Quote:
I have an old hercules fortissimo 2 with 2 optical ports for in and out.

Might that work?


nope.

I too have an old fortissimo 7.1, it has optical, however that optical is stereo. The analog port for the front two speakers is ruined, in that the reciever must be turned up to max for it to be at a modest volume, and at that point alot of fuzz or distortion sparks up in the back ground. Plus the sound quality of the surround via analog is absolutely horrible, the card does a horrible job distinguishing the channels, it sounded best with optical put on pro logic II. Then, to make things worse, the optical port no longer works, so i have been using mobo 2 channel sound. I gave up on using audio cards a good 6 months ago, and miss playing fps in surround. It just isnt the same.

Anywayssss.... sorry about the aside there...

Those three cards stated above by chunkymonster, which one do you guys think is king of crop. For its features, price, theoretical sound quality, etc (since I doubt someone has used all three of them)?

I actually own the m-audio and after reading up on the Auzentech, I would recommend the X-Plosion, albeit $129 off newegg may be pricy for some, but if it can do what it says then it would be money very well spent.

Quote:
The creative x-fi extreme music does have a digital out, even if you don't purchase the extra drive bay expansion. The extreme music has a combined 3.5mm jack socket that acts as digital in/digital out/line in/microphone on the back of the pci card.

It is surprising how many people overlook this. All you need is a 3.5mm jack to RCA cable and you have a digital coaxial in/out. However it does not offer optical-TOSlink.

That stupid creative break out box absolutely kills me. It is a poor implementation by creative for offering coax or optical connections and allows them to market their cards as an "audio creation sound card" due to the multiple inputs/outputs. Creative wants to be the "jack-of-all-trades" for sounds cards, but if anything technology has taught us that having hardware dedicated to a purpose is better than a catch all device; we no don't use onboard video for high-end gaming, so why use an all purpose sound card. Using a 3.5mm to jack to RCA for digital audio will not deliver the same sound quality and fidelity as a coax or optical and defeats the purpose of all digital connections.
September 16, 2006 7:37:53 PM

I have been looking at the three different cards mentioned, and the m-audio has by far the least problems at the lowest price. The audiotrak has too many problems, and the auzentech still has some compatibility issues.

I will try out the m-audio, as it sells for 90 of amazon.

Newegg just dropped the price of the auzentech by 15 bucks, probably after seeing this forum....

They dont have the m-audio though...
September 16, 2006 9:07:41 PM

This is an a quote from an e-mail I recieved last year from Creative in regards to the same question. Ultimately I decided that I wanted to do DVD-Audio as well, so I decided on analogue anyways and the sound quality is fantastic from my Audigy 2 ZS sound card.

"You are not able to use EAX with digital output currently. The way the
technology is currently set is any digital signal gets passed through
raw for a receiver to decode for the speakers. EAX effects would be a
signal on top of that to modify it, and digital outputs are only capable
of carrying one signal. Therefore, EAX, simulators, etc. are only able
to work through analog output currently. I have no idea if the industry
standard will move towards digital integration or not, but it is not
there yet. I am sorry for this inconvenience."
September 18, 2006 8:00:44 AM

Found what I think could be an ok card for about half the price of those other cards.

Hercules Fortissimo 4 from Amazon.com for about 50 bucks.

tell me what you guys think.

what happened to hercules (the company)?
September 18, 2006 8:04:33 AM

Quote:
Found what I think could be an ok card for about half the price of those other cards.

Hercules Fortissimo 4 from Amazon.com for about 50 bucks.

tell me what you guys think.

what happened to hercules (the company)?


http://www.hercules.com/
!