Innocently don't know the point in getting sound card. Most motherboards come with a built-in sound card. And most files (MP3 or AVI) are not designed to play multi-channel surround sound (5.1 or 7.1).
I guess you could get a high end sound card to play heightened sound effects so that you can hear a some dude running behind you in a FPS, but that's about it. No other real point past that.
Do higher end sound cards have some sort of tool or driver that plays a standard AVI or MP3 into true surround sound? I'm guessing not and what actually ends up happening is that you get stereo x2 front and back. And a few effects like echo and higher bass.
Someone please tell me I'm wrong. Hoping to learn of som
e way out of this.
The point of a sound card is to boost the listening experience hence the word sound. For gaming you are right in that you could hear people better, BUT sound cards are dependent on speakers too. In most headphones that are higher end, you will have a built in card that those headphones are meant to use. Honestly however, soundcards are not so much a gaming thing. Sure you might hear better explosions, gorier sword slices, or more crackling gun shots, but its way more of a movie/surround sound thing.
If you are using your system for games only, a cheap soundcard, using your mobo soundcard, and/or headphones will be just fine. ANOTHER thing to note is if you want the headphone route, headphones made for gaming are not good in terms of sound. Even the $400 ones are not competitive with cheaper audiophile versions.
tl dr; its a useful thing, but for gaming its not needed that much/at all
from what i know if you have a 5.1 system and conect it to a sound card it will give you better sound quality that you will have from the onboard chipset.
So, you will have better sound because the file is playing on more powerful speakers that is running in double stereo, copied front and back with a sub for increased bass?
Or your standard MP3 file or AVI understands that you have this setup via DirectX/OS and your sound card is intelligently playing your audio tracks in multiple independent channels in true surround 5.1 or 7.1 format?
What I mean by this is, if you are watching a movie from an AVI or MP4, etc. And someone is shooting a gun from behind and the main character turns around, you should hear the gun shot from your rear speaker, and as the camera is spinning around, the sound should rotate from speaker to speaker.
I know you can get this with a blu-ray disc, but if your system doesn't do recognize this, it will just do stereo of the same audio track on all speakers regardless of the direction and what's happening in the movie. In this case, it's just better speakers and your sound card isn't really doing anything.
It's for better sound quality. If you have a good headset or good speakers, you get better quality. For example my BOSE IE2's are a lot better on my Xonar DX then standard on-board audio.
Also if you have an amp to hook it up to, then you will want the best possible quality going into the amp to prevent high-end distortion. It maybe a bit of overkill if the game doesn't have good quality sound, but for any that do, or any HD films you may have, a sound card does noticeably improve the sound quality.
Plus with two sound cards (onboard and dedicated) you can hook a microphone to the onboard and have the main sound coming out the dedicated allowing you to here the game/whatever just fine while also having the functionality of a microphone.
I got a sound card for my system for use with music production. ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) drivers really only work with a dedicated sound card since it is a way to completely bypass any interactions with windows. Thus the program interacts directly with the sound card. Other than music production I dont know what else makes use of ASIO. As far as gaming I haven't found any advantage, other than higher quality sound, compared to using the on board audio. It might be interesting to know that I dont use surround sound at all, just have two really nice studio monitors.
Dedicated cards and onboard have a series of enhancements(bass/eq/upmix/effects/ect). Each card in general also has its own sound(colored one way or another, so I may like one card and you may be not).
You are right that many cards can upmix 2 channel audio to 5.1/7.1 ect. They have many ways, stereo X2 or mirror is one of the ways that was common on many cards(CMSS 3d Stereo surround). I actually liked that way because it does not tend to move the singers voice all over in an unnatural way.
Even onboard has its own upmixing(Speaker Fill). It generally mixes left and right into the center and gives a fake echoish rear effect. Some like it while others do not.
Some new creative cards have a feature that is supposed to let you hear an enemy behind you. Headphones are probably best for this type of thing anyway.
Many dedicated cards have a better signal to noise ratio(Not the new Recon cards) on analog outputs. This should sound better, but many users may not hear the difference.
With the release of Windows Vista/7/8, Microsoft has mostly killed off use of hardware accelerated sound cards(the main reason for sound card in the first place. Offloading sound from the cpu used to make a noticeable improvement in performance). While the cards can still accelerate audio it can no longer be done with DirectX. OpenAL still works for this, but is only supported by a handful of programs.
I personally use a dedicated card because it has features I wanted to have(OpenAL in hardware and strangely enough stereo X2[done in hardware with OpenAL programs as well] up mixing, basic but i prefer it to many other ways to use more speakers.) I personally like to use as little center channel(Its fine for movies/games as it works VERY well for that) as I can unless the artist is supposed to be in that location, I find many up-mixing setups tend to try to push the artist to the center with very mixed results.
As you see, everyone has an opinion here. For at least 80% of users, onboard should be just fine.
If you seek very basic stereo X2 up-mixing, a double pole double throw switch can allow you to switch it on and off in hardware
I find even on mid end speakers you can hear a difference. If it is better or not is going to be up to the listener. Again each card sounds just a bit different.