A card for what I want to do
I'm finishing up building a computer to hook into my home entertainment center. I'm using a 9800 All-In-Wonder like a Tivo, and planning to use the machine to enhance tv, play movies, and games (it's networked). I'm trying to figure out what sound card would be best. I want it to be able to output straight to my reciever, that way it feeds straight into the surround sound. I had an SB Live in the computer awhile back, and it never worked. (VIA mb) So I'm nervous to get another SB. I had good success with the Santa Cruz I used to use in it. If anyone can give me any ideas, I'd really appriciate it. Thanks.
Santa Cruz is ok but wont sound as good as a M-Audio Revolution 7.1... that card is absolutely perfect for your application.
It even uses a VIA chip on it! An Envy24T if I'm not mistaken.
Its the best sound card going these days IMO.
The best DACs in a consumer card and has real digital out unlike the sound blaster proprietary digital out.
The other alternative would be to upgrade your motherboard to a Nforce2 with soundstorm, those are pretty good too.
I just tell it like it is and some can't handle it. If your experience is different, well congratu-fukulation.
<b>I’M NOT A ATI FANBOY, I’M NOT A NV FANBOY, I’M A STABILITY FANBOY</b>
Real vs proprietary digital output? Now that's a new one for bashing Creative isn't it? Because I know for a fact (tried and tested it) that Creative's digital output (even the one on Live!) works with any receiver you plug it into i.e. it's your ordinary run-of-the-mill digital coaxial output.
Kinney, your comments against Creative and your sudden love affair with Santa Cruz and Revolution (two completely different products BTW - I've seen you recommending the two like they're quite alike) are seriously getting long in the tooth. These are just sound cards and IMHO they're nowhere worth so much praise/bashing the way you do. For many of us Creative cards work just fine and/or Revolution and Santa Cruz have had their share of problems and quirks along the way, etc. Bash or praise any of them as many times as you want but please, based on fact not fiction (e.g. Creative using a 'proprietary' digital output which is false).
I couldnt get my digital out on this audigy to work with my digital speakers (ADA885s).
The soundblasters use a 3.5mm plug while the revo uses standard digital coaxial.
I just tell it like it is and some can't handle it. If your experience is different, well congratu-fukulation.
<b>I’M NOT A ATI FANBOY, I’M NOT A NV FANBOY, I’M A STABILITY FANBOY</b>
Most anything can do the job, but...
My recomendation would be the NForce 2 w/ soundstorm solution. That works you into an AMD CPU only corner, but I feel you would most likely be happiest with this setup. It is a relatively high quality setup, that does realtime encoding to dolby digital 5.1. The dolby digital 5.1 realtime encoding is important for making games sound right through the home theatre sound system. It is the only PC soundsystem I know of right now that does that.
No, my friend upgraded from some cheap onboard sound to a Live Plantim 7.1 (with some letters) and could NOT get it to work right with his Cambridge Soundworks decoder in 5.1, only 4.1. He contacted Creative, they said it would NEVER work in 5.1 on that receiver. He ended up buying a new receiver and it worked fine.
I told him "what kind of junk is Creative when it doesn't work right with your old receiver". He said "it was a receiver problem". Then I asked "then why did it work fine with your onboard sound". He said "the onboard sound wasn't good enough". LMAO!
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Currently only SoundStorm is the only solution capable of generating 5.1 digital output, because its the only card with real time 5.1 encoding.
With all other sound cards, you can only get digital 5.1 from prerecorded content such as an DVD audio Dolby Digital or DTS audio track. For you need to be connected to a device with a built in decoder and your sound card must be configured to pass the signal through without decoding. If the sound card has to alter the sound in any way, it gets down mixed to 4.1 or 2.1.
Supposedly you can get 5.1 form a .ac3 file or a DivX with an AC3 track, but I have yet to find a codec or filter that doesn't downmix to 4.1.
When dealing with non DVD content most integrated (CMEDIA_6 Channel cards with digital out can only generate 2 channels when using digital output.
Sound Blaster cards are capible of Dolby Pro Logic II 4.1 digital encoding (3 front, but only 1 rear speaker).
The digital output on the Sound Blaster cards are 100% standard. You do need a standard 3.5 mm to RCA adapter available everywhere, but that has nothing to do with the signal itself.
I purchased my SB Live 5.1 back in 99 and have used it in every system I had since then without a hitch. I also put them in every system I built with excellent results. difference. I never had any problems with the VIA chipsets (KT133,KT133a,KT266 KT333,KT400) with AMD systems, however all the Intel systems I built/worked with used Intel chipsets. Its not the best sound card by any means, IMO its definitely the best value for your money.
For what you need, an inexpensive SB Live 5.1 OEM would work great. I have listened to other cards and looked at the RightMark Audio Analyzer results and have felt no need to upgrade. If I do upgrade its going to be to a SoundStorm Certified Motherboard
If you want to spend more than $40 I would get either a M Audio Revolution of a Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS.
The M-Audio Revolution 7.1 definitely has the best sound quality. Among many other things it processes 41 kHz as 41 kHz and 96 as 96, while others re-sample everything to 48 at some point. However its not so great as a gaming card. All the work is done is software dropping your frames per second by as much as 25% compared to SoundStorm. Also it only supports 33 3D sound sources where you get 60+ with a decent gaming card.
The Audigy2 ZS delivers truly excellent sound (still a notch below the M Audio)and great gaming support.
PS was you negative experience with a SB Live or SB Live 5.1? Everything by Creative that isn't a Live 5.1 or Audigy is cheap garbage
This post is mainly addressed to Lucasbuck. At the same time, there are some points that can be addressed to others...
'I want it to be able to output straight to my reciever, that way it feeds straight into the surround sound'.
What do you mean by that? What is it that you want? Is it a digital feed to your receiver? Is it a separate 6-channel analog out from your card to 6 discreet inputs on your receiver? What is your receiver's capabilities?
You should specify those...
A card with digital output that can send 'non-audio' data will suit you fine for movies as long as your receiver can decode AC3 or DTS.
A card with separate 6-channel analog output will suit you fine for games (as well as movies) as long as your receiver has 6 discreet inputs (will work with even 5 after mixing the sub to mains).
It all depends on the options your receiver offers you. If it offers both of the above then i'd think that such a card would be ideal for you.
As for which card it hugely depends on the quality of your receiver and most importantly your speakers as well as on your budget. What are your priorities? Quality sound over games or the other way around?
'Santa Cruz is ok but wont sound as good as a M-Audio Revolution 7.1... that card is absolutely perfect for your application...'
Provided that you're not a hard-core gamer and that you have high-quality speakers and good amplification. Otherwise you'll be wasting your money.
'Its the best sound card going these days IMO.
The best DACs in a consumer card...'
Well, no, it's not the best out there, but still, for it's money it's one of the best as long as you have Home-Theater priorities. If you have more, then you need to get something better. Like i said, it depends on your needs.
'The dolby digital 5.1 realtime encoding is important for making games sound right through the home theatre sound system. It is the only PC soundsystem I know of right now that does that'.
As far as games are concerned, it is the same thing as having a correctly set-up card that can give you discreet 6-channel analog output that feeds the 6-discreet analog input of your receiver/amplifier. Don't even think that being analog degrades quality unless you have really high-quality speakers (and i don't mean PC speakers).
'For you need to be connected to a device with a built in decoder and your sound card must be configured to pass the signal through without decoding'.
That means, use a card with a digital out and use it in 'non-audio' mode so that the encoded multi-channel signal is sent 'as-is' to your receiver/amplifier to be decoded there.
'Supposedly you can get 5.1 form a .ac3 file or a DivX with an AC3 track, but I have yet to find a codec or filter that doesn't downmix to 4.1'.
Supposedly??????? You completely lost me there! I never had that problem... Maybe you need to elaborate more on your problem...
'Sound Blaster cards are capible of Dolby Pro Logic II 4.1 digital encoding (3 front, but only 1 rear speaker)'.
Dolby Pro-Logic II is an algorithm that creates a multi-channel soundfield out of TWO original channels. It takes the original stereo signal and creates 5, NOT 4 channels (the original Pro-Logic algorithm did 4, in the second generation one the rear 2 channels are differentiated).
In short, this algorithm is to be used with stereo original signals, NOT multi-channel content. If anyone is using it with a signal that is already multichannel then first it downmixes everything to 2-channel and then from those two it creates five. There are fundamental differences between the Pro-logic II output and a 5.1 format like AC3 or DTS. Obviously, it's the wrong algorithm to use if you already have a multi-channel source program.
In short, it all depends on the options offered to you by your existing Home-Theater setup. It depends on what kind (even how many) methods of connection you have. It ALSO depends on the quality offered to you by your existing setup (amp/speakers). Most people talk about home-theater setups and what they really mean is a PC-speaker/reciever combo.
If that is what you have then you don't really need a high-quality card (not even an audigy): Frankly, you will not 'hear' your money's worth... Just get a cheap & good card that fits your connection needs. Only if you upgrade your speakers you should start thinking about quality cards.
If, on the other hand, you ARE talking about a proper Home theater setup then getting a high-quality card is worth it. If you are more or less an audiophile and your setup is demanding in terms of sound quality (for music and movies) then a high-quality card is what you should be looking for.
The M-audio revolution is a good place to START. It's not the best card out there (especially feature-wise) but in its price range it's a great choice to make if you are primarily interested in Home-Theater sound. If game support is really important to you and you are willing to sacrifice sound quality then (and ONLY then) check out the Audigy2.
If you are NOT willing to sacrifice audio quality (and actually want more) and STILL want better game support (than the M-audio) then your only choices are Terratecs...
Again you are correct. I was confusing the encoding with the decoding method with the digital format.
I was confused because my receiver displays "Dolby Pro Logic II" when my sound card outputs a 4.1 digital.
The encoding is AC3 and "Dolby Pro Logic II" is just the decoding method in use.
PS AC3 Filter was working perfectly. I just had a bad AC3 test file which could be decoded correctly by my sound card, but not my Digital Receiver. All other AC3 files/DivX movies yield perfect Dolby Digital 5.1.
PPS I spent some time visiting www.DolbyDigital.com, and I promise not to spout anymore "facts" pieced together from some forum post or dumbed down website summary.
As a sidenote:
If your card is AC3 compatible then it should be able to send that signal through the digital-out.
Now, if you are using the Dolby Prologic II algorithm on your receiver, then this is what is actually taking place:
Since Pro Logic II is designed to be applied to a 2-channel signal, your receiver downmixes the original multichannel content to 2.0 and then applies the Pro Logic algorithm to the 2-channel signal resulting in the standard Pro Logic surround format: Left, Center (made out of content that exists in BOTH L+R channels), Right, Left Surround and Right Surround (that are NOT different channels but spatially enhanced with different phase characteristics from each other).
So, in essense, it is the same as if you were sending a stereo signal through your card's digital-out.
Your receiver should be able to recognise an AC3 signal though, and automatically apply an appropriate (5.1) program instead of letting you use Pro-Logic II...
Somewhere in the back of my mind, i'm thinking that maybe you are not sending an AC3 digital signal out but a PCM (you might have 5.1 on your software player and even use its 6 outputs but if your digital-out is set to PCM then the afformentioned downmix happens).
Just make sure that's not what is happening with your card
(unless, of course, your card can't sent digital AC3 out at all).
The AC3 format can hold form 1 to 5.1 channels. My receiver shows Dolby Prologic II when decoding any AC3 stream thats not a full 5.1. I only see Dolby Digital with 5.1 streams.
Anyway when runnning the test sound is sent to just one speaker at a time, the rest are silent.
So I definately have 4 100% seperate channels after decoding.!
Someone downloaded the file and said it was mp3 encoded not ac3 encoded. I know dolby surround "folds" 4 channels into the two stereo channels.
But if this person is right, how can I get 5 compeltely separate channels when using my sound card to decode. How can it sent "Rear Left" only to the rear left speaker and "Rear Right" only to the right speaker with all other speakers dead quiet!
"The AC3 format can hold form 1 to 5.1 channels. My receiver shows Dolby Prologic II when decoding any AC3 stream thats not a full 5.1. I only see Dolby Digital with 5.1 streams".
Then the downmixing that i described earlier is exactly what is taking place. Since your receiver switches to Pro Logic it clearly considers it as a 2-channel signal. That is because a) your card is NOT really sending anything in AC3 format other than 5.1 b) because its digital-out is configured for PCM for anything other than 5.1 (i hope you know the difference) c) if your card uses a proprietary format then your receiver can't recognise it.
Consulting their manuals should help you clarify those issues.
"Anyway when runnning the test sound is sent to just one speaker at a time, the rest are silent".
Test sounds originating from your receiver are always sent to one speaker at a time bypassing any decoding scheme/processing algorithm that might be currently activated on your receiver. They are not indicative of how many channels are active in a signal at that given moment.
"Someone downloaded the file and said it was mp3 encoded not ac3 encoded. I know dolby surround "folds" 4 channels into the two stereo channels.
But if this person is right, how can I get 5 compeltely separate channels when using my sound card to decode".
If you are not familiar with the characteristics and function of the Pro Logic II sound compared to AC3 5.1 then you could very well be mistakingly taking one for the other. It is quite possible that you have some things mixed somehow. Either literally or metaphorically :-)
Don't worry. If i could offer you some advice is to take knowledge down slowly. Take your time.
If you really want to resolve that matter it would really help if you would describe in as much detail as possible the connections involved as well as the settings you have throughout the WHOLE signal path.
"How can it sent "Rear Left" only to the rear left speaker and "Rear Right" only to the right speaker with all other speakers dead quiet!"
If you are referring to the test tones, then as i said above they do not indicate the number of channels in a signal.
1) I am NOT referring to my test tones generated by my Receiver!
The test sounds I was referring to came from a AC3 test file I downloaded.
My interest in home theater systems is less than a month old, so I am not an expert, but any mistaken beliefs on my part are due to lack of experience not stupidity.
I have a BA in Philosophy, a BS in Computer Science and have been building computers for over six years.
I am not an expert, but neither am I a moron.
(I am not saying you called me a moron, but if I made the mistake you thought I was making I would certainly consider myself one)
2) My system is configured properly, and I always get the correct 5.1 output from 5.1 sources.
To confirm this I used a DVD with a THX audio test. Then I used an AC3 DivX version of the same test, and finally just the AC3 track from the test. All 6 channels are being sent only to the correct speaker.
(Actually I am assuming 5.1 rather than 5.0, I can't really tell without disabling crossover)
3) So whats the problem... I have a very weird test file thats was driving me crazy.
I am using a test file called "Surround Test.AC3".
It consisting of a computer generated voice that says "Front Left, Center, Front Right, Rear Left, Rear Right", followed by a rumble.
It is a simple test. If you each announcement comes only from the correct speaker you are good to go.
However the results are not so simple.
When I use an analog connection and decode with AC3 Filter I get 5 separate channels and a sub woofer rumble.
Next leave AC3 Filter alone, but switch to digital out. So I am decoding with AC3 Filter then using the soundcard re-encode.
PC #1(Cmedia) 2 channels spread over 5 speakers, plus rumble. Best digital encoding for this card.
PC #2(SB Live 5.1) 4 separate Channels spread over 5 speakers, plus rumble. The 2 surround channels were merged. Best this card can do.
Then I configure my system to SPDIF pass-though and have my Receiver decode.
PC#1 (CMedia) 4 Separate channels plus a rumble from the sub woofer. WTF
PC#2 (SB Live 5.1) 4 Separate channels plus a rumble from the sub woofer. WTF
Without touching anything I play 3 different AC3 test files, THX test (DVD), THX test (DivX).
5 separate channels plus a rumble from the sub woofer from both PCs. !!!!!
So its just this one file!
First I think its being decoded then re-encoded by the sound cards. But the CMedia can only re-encode to stereo!
I just played the file again with the CMEDIA. I am definitely 3 separate front channels and one rear channel!
One very weird file.
4) So I share the file on emule and ask Valex's opinion (he wrote AC3 Filter).
He downloads the file and tells me its not an AC3 file, but really an mp3! (An mp3 that can't be played without AC3 filter installed)
So I am getting 5 separate channels each outputting to its own speaker, one at a time from an mp3 file. But only when AC3 Filter decodes. When my Receiver decodes I only get 4 channels!
Anyway this file had me very confused, and for a week it was the only file I was using to test my system.
I know Dolby Prologic II decoding is used to generate 5.1 from stereo sources, but is it really able to seperate a 2 channel signal into a perfect 5.1 signal?
<P ID="edit"><FONT SIZE=-1><EM>Edited by Codesmith on 02/05/04 10:00 AM.</EM></FONT></P>