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HDMI 1.3 HD Audio VS Sound Card for PC Games

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September 29, 2009 11:31:02 AM

Hi,

I was wondering about how necessary is HDMI 1.3 VS Sound card (Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatality Pro) for PC Games. I also heard that new video cards like Radeon HD 5000 series also support HDMI Blu Ray HD Audio but I notice that Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatality Pro does not have any HDMI port. Recently, ASUS had released the world's first triple HDMI sound cards against the popular Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi cards. So far, Creative seem to still reject HDMI port and continue with the traditional small rounded audio ports and microphone port as if HDMI HD audio is not that important. However, I also heard that HDMI 1.3 would allow you to use Dolby TrueHD...




So the questions are:

Does HDMI High Definition audio is necessary for PC Games? Or a sound card like Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatality Pro is enough for an HD audio for PC Games?

For the Full HD 1080P Blu Ray Movies or HTPC, does HDMI audio offer an advantage over an ordinary sound card audio?

What about the video card's HD audio? Does Video Card's HD audio via HDMI offers any advantage over Creative's Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatality Pro???

Do I really need HDMI 1.3 in order to listen to Dolby TrueHD audio???

Please give me more information about this Audio/Sound War like HD audio by HDMI 1.3 VS Sound card that does not have HDMI port. :bounce: 

Thank you. :) 




PS: I currently own a Creative Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatality Pro Card and a Creative GigaWorks G550W 5.1 Speakers. I normally play PC Games and oftenly listen to my MP3 musics on my PC...
September 29, 2009 12:09:02 PM

HDMI is only a transmission mechanism, and has no impact on the quality of the sound that is outputted from the source (It does impact how many channels can be transported, so below).

The three main transmission mechanisms:
3.5mm mini jacks/RCA: Analog, 2 channels per plug, up to 8 channels (7.1) supported.
SPDIF: Digital, 2 channels, up to 6 (5.1) using Dolby Digital/DTS formats
HDMI: Digital, Up to 8 channels currently with room for expansion, only tansport mechanism that supports all current sound formats

There are also a few audio formats you need to understand:
PCM: General term for uncompressed audio; highest quality, but largest size.
Dolby Digital/DTS (5.1): Compressed (Encoded) lossly formats. The size of DD/DTS is smaller then the size of 2.0 PCM, so these are typically used in conjunction with SPDIF to transmit 5.1 digital audio. Needs to be decompressed (Decoded) prior to being sent to speakers.
Dolby TrueHD/DTS Master Audio: 7.1 compressed (encodred) lossless formats. Only can be transmitted via HDMI. More commen then 7.1 PCM because of size limitations, but runs at a slightly lower bitrate (quality is practically the same though).

A soundcard will almost always have a higher playback quality of source audio. IE: The same file would sound better being played back through a sound card as opposed to an integrated system, regardless of transmission format. This is due to higher quality parts.

GPU's can transmit audio via HDMI, with restrictions. NVIDIA cards requires a SPDIF connection to the source device (mobo or Sound card), so standard SPDIF transmission restrictions apply. ATI cards support 8 channel audio, but are stuck with the quality of the realtek chip on the card itself, and to my knowledge (Correct me if im worng), can not pass through TrueHD/DTS Master Audio.

--------------------------

Now thats done, what you need is determined by what you want. If 5.1 is good enough, most any soundcard that can encode 5.1 audio will do. If you want to be able to playback/trasnsmit 7.1 formats, then you need one of the two specilized cards for that task. Is you're speaker system analog or digital? What formats is you're reciever (assuming you have one) capable of decoding? Gaming, Music, or movies? Etc.
September 29, 2009 12:51:02 PM

gamerk316 said:
HDMI is only a transmission mechanism, and has no impact on the quality of the sound that is outputted from the source (It does impact how many channels can be transported, so below).

The three main transmission mechanisms:
3.5mm mini jacks/RCA: Analog, 2 channels per plug, up to 8 channels (7.1) supported.
SPDIF: Digital, 2 channels, up to 6 (5.1) using Dolby Digital/DTS formats
HDMI: Digital, Up to 8 channels currently with room for expansion, only tansport mechanism that supports all current sound formats

There are also a few audio formats you need to understand:
PCM: General term for uncompressed audio; highest quality, but largest size.
Dolby Digital/DTS (5.1): Compressed (Encoded) lossly formats. The size of DD/DTS is smaller then the size of 2.0 PCM, so these are typically used in conjunction with SPDIF to transmit 5.1 digital audio. Needs to be decompressed (Decoded) prior to being sent to speakers.
Dolby TrueHD/DTS Master Audio: 7.1 compressed (encodred) lossless formats. Only can be transmitted via HDMI. More commen then 7.1 PCM because of size limitations, but runs at a slightly lower bitrate (quality is practically the same though).

A soundcard will almost always have a higher playback quality of source audio. IE: The same file would sound better being played back through a sound card as opposed to an integrated system, regardless of transmission format. This is due to higher quality parts.

GPU's can transmit audio via HDMI, with restrictions. NVIDIA cards requires a SPDIF connection to the source device (mobo or Sound card), so standard SPDIF transmission restrictions apply. ATI cards support 8 channel audio, but are stuck with the quality of the realtek chip on the card itself, and to my knowledge (Correct me if im worng), can not pass through TrueHD/DTS Master Audio.

--------------------------

Now thats done, what you need is determined by what you want. If 5.1 is good enough, most any soundcard that can encode 5.1 audio will do. If you want to be able to playback/trasnsmit 7.1 formats, then you need one of the two specilized cards for that task. Is you're speaker system analog or digital? What formats is you're reciever (assuming you have one) capable of decoding? Gaming, Music, or movies? Etc.


Thanks for the reply, gamerk316. :) 

So basically, HDMI has nothing to do with the quality of the sound/audio but it is just only about how it is being transmitted?

And you were saying that PCM audio's quality is the best audio quality that I can use and it is much better than Dolby surround sound like Dolby Digital/DTS for 5.1 speakers? Because I used to believe that Dolby sound is the best audio you can hear and it is very popular and I never heard of PCM audio before. :??: 

You were also stating that video card's audio is not really better than a sound card and still require a sound card for better sound due to restriction? So video card's audio quality is just like an onboard audio of motherboard? More or less?

The vendor of Creative GigaWorks G550W that I bought from said that GigaWorks G550W does support analog (analog is good for HD movies?) and that it is enough for just gaming while Logitech Z5500 would support both analog and digital so Logitech Z5500 is good for both Blu Ray Movies and for Gaming but it would cost more than GigaWorks G550W. Also, If I buy GigaWorks G550W, I can get a free Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatality Pro without having to spend money on the sound card and these are the main reasons why I went with Creative GigaWorks G550W. I only have to use it for gaming and listen to my MP3 musics so I don't really use PC for watching Full HD movies and I don't even have a Blu Ray DVD Player for PC. :bounce: 

I don't know what you mean about what receiver I have. I just have a sound card and a 5.1 speakers. Actually, they are still in the box because I was delaying my PC build due to waiting for DirectX 11 video cards and the motherboard and CPU so I still need to use them and they are still very new and they are also not in the same country where I am living now for the moment. Anyway, I will go back to my country and finish building my PC rig in the upcoming months...

So the HDMI 1.3 HD Audio is only good for Blu Ray HD Movies than for PC Gaming? If that's the case then my Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatality Pro would be good enough for PC gaming...

Anyway, I also heard that the new Radeon HD 5800 series would support the new Blu Ray HD audio too so they might also allow Dolby TrueHD/DTS Master Audio via HDMI or maybe I'm just wrong. :) 
Related resources
September 29, 2009 5:35:40 PM

Quote:
So basically, HDMI has nothing to do with the quality of the sound/audio but it is just only about how it is being transmitted?


The difference in quality is mainly between Analog and Digital transmission. Analog typically has a larger, more natural feel to the sounds, but suffers from distortion that is quite rare for digital transmission. As far as quality, HDMI has the same transmission quality as SPDIF, as both carry digital signals.

Quote:

And you were saying that PCM audio's quality is the best audio quality that I can use and it is much better than Dolby surround sound like Dolby Digital/DTS for 5.1 speakers? Because I used to believe that Dolby sound is the best audio you can hear and it is very popular and I never heard of PCM audio before. :??: 


Yes, PCM>All. Dolby and DTS are both compressed, lossy formats. However, prior to HDMI, SPDIF was the only way to transmit digital audio, and 5.1 PCM is too large to fit over a SPDIF connection. As both Dolby/DTS are compressed, they can be transmitted over SPDIF. So between 2.0 PCM and 5.1 DD/DTS, naturally, the 5.1 DD/DTS would be "better".

PCM is actually a newer (ok, older) term for uncompressed audio. For example, .WAV is a standard PCM audio format. Its uncompressed, and offers bit quality. However, .WAV files were hard to compress without loosing quality, so they were quite large. They were replaced by .MP3, a lossy, but compressed format. Most people can't detect the loss in quality, but its there.

It should be noted, very few (any?) 5.1 or 7.1 PCM audio tracks exist, due to the large sizes needed to store the tracks. As such, DD/DTS is necessary for 5.1 audio on blu-ray/DVD formats.

Quote:

You were also stating that video card's audio is not really better than a sound card and still require a sound card for better sound due to restriction? So video card's audio quality is just like an onboard audio of motherboard? More or less?


Depends on vendor. NVIDA cards can hook into either the motherboard or a sound card (assuming they have the proper connection) using an internal SPDIF connection, and simply pass through the existing audio signal over a DVI->HDMI connection. As the internal connection is SPDIF, the only formats that can be transferred are 2.0 PCM, Dolby Digital, and DTS.

ATI cards have an audio chip on the card itself, which preempts any other sound device when audio is outputted over the cards HDMI connection. Up to 7.1 is supported, but all audio is sent as uncompressed PCM audio (not a bad thing...). I do NOT know for sure if passing a Dolby/DTS signal is possible though.

Quote:

The vendor of Creative GigaWorks G550W that I bought from said that GigaWorks G550W does support analog (analog is good for HD movies?) and that it is enough for just gaming while Logitech Z5500 would support both analog and digital so Logitech Z5500 is good for both Blu Ray Movies and for Gaming but it would cost more than GigaWorks G550W. Also, If I buy GigaWorks G550W, I can get a free Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatality Pro without having to spend money on the sound card and these are the main reasons why I went with Creative GigaWorks G550W. I only have to use it for gaming and listen to my MP3 musics so I don't really use PC for watching Full HD movies and I don't even have a Blu Ray DVD Player for PC. :bounce: 


If you don't need to worry about Dolby/DTS decoding, then analog is quite fine for any audio purpose. Even then, most movie playback software has decoders built in to allow 5.1 on analog speakers. In this case, the GigaWorks speakers make the most sense.

Quote:

I don't know what you mean about what receiver I have. I just have a sound card and a 5.1 speakers. Actually, they are still in the box because I was delaying my PC build due to waiting for DirectX 11 video cards and the motherboard and CPU so I still need to use them and they are still very new and they are also not in the same country where I am living now for the moment. Anyway, I will go back to my country and finish building my PC rig in the upcoming months...


Allow me to explain: A reciever is basically a device with many different inputs and outputs. For example, you could plug multiple HDMI, SPDIF, and Analog connections into a reciever, then have one output to a single set of speakers. A key feature of most all recievers are built in decoders for Dolby/DTS, which will uncompress a Dolby/DTS signals into PCM audio that speakers can play back.

As a PC user, you probably won't need a reciever. Most PC audio is uncompressed, and even if you try to watch a DVD/Blu-ray on you're PC, most playback software has decoders built in.

Quote:

So the HDMI 1.3 HD Audio is only good for Blu Ray HD Movies than for PC Gaming? If that's the case then my Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatality Pro would be good enough for PC gaming...


Yeah, the ASUS HDAV 1.3 HDMI is geared more toward a Home Theare PC then for gaming. Its not a slouch, but not worth it for someone not interested in having a 7.1 system on their PC.

Quote:

Anyway, I also heard that the new Radeon HD 5800 series would support the new Blu Ray HD audio too so they might also allow Dolby TrueHD/DTS Master Audio via HDMI or maybe I'm just wrong. :) 


Like other ATI cards, it can trasmit 7.1 PCM via its HDMI output (see above). From what I've read, 7.1 Dolby/DTS formats can be passed through as well. (Can someone confirm/deny?)

Whew, that took longer then I though; re-wrote about 3 times...Seriously, I need to write a basic HT guide at some point...Feel free to ask any more questions, I probably butchered something in there...
September 30, 2009 5:26:47 AM

gamerk316 said:
Quote:
So basically, HDMI has nothing to do with the quality of the sound/audio but it is just only about how it is being transmitted?


The difference in quality is mainly between Analog and Digital transmission. Analog typically has a larger, more natural feel to the sounds, but suffers from distortion that is quite rare for digital transmission. As far as quality, HDMI has the same transmission quality as SPDIF, as both carry digital signals.

Quote:

And you were saying that PCM audio's quality is the best audio quality that I can use and it is much better than Dolby surround sound like Dolby Digital/DTS for 5.1 speakers? Because I used to believe that Dolby sound is the best audio you can hear and it is very popular and I never heard of PCM audio before. :??: 


Yes, PCM>All. Dolby and DTS are both compressed, lossy formats. However, prior to HDMI, SPDIF was the only way to transmit digital audio, and 5.1 PCM is too large to fit over a SPDIF connection. As both Dolby/DTS are compressed, they can be transmitted over SPDIF. So between 2.0 PCM and 5.1 DD/DTS, naturally, the 5.1 DD/DTS would be "better".

PCM is actually a newer (ok, older) term for uncompressed audio. For example, .WAV is a standard PCM audio format. Its uncompressed, and offers bit quality. However, .WAV files were hard to compress without loosing quality, so they were quite large. They were replaced by .MP3, a lossy, but compressed format. Most people can't detect the loss in quality, but its there.

It should be noted, very few (any?) 5.1 or 7.1 PCM audio tracks exist, due to the large sizes needed to store the tracks. As such, DD/DTS is necessary for 5.1 audio on blu-ray/DVD formats.

Quote:

You were also stating that video card's audio is not really better than a sound card and still require a sound card for better sound due to restriction? So video card's audio quality is just like an onboard audio of motherboard? More or less?


Depends on vendor. NVIDA cards can hook into either the motherboard or a sound card (assuming they have the proper connection) using an internal SPDIF connection, and simply pass through the existing audio signal over a DVI->HDMI connection. As the internal connection is SPDIF, the only formats that can be transferred are 2.0 PCM, Dolby Digital, and DTS.

ATI cards have an audio chip on the card itself, which preempts any other sound device when audio is outputted over the cards HDMI connection. Up to 7.1 is supported, but all audio is sent as uncompressed PCM audio (not a bad thing...). I do NOT know for sure if passing a Dolby/DTS signal is possible though.

Quote:

The vendor of Creative GigaWorks G550W that I bought from said that GigaWorks G550W does support analog (analog is good for HD movies?) and that it is enough for just gaming while Logitech Z5500 would support both analog and digital so Logitech Z5500 is good for both Blu Ray Movies and for Gaming but it would cost more than GigaWorks G550W. Also, If I buy GigaWorks G550W, I can get a free Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatality Pro without having to spend money on the sound card and these are the main reasons why I went with Creative GigaWorks G550W. I only have to use it for gaming and listen to my MP3 musics so I don't really use PC for watching Full HD movies and I don't even have a Blu Ray DVD Player for PC. :bounce: 


If you don't need to worry about Dolby/DTS decoding, then analog is quite fine for any audio purpose. Even then, most movie playback software has decoders built in to allow 5.1 on analog speakers. In this case, the GigaWorks speakers make the most sense.

Quote:

I don't know what you mean about what receiver I have. I just have a sound card and a 5.1 speakers. Actually, they are still in the box because I was delaying my PC build due to waiting for DirectX 11 video cards and the motherboard and CPU so I still need to use them and they are still very new and they are also not in the same country where I am living now for the moment. Anyway, I will go back to my country and finish building my PC rig in the upcoming months...


Allow me to explain: A reciever is basically a device with many different inputs and outputs. For example, you could plug multiple HDMI, SPDIF, and Analog connections into a reciever, then have one output to a single set of speakers. A key feature of most all recievers are built in decoders for Dolby/DTS, which will uncompress a Dolby/DTS signals into PCM audio that speakers can play back.

As a PC user, you probably won't need a reciever. Most PC audio is uncompressed, and even if you try to watch a DVD/Blu-ray on you're PC, most playback software has decoders built in.

Quote:

So the HDMI 1.3 HD Audio is only good for Blu Ray HD Movies than for PC Gaming? If that's the case then my Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatality Pro would be good enough for PC gaming...


Yeah, the ASUS HDAV 1.3 HDMI is geared more toward a Home Theare PC then for gaming. Its not a slouch, but not worth it for someone not interested in having a 7.1 system on their PC.

Quote:

Anyway, I also heard that the new Radeon HD 5800 series would support the new Blu Ray HD audio too so they might also allow Dolby TrueHD/DTS Master Audio via HDMI or maybe I'm just wrong. :) 


Like other ATI cards, it can trasmit 7.1 PCM via its HDMI output (see above). From what I've read, 7.1 Dolby/DTS formats can be passed through as well. (Can someone confirm/deny?)

Whew, that took longer then I though; re-wrote about 3 times...Seriously, I need to write a basic HT guide at some point...Feel free to ask any more questions, I probably butchered something in there...


Sorry to disturb you again but I love to type and ask questions since I am not also an audio expert as you probably seen me before at other forum sections and notice that I normally discuss in the other forum sections like Graphics and Motherboard sections more. I am surprise that you seem to know a lot about PC audio so let me squeeze more information from you for my knowledge if you don't mind... :) 

Here are some more easy questions for you, gamerk316:

The decoders are something that were called as DivX Codecs? I don't know what DivX codecs or Windows Media Players codecs really do but sometimes, some videos does not work with Windows Media Player without these codecs so that is why I installed DivX codecs and other codecs in order to play these videos and audio. Does it also have to with the audio decoders that you were talking about earlier???

About PCM audio: So do you think that I am able to listen to PCM audio with my Sound Blaster X-Fi Fatality Pro card or do I have to use the settings/options and choose PCM format over Dolby/DTS???

When you talk about compressing audio files, you meant that audio .WAV files are too big in size and needs to be compress but if being compressed then this would have an impact to the sound quality? So .WAV audio (uncompressed audio files) is better than MP3 compressed audio even if .WAV files are normally too big??? You made me think of Winzip program for compressing files.

What do you mean by "Lossy formats"? Or you meant "Lousy formats"? Lol! :D 

What about the new Dolby TrueHD VS PCM audio? Which is better? :o 
September 30, 2009 12:32:23 PM

Ok, Decoders basically are pieces of software that uncompress a certain audio format. For example, a Dolby Decoder takes a Dolby Digital stream and uncompresses it into standard PCM audio. Usually, this is done in hardware, although most movie playback software now includes deocders for at least standard Dolby Digital. If you try to play a compressed audio format without having the proper decoder, all you get is noise comming from you're speakers.

Again, for PC games, this is a non-factor, as any compressed aduio that may be used is uncompressed automatically by the game in question. Its only an issue when trying to play encoded (compressed) audio formats.

As for PCM: If you use analog outputs, all audio is outputted as PCM (do note: if the format is compressed and the correct decoder is not present, all you get is noise...). If you use digital, you are limited to 2.0 PCM or 5.1 Dolby Digital/DTS.

Yes, you're WAV/MP3 comparision is more or less correct. WAV is too large a format for storage, so MP3, which has a lower quality, is used instead.

Lossy formats refers to any file format where quality is degraded. For example, MP3, Dolby Digital, and DTS drop some data during the compression process which helps lower the size of the formats. Its hard to explain in words though...

PCM is still better then TrueHD and DTS Master Audio, although all three formats are lossless (Don't lose data). The only differences are their size and playback rate. So while PCM still offeres ever so slightly better quality (due to allowing higher overall bitrates), the vast diffences in sizes makes Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Aduio far more common 7.1 formats.

----------------------

I'm going to attempt a newbies guide to audio later today or tomorrow; hopefully I'll explain everything better then.
September 30, 2009 3:53:08 PM

gamerk316 said:
Ok, Decoders basically are pieces of software that uncompress a certain audio format. For example, a Dolby Decoder takes a Dolby Digital stream and uncompresses it into standard PCM audio. Usually, this is done in hardware, although most movie playback software now includes deocders for at least standard Dolby Digital. If you try to play a compressed audio format without having the proper decoder, all you get is noise comming from you're speakers.

Again, for PC games, this is a non-factor, as any compressed aduio that may be used is uncompressed automatically by the game in question. Its only an issue when trying to play encoded (compressed) audio formats.

As for PCM: If you use analog outputs, all audio is outputted as PCM (do note: if the format is compressed and the correct decoder is not present, all you get is noise...). If you use digital, you are limited to 2.0 PCM or 5.1 Dolby Digital/DTS.

Yes, you're WAV/MP3 comparision is more or less correct. WAV is too large a format for storage, so MP3, which has a lower quality, is used instead.

Lossy formats refers to any file format where quality is degraded. For example, MP3, Dolby Digital, and DTS drop some data during the compression process which helps lower the size of the formats. Its hard to explain in words though...

PCM is still better then TrueHD and DTS Master Audio, although all three formats are lossless (Don't lose data). The only differences are their size and playback rate. So while PCM still offeres ever so slightly better quality (due to allowing higher overall bitrates), the vast diffences in sizes makes Dolby TrueHD and DTS Master Aduio far more common 7.1 formats.

----------------------

I'm going to attempt a newbies guide to audio later today or tomorrow; hopefully I'll explain everything better then.


Is there such thing as a good quality compressed/uncompressed MP3 format? Do all MP3 audio has to be compress or is that just how the nature of MP3 format should be? Because in these days, I always see people downloading MP3 musics and listen to MP3 musics on iPod and iPhone or on their PC. If I decode these MP3 musics to PCM uncompressed format, would I still be able to listen on something like an iPod or iPhone and the music quality would also improve without any background noise??

What about MP4? I also heard of MP4 audio lately. Is MP4 format also being compressed and is it any better than MP3 format??

Also, when you say digital is limited to 2.0 PCM, you meant that digital would only work with 2.1 speakers systems or with only 2 speakers and not 5 speakers and not even 7 speakers??? If that's the case then this means that my GigaWorks G550W 5.1 speakers system would not be able to output 2.0 PCM via digital?
September 30, 2009 6:46:50 PM

Once a lossy audio format is compressed, even if you uncompress the audio, you retain the lost quality. IE, if you uncompress a MP3 back to WAV, you still only have MP3 quality. MP4 works the same way, although there are other changes as well.

Right now, the format I tend to use is called FLAC. Its compressed, but lossless, so it doesn't lose quality.

As for you're last question: Due to limitations of SPDIF (the standard method of digital audio transmittion), only 2.0 PCM, or 5.1 Dolby Digital/DTS can be transmitted. Its simply because SPDIF doesn't have the bandwidth to carry larger formats. HDMI can carry up to 7.1 (and beyond) without issue though.

As for hookup of the speakers; all digital audio will be converted to analog when sent to you're speakers. And since PC's rarly use Dolby Digital/DTS, you don't need to worry about decoders.

-------------------------------------------------------------
I've clearly overcomplicated this...So I'll retreat to the first post:

1: If you have no interest in listening to 7.1 formats on blu-ray disks, the HDAV 1.3 (or any other HDMI output) serves little purpose.

2: Output via a Videocards HDMI is more limting then using a soundcard

3: The Fatality Pro may be a bit older, but more then enough to go with you're speakers. Just plug in and everything should work fine.
October 15, 2009 1:29:58 PM

gamerk316 a big "thanks" from me for the info...
lately I try to learn more on HTPC and in particular on sound part, so the info you supplied to this thread was very useful!
10x again :) 
October 15, 2009 4:53:24 PM

^^ The best part is I got yelled at earlier this week for not understanding how Creative's CMSS3D works; even I'm still learning.

But yeah, for analog, most of the Encoding/Decoding stuff can be ignored. For digital though, you need to walk into the relm of Encoding/Decoding, SPDIF, etc.

Its a shame SPDIF can't carry a 5.1 connection as uncompressed PCM; that would eliminate most of the hardware requirements for digital 5.1...
!