Hercules - Game Theater XP, Continued
The Game Theater XP control panel is, in many ways, very much like both the Turtle Beach Santa Cruz and Gamesurround Fortissimo II. This should not surprise anyone, because it also features a Crystal Audio DSP. I found the control panel to be complete and easy to use. It worked very well and it was easy to understand.
During the MP3 tests of this card, I was very surprised by the amount of peak CPU usage that the Game Theater XP showed during the tests. While playing our test tracks, the CPU would continue to stay around 10% to 12% and then shoot up to a high of 21%. We searched through the system for extra programs running and looked for possible reasons that the card did this, but found nothing to indicate a reason for this. It should be noted that we used the updated drivers from the web site and perhaps this driver has some sort of a bug that is causing this problem. We didn't have this issue when re-testing the card with the enclosed "older" drivers, but keeping with our testing methodology, we only used the newest drivers, so the score will have to stand. (Using the older driver the MP3 playback CPU utilization was between 11% to 15% which I consider to be about right for this card.)
The overall sound of the card was excellent! The card had a wide sound field with nice, crisp high end. The card has a good low end range, and I found the performance to be excellent with just about everything that I listened to. The only problem with all of this was that the Turtle Beach Santa Cruz, which is based on the same 4630 DSP, sounded the same to me. When playing DVDs, I experienced no problems and everything worked well and caused no issues. The DVD pass through was fine and worked as advertised.
When comparing the Game Theater XP to the Sound Blaster Live! Platinum 5.1, they are both very close, and yet very different. I found that I liked the external rack of the Game Theater XP better than the Live! Drive IR, but I did miss the remote provided by the Live! Drive IR. If cost is a major factor in your choice, then the Game Theater XP will be the ultimate winner with a price that is some $50 lower that the Sound Blaster Live! Platinum 5.1, but the Game Theater XP doesn't have the amount of bundled applications that the Sound Blaster Live! Platinum 5.1 has. If you look at the overall performance of the card, as well as the included input/output options, this makes the Game Theater XP an attractive choice.