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Hercules Fortissimo III 7.1 and Digifire 7.1

Fortissimo III 7.1 And Digifire 7.1: Input And Output Quality, Continued

The reason for this quality difference is quite easy to explain for output 3, which handles the center channel and subwoofer. Hercules has added a filter to it to cut out low frequencies on the center-dedicated channel. This results in a 300 kHz crossover on the output which explains the crosstalk results because the two channels are not getting the same sound information. The reason for the filter on output 3 is to allow Fortissimo III 7.1 and Digifire 7.1 to be easily connected to a subwoofer with no integrated cutout system. It is a technical compromise which is detrimental to sound quality but advantageous for compatibility with speaker systems. This is a pity for those who do have an integrated cutout system (like MegaWorks 510D) and it may be that Hercules will include an option for deactivating the filter in its future drivers. Let's hope so.

For output 4, the explanation is similar in that it has a software-applied filter for when the eight elements are used from a source not encoded in 6.1 or 7.1. So if you play a DS3D game, watch a movie encoded in 2.1 or 5.1, or listen to a CD Audio with all the loudspeakers running, Fortissimo III 7.1 and Digifire 7.1 "virtualize" the sound into 7.1 instead of stereo panning it over the four surrounds. The result is convincing with regard to background sound, but it has negative effects on the "virtual" sound on the rear surrounds.

Hercules is aware that this technical arrangement can sometimes impair the quality of the sound and so has decided to develop new drivers which will have an option for deactivating virtualization to reproduce the same sounds on the four surround outputs. Users will then be able to choose according to taste. The filter on output 3 could also be deactivated to optimize use of speakers with electronic crossover.

Conclusion

The Fortissimo III 7.1 is meant to be a multi-purpose card for games and DVD. With Digifire 7.1, it's the same, but with more advanced connectivity and software focusing on acquisition and editing of digital video. Their two main new features (7.1 sound and Dolby Digital EX decoding) are certainly not negligible, but we do rather wonder what their real advantage is. 7.1 sound can only be a deciding factor for movies if the PC (or DVD/DivX box) are located in a good-sized room and not in an office or other room of ordinary size, but it is unlikely that users with a room like that would hesitate to invest a bit more in a card or decoder of home cinema quality. That said, you can always stick with 6.1 which will give you truly better sound immersion for Dolby Digital EX movies. In fact, Fortissimo III 7.1 and Digifire 7.1 are cards in a very low price range ($49.99 and $79.99) which makes them very affordable. This economy choice obviously does not place them in the music or top-of-the-range cards for sound fidelity. But we reckon their quality is quite adequate for leisure purposes like DVD and games. Moreover, within a few weeks Hercules should have overcome the quality problems caused by the filters on outputs 3 and 4 by releasing optimized drivers enabling users to choose the way the sound is restored.

After all, if you discount this quality problem, there is no denying the attraction of Dolby Digital EX in movies and the sometimes significant advantage of 6.1 and 7.1 in games. The quality/price ratio of Fortissimo III 7.1 and Digifire 7.1 is a definite and deciding advantage compared with other solutions for games and Dolby Digital decoding. Performance in games is really good and the driver interface is a model of its kind for appearance and simplicity.