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Hercules Fortissimo III 7.1 and Digifire 7.1

Test Setup And Methods

ProcessorAMD Athlon 1800 XP - 256 MB PC2100
MotherboardMSI KT7 Master
SpeakersMegaworks 510D - 210D
DVD-ROMToshiba SM1302
Graphics cardATI Radeon 64 MB DDR
Drivers & Software
DirectX version8.1a
OSWindows XP Professional

The Fortissimo III 7.1 and Digifire 7.1 sound cards were tested objectively and subjectively. The following software and DVDs were used:

Fortissimo III 7.1 And Digifire 7.1: Dolby Digital EX Decoding

The drivers and four analog outputs give Fortissimo III 7.1 and Digifire 7.1 the capacity to decode DVD sound tracks encoded in Dolby Digital EX. To do so, you have to use the Power DVD Pro EX provided with the cards. Hercules has done things neatly so that the card driver and software sound configuration dovetail and activate 5.1, 6.1 or 7.1 decoding depending on what you choose. This means you don't have to configure the same thing twice in two different places.

Fortissimo III 7.1 and Digifire 7.1 were tested subjectively with DVDs encoded in Dolby Digital EX like Star Wars Episode One, Phantom Menace and Lord of the Rings, and with DVDs encoded in Dolby Digital like Alien Resurrection and Saving Private Ryan. Nothing in particular to say about decoding itself - the job was done more than adequately, even though you don't get quite the quality and clear positioning results of a dedicated decoder. The advantage of 7.1 and 6.1 over 5.1 is patent - the rear surround speaker(s) envelope you in sound much better. An appreciable point is that music and background noise are on these speakers and so free up the main surrounds for sound effects.

However, the gain in the sound effects themselves is negligible because 90% of them are still on the standard 5.1 channels. They are hardly to be heard on the rear surround channels. This is as true for 7.1 as for 6.1, especially since in 7.1 the Dolby Digital EX matrix system means the same sounds are heard on the two rear center speakers, so 7.1 is only better if you have a large room and a lot of people, otherwise 6.1 is quite adequate. Note that the Fortissimo III 7.1 and Digifire 7.1 analog outputs give a lower sound level than the Creative Labs Audigy. This is a good thing in a way because it limits distortion but it does also limit the maximum reachable volume. Overall, we can say both cards do a good job of Dolby Digital EX decoding.

As we already said, a system which can decode sound in 6.1 or 7.1 is also good for playing DVDs encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1. Positioning is not as good as with EX sound tracks but still effective. The surround sounds are spread over the four speakers so listeners are better enveloped in sound. This should be avoided though in some movies because it reduces the power of the sound effects. Another thing to remember is that 7.1 emulation from a DVD encoded in 5.1 substantially impairs the quality of the sound on the rear surround speakers (see explanation below).