Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Devil is in the Details

I recently bought a PCI Express Sound Blaster X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Professional Series sound card. I know it doesn't follow with the whole concept of high tech on a budget except for the fact that I picked this up for $60 on a black Friday deal at Newegg when it normally runs for about $150.

I picked this card over other brands because it has a s/pdif output that I was hoping to use the fiber optic connection on to eliminate some noise hum. 28% of the reviews were 3 eggs or less out of 5. If you buy something and you rate it less than 4 eggs then there is a real problem. One of the biggest problems was what I ran into and I saw countless people including myself complaining that this board doesn't play multichannel 5.1 or greater Dolby out the S-PDIF/SPDIF optical connector.

This just happens to be one of the distinguishing features about this board when compared to it's much cheaper competition. The install process takes about 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on how attentive you are to the process. Once installed the software informs you that you are not running the latest versions of a few of its software packages. This download and re-install took another hour. After 2 hours of mind numbing installs I was ready to test the card. Well I needed music for that or at least some good audio testing software. It turns out the card comes with a dashboard that is actually quite nice for setting up and testing your speaker setup.

To sum things up a bit Windows 7 does not support multi-channel audio (over 2.1) on spdif.
Creative handles this in the most part by providing PowerDVD9 by cyberlink which is a great addition. This is the full version of this software. You can then play upto 7.1 audio through the spdif.
Secondly the Creative software is buggy and in most cases it will say you don't have the hardware installed after your hardware check passes. DRM fail is my guess. I hope this hurts thier sales none the less. I compiled a few hints, tips, and links that I reallt don't want to get into detail about because of the mass frustration dealing with the software included with this card. There are much cheaper solutions out there.

There are 3 components to the set up process.
1.) First you need to ensure the operating system is seeing the card. Many help and forum sites on the internet say you need to disable onboard Realtek audio as well as any other audio sources. This is not true. It might eliminate some confusion but the Windows 7 sound properties clearly indicate what sound devices are installed unless you don't have the manufacturer drivers installed properly.
You need to check off the box in the advanced tab "Allow applications to take exclusive control.."

The software comes with some tools that allow you to change some presets and give you some control over the sound card.
Here are some links to play around with:Dolby* Control Center:

fails to launch even with Windows 7 compatibility mode and running as administrator

From the windows 7 site:

Channels: 1.0 to 7.1, discrete
Data rate: 32 kbps–6 Mbps, scalable; typical range on HD optical discs is 768 kbps–1.5 Mbps
Supports Dolby metadata: Yes
Connections: S/PDIF, HDMI, IEEE 1394
Mixing/streaming capabilities: Yes
Backward Compatibility: Yes; S/PDIF to legacy A/V receivers (640 kbps data rate)
Connector Signal TypesLine output: Two-, six-, and eight-channel analog
S/PDIF: Two-channel PCM and Dolby Digital
HDMI 1.1/HDMI 1.2: Two-, six-, and eight-channel PCM and Dolby Digital
HDMI 1.3: Two-, six-, and eight-channel PCM, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby TrueHD bitstreams

ac3Filter is a high quality free audio decoder and processor filter. It allows media players to playback movies with AC3 and DTS audio tracks. Also it can process any audio track, much of processing options allows to adjust the sound in almost any way. It is possible to upmix any audio source to 6 channels. Filter can do multi-channel and digital (SPDIF) output. It can encode any audio source to AC3 on-the-fly and send it over SPDIF to the receiver.

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