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Why I hate sound cards

Auzen X-Fi Prelude 7.1

Over the last few days, I’ve been getting to grips with my new system. So far, in all but a single area, I’m 100% satisfied. It runs fast, it runs quiet, and it’s reliable… until, that is, you put sound into the equation. I specifically picked out Auzentech’s X-Fi Prelude 7.1 sound card for this new system, because it offers real-time encoding to Dolby Digital (Dolby Digital Live), as well as featuring Creative’s X-Fi chipset, and therefore being compatible with their EAX 5.0 hardware audio acceleration (third parties can include EAX support for their sound cards, but only in software and only up to version 2.0). Other sound cards support Dolby Digital Live, and others (i.e. those from Creative) support EAX 5.0, but to the best of my knowledge this is the only one which supports both.

Unfortunately, to call the Dolby Digital Live implementation buggy at present would be a massive understatement. Every so often, the Dolby Digital stream seems to simply die, leaving me with an intensely irritating endless loop of the same snippet of sound being repeated over and over, a bit like a record that has become stuck. Disabling and re-enabling Dolby Digital Live fixes this, but this is not exactly a viable solution when it happens every four or five minutes, as it did when I played the demo of Bioshock last night. It also happens when I’m watching TV via Windows Media Center or playing a movie or video file in PowerDVD or Windows Media Player, which rules out this being a software problem. It’s also not a problem with my audio receiver, as the issue occurs even when it isn’t switched on. Other people have reported this problem too, and some have contacted Auzentech directly about the matter. One posted the manufacturer’s response:

Thank you for contacting Auzentech.

We have concluded that the DDL driver is still unstable.
(Crackle, Noise, To get sound back, we need to re-check the DDL)
We are working on the next driver continously and bring out the conclusion as soon as possible.

We appreciate your support and patience.

On the plus side, at least they acknowledge that there is a problem. On the downside, this post is more than three months old, and more driver updates have come along since then which have failed to solve the problem. Perhaps the DTS Interactive (the DTS equivalent of Dolby Digital Live) support which is supposed to be getting added before the end of the second quarter of 2008 (which, by my reckoning, gives Auzentech just under a month to make good on this promise), will be more stable? Until then, I’ve disabled my Prelude and gone back to my old Audigy.

Oh, and, for various reasons, it’s clear that I’m going to have to keep my installation of Windows XP around for certain tasks. One of these, currently, is playing Hellgate: London, which, on the Audigy, only seems to be able to output 2-channel audio in Vista. (With the Prelude, I was getting full 5.1 support, but what use is that when the sound is constantly getting stuck in an endless loop?) Another is playing Unreal Tournament 3, which appears to have a bug which causes the game to crash after a few minutes’ play when using the OpenAL audio mode. The solution? Disable OpenAL. All well and good, but, in Vista, you need OpenAL to be enabled in order to get 5.1 audio. Ah, sound cards. Don’t you just love them?

(Incidentally, I can’t get the DirectX 10 mode to work in Hellgate. When it’s enabled, I am greeted with a blank screen when I attempt to run it, occasionally with an error message telling me that an “unknown software exception” has occurred. Apparently, from what I’ve read on various forums, getting DirectX 10 to work with this game is basically a case of pot luck. It’s becoming more and more obvious that Hellgate’s coding is a joke.)

The final thing that I need XP for is transferring music to my MP3 player. No, I’m not kidding. Do you remember how, a while back, I posted about problems with video playback in Vista? Originally, I thought that the culprit was the ArcSoft TotalMedia TV capture software I had installed. Well, this morning I discovered that the blame should in fact be laid at the door of Sony’s SonicStage software, which I need to install in order to get my computer to interface with my MP3 player (curse Sony and their stupid proprietary formats). The moment I installed it, my video playback went belly-up. Uninstalling it didn’t fix things, but performing a roll-back via System Restore did. Just to make sure this wasn’t a coincidence, I repeated the trick three times, and each time, video playback went wonky as soon as the SonicStage installer had finished working its magic. So now, if I want decent video playback in Vista, I have to use XP to transfer MP3s to my player. The thing to do, I suspect, is to get my hands on a new MP3 player (Sony’s more recent players allow you to simply drag and drop music on to them without having to deal with any proprietary software), but I’ve just bought a new computer, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t feel like shelling out yet more money for new hardware.

 
Posted: Sunday, June 01, 2008 at 1:56 PM
Categories: Games | Music | Technology

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