Creative Labs blasts out Audigy

Audigy is the best-sounding concept from Creative Labs yet. The cards add Firewire and can render different sounds simultaneously in different acoustic environments

Hard though it may be to pronounce, Audigy may be the best-sounding concept to emerge from Creative Labs, inventors of the Sound Blaster, since wave-table synthesis, or 3D sound.

The Audigy products will include three sound cards, aiming to get PC owners to upgrade, and PC makers to adopt the new standard. And there will also be a range of new higher-fidelity Cambridge speakers, to take advantage of the new technology.

Key to the new range of sound cards is the development of new digital-to-analogue converter chips (DAC), which have a 24-bit resolution and produce a 100dB signal to noise ratio.

But another major feature is the inclusion of the "Firewire" standard, IEEE 1394, which enables the PC to connect to other PCs or to Firewire-equipped video cameras, camcorders and other audio-video devices, at very high speeds -- around 30 times faster than universal serial bus connections.

The new products won't ship for another two months -- the aim is to be out in time for the winter holiday season of gift-buying.

The sound cards are aimed pretty unashamedly at the game-playing market. The features that Creative executives are most excited about involve what you can call audio theatres. The example, given by European Brand manager Franco deBonis, was of a roleplaying game.

The demo was of a player in a hallway, with a clock ticking. Outside the hallway was a corridor, in which a skeleton was laughing. And the other end of the hallway is an exterior area, with a well, haunted by a moaning ghost.

Previous generation sound cards, said deBonis, would have rendered all three sounds -- ticking, laughing, and moaning -- with the sound environment of the hallway. But Audigy, he said, can make the moaning have an exterior, well-based environment, while the skeleton's laughter would be coloured with the sound characteristics of the corridor.

The costs of the cards aren't yet decided, but it looks like the top-of-range card will be close to £300. It will be a gamble by Creative to see if these advantages are sufficiently profound to make users fork out the money, and go through the hassle of re-installing sound cards.

See the Consumer News Section for full coverage.

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