Creative Labs last week announced its Sound Blaster Live! 3D audio solution, which, if analysts claims are anything to go on, could start another round of ferocious competition in the gaming industry. The launch has come at a bad time for Diamond Multimedia which today admitted its equivalent offering - the Monster Sound MX300 - will be a month late due to the addition of an undisclosed Dolby capability.
3D sound is nothing new in gaming: Aureal - now a partner with Diamond Multimedia - has been designing 3D audio solutions for well over a year but has been accused of stifling its marketing efforts with its view on the number of speakers required for true 3D sound. Aureal says you need two speakers, Diamond says two is good but four or even five speakers is better.
"Yes," says Neil McGuinness, communications manager at Diamond, "we will be promoting the use of more than two speakers." Carefully avoiding a disagreement with his partners at Aureal, McGuinness concedes that in certain instances "having a speaker behind you when a gun goes off" is more realistic than having a cleverly placed speaker recreating the sound artificially.
Creative will also be looking to promote the use of more than a pair of speakers and its SoundBlaster Live! system comes with support for either two or four analogue speakers. A digital output connector is also included and will support up to eight digital speakers.
The debate will no doubt collapse once people hear for themselves the difference between a two speaker system and a four speaker system but whether they choose to buy Creative or Diamond remains to be seen. "There's no easy winner here" says Dr David Lau Kee, managing director of Criterion Software, "there's a subjective element with sound. It's different in graphics where you can make a straightforward comparison. But what is that subjective benefit worth? It's very difficult to tell."
Difficult or not, Creative reckons it is on a roll: "I agree," says Jan Hauer, brand manager at Creative Labs, "it is difficult because it is subjective but I challenge anyone to simply come and listen to this card. I can't be fairer than that."
Listening to the cards "is pretty much what it will come down to" according to Roger Lotto an analyst at PC Data in the US. "There are a lot of cards around at the moment and subjectivity is obviously going to play a major part in the decision process." PC Data believes the market for 3D audio will continue to grow rapidly and although unit shipment figures were not available a spokesman for the firm reckons 3D audio will be "every bit as exciting" as the 3D graphics market.
The SoundBlaster Live! Costs £149 inc VAT and is on sale now. Diamond's MX300 is expected October and will cost around £100.