- supports virtually all home theatre and 3D audio standards
- optical digital I/O.
- Prone to crosstalk and interference
- unusual port configuration requires jumpers
- most of the bundle software is restricted
- no Dolby Digital EX or DVD-A support.
Since giving the PC its first set of high-fidelity speakers in the form of the Sirocco, VideoLogic has shifted focus from its graphics origins towards the more expansive consumer audio markets. In addition to a wide range of speakers and digital radios, VideoLogic also produces PC sound cards, the latest of which is the Sonic Xplosion DVD.
The card itself is simply a rebadged version of TerraTec’s SixPack 5.1+ (we know this, because that’s what was printed on the back of the circuit board), and supports both surround-sound speaker setups and most 3D audio standards. With a CS4630 SoundFusion DSP from Crystal on-board, the Sonic Xplosion DVD is capable of tackling pretty much any audio task you care to throw at it, with the exception of 24-bit / 192 kHz audio. This shortfall obviously places it behind Creative’s new Audigy 2, but the Sonic Xplosion DVD makes up for this in other areas, most obviously 3D audio.
Unlike Creative, which is tied to its own EAX 3D audio, VideoLogic can pick and choose which formats to support, and in this case seems to have opted for virtually all of them. As well as EAX 1.0 and 2.0 and DirectSound, the Sonic Xplosion DVD can also handle Sensaura instructions and even supports the sadly extinct Aureal A3D standard, so it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever find yourself in a position where a game’s 3D audio features aren’t supported.
The same can also be said of this product’s surround-sound options, hence the ‘DVD’ denomination. With three speaker ports at the rear of the card and on-chip digital audio decoding, you don’t need to employ an external decoder box to enjoy full digital surround sound from your DVD movies -- although AC3 throughput is provided. Nearly all consumer surround-sound standards are supported here, including both Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Headphone and DTS, but not the new 7-channel standard, Dolby Digital EX 6.1. However, you do at least get DVD playback software (WinDVD 4.0) with this card, which is notably missing from the Audigy 2 bundle. It’s also worth noting that the Crystal Sound Fusion DSP can handle MP3 decoding in hardware. Although it’s highly unlikely that your PC will struggle to perform this function in software, it’s worth noting that this will reduce the processor load during games that use MP3 tracks as their backing (or if you like to play MP3s during gaming), freeing up CPU cycles for other tasks.
Like Creative Labs’ card, the Sonic Xplosion DVD has run out of space on the backplate, and provides a separate plate for the joystick/MIDI port if required. In its place you’ll find a pair of Toslink optical ports for dedicated digital input/output to compatible AC3 audio decoders, MiniDisk players, DAT drives or amplifiers. Two further ports are provided for microphone or line-in connections, with colour coding for simpler identification. However, it must be pointed out that the dedicated headphone jack listed in the specifications is actually the line-in port -- you choose which operation you want with a jumper on the board itself. Two other jumper switches are required to toggle adjust S/PDIF and CD IN connection options, which we feel is rather more manual intervention that your average sound card installation should require.
At first glance, the software bundle looks immense, including media players, karaoke utilities, codec packs, studio software, audio cleaning tools, ripping and burning applications, audio converters, mixers and sequencers. Closer inspection reveals that much of this is shareware or restricted demoware, leaving you with WinDVD 4, VideoLogic’s Internet Telephone, Steinberg’s DJ Player, WinAmp and Karaoke Player, along with some positional audio demos.
As far as surround sound is concerned, the Sonic Xplosion DVD does exactly what it sets out to do, and there’s no criticising its handling of the various 3D sound standards that are supported by the card. However, despite its six independent 20-bit DACs and quoted signal to noise ratio of 97dB, we found that the Sonic Xplosion DVD was as prone to crosstalk and interference as the Sound Blaster Live! card that it replaced. We could hear the hard disks and optical drives in our test PC revving up out of standby, and our headphone tests revealed a constant background hiss, particularly when the card wasn’t doing anything, although this was considerably less noticeable when using speakers.
Overall we’d call this a worthy product, capable of turning its hand to most audio tasks and supporting more 3D audio options than its DirectSound/EAX-only competition from Creative Labs. Alternatively, if you don’t want any of the on-board Dolby Digital or DTS decoding, the standard Sonic Xplosion card can be bought for only £42.54, which we think makes it the better value.