|CPU wars, graphics wars and now we also have sound wars. Despite the fact that audio features in modern PCs have become a commodity and have received little attention in recent years, the move to high-definition is now increasing the rivalry between sound card makers. Creative sent an email to several websites accusing Asus of misleading users by not supporting environmental audio extensions (EAX) - which have been used by Creative since 2001. As you might imagine, Asus has a different opinion.
It is the first time, at least as far as we can recall, that Creative is directly attacking Asus, interestingly just as the Xonar D2 and D2X cards are gaining market traction. The company is clearly upset that Asus is converting modern EAX APIs, including EAX 3, 4 and 5.
In an email apparently sent to several websites, the company wrote:
"Asus is misleading its customers by suggesting that its sound cards now support EAX 5. Asus sound cards do not support EAX 5, nor do they support EAX 3 or EAX 4. The new Asus drivers are falsely reporting EAX 5 capabilities in order to get these games to ouptut 3D audio on Asus sound cards. Furthermore, the several hundred games that support EAX 3 or EAX 4 for delivering in-game effects will not provide those effects from Asus sound cards."
Creative chose a path of dramatic words to make its voice heard and considering Asus' advances in the sound market, such a move was almost to be expected. Asus appears to have a solid product lineup right now and is even preparing triple-HDMI sound cards, while Creative's latest X-Fi PCIe card uses a last generation sound chip (Audigy 2) with some X-Fi enhancements and actually should not be called X-Fi at all. It is obvious that Creative may feel threatened by Asus right now.
So, is Creative right? We asked Asus for their view. Eric L. Chen from Asus got back to us with following statement:
"The Xonar series driver update for DS3D GX 1.0 to DS3D GX 2.0 is our response to feedback/criticism favoring compatibility with games that feature EAX 5.0.
DS3D GX 2.0 allows gamers to enable EAX sound options/schemes in games on Vista and legacy Windows XP. The solution involves:
- Enabling EAX5.0 sound setting in games
- Redirecting DirectSound3D Hardware and EAX calls to the DS3D GX core
- Upgrading the DS3D GX engine.
The updated engine:
- Revives multi-channel (128 voice) 3D positional sounds and enhanced environmental reverberation effects on Vista for most DirectSound 3D HW compatible games including EAX 2.0/5.0 game titles.
- Installs automatically with driver updates. DS3D GX aims to be more convenient and intuitive than Creative's ALchemy solution, which requires users to manually setup and assign games into the support list. Moreover, Asus does not charge its users for driver upgrades.
- Retains vivid 3D sound and EAX effects for Vista users in most existing titles that do not support OpenAL.
- Allows users to reproduce comparable 3D positional sounds and EAX effects to native EAX 5.0 sound devices in EAX 5.0 game titles, instead of reverting to stereo, 2D, or Windows-emulated 3D sounds.
- Features VocalFX voice processing technology, which can apply realistic reverberations to users' voices relevant to the dynamic in-game landscapes (VoiceEX), emulates background scenes as you use online chat (ChatEX), and modifies vocal pitches to disguise a user's identity (Magic Voice).
Our implementation is not a 1:1 reproduction of EAX 5.0. Rather, DS3D GX allows users the choice to universally access gaming audio effects that would otherwise be locked behind specific X-Fi cards and ALchemy-patched game titles. While we do respect the capability of a dedicated DSP processor to offload the CPU work, we believe performance differences will continue to diminish based on the power of today's popular CPUs. We also expect more game developers to adopt software DSP effects for their flexibility and universally guaranteed user experiences.
That being said, Asus will continue responding to customer requests with products that unite the best in consumer audio with the most innovative features."
For now, Asus at least claims to offer its users some EAX 5 feature compatibility. However, it is obvious that Asus itself is not happy with a "pay for driver" policy that has been established by Apple and Creative Labs. Also, Asus says that audio effects are ok in Vista, which is a tricky territory for Creative, which had numerous issues with creating Vista drivers for the X-Fi and Audigy series of cards. This dispute has all the signs that will see two technologies to go to war, Creative ALchemy from one side, and Asus DS3D GX from the other.
We wish you a warm welcome into Sound Wars: The New Generation. Have your soundsabers ready, this could get ugly.