In need of a new audio headset? Razer's Kraken is back, this time in the form of a 7.1 surround sound USB headset for gamers with an advanced virtual surround sound engine that the company claims is capable of ultra-low latency audio processing simulating a 360-degree surround sound experience normally only achievable with multiple positional speaker drivers in each cup.
Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video may have gotten all the attention in our recent head-to-head, but one of their competitors now has something that neither of those two streaming video services offers: discrete 7.1-channel surround sound. Dolby has announced that it has entered into an agreement to bring Dolby Digital Plus’s 7.1-channel audio to some of Vudu’s cinematic offerings, starting today with Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.”
The PC speaker market isn't as exciting as it once was -- remember when Logitech and Klipsch would duke it out with high-end speaker sets? -- but that doesn't mean it's dead entirely. To prove it, Logitech this weekend announced its Z506 Surround Sound Speakers.
According to Logitech, the Z506 is easily connected to just about any home entertainment device, and yes, that includes your PC. It also includes your PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, iPod, and DVD player.
"To ensure that the Logitech Surround Sound Speakers Z506 are easy to set up, we color coded all the cables and included an accessory cable for soundcards and music players," Logitech states in a blog post. "And, if you're a gamer, you can connect the Z506 speakers directly to your game console's existing RCA cable."
In addition to multiple inputs, the Z506 delivers 75 watts (RMS) of power, dedicated bass control, and a ported, down-firing subwoofer.
If you want to take full advantage of your PC’s audio potential, you should connect your rig to your A/V receiver and passive speakers—or a really good set of powered speakers. But accomplishing this task is often tricky, thanks to a combination of digital rights issues, proprietary surround-sound algorithms, and evolving connection standards.
Computers outfitted with Blu-ray drives and certain late-model videocards can deliver Blu-ray video over HDMI, but getting HD audio that way is another issue. An HDMI cable can carry both high-definition video and up to eight channels of high-definition audio (front left and right, front center, rear left and right, side left and right, and low-frequency effects). Blu-ray discs are typically encoded using Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD, or DTS-HD Master Audio; all three of these eight-channel lossless compression codecs can deliver bit-for-bit perfect copies of the original movie soundtrack. Here lies the rub: PCs currently cannot output audio encoded in any of these formats over HDMI.
A properly outfitted PC running CyberLink’s PowerDVD 8, however, can decrypt and decompress Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD and output it as uncompressed eight-channel LPCM (linear pulse code modulation) to HDMI. However, while videocards based on newer Nvidia GPUs are outfitted with HDMI, they’re all limited to two-channel LPCM (linear pulse code modulation) audio over HDMI, and that’s only if your motherboard has a S/PDIF-out header
AMD’s RV7xx-series cards can deliver uncompressed eight-channel LPCM audio over HDMI because they route the signals over the PCI Express bus. For integrated graphics, motherboards with Nvidia’s GeForce 8300 chipsets (for AMD CPUs) and GeForce 9300 or GeForce 9400 chipsets (for Intel CPUs), and those with Intel’s G35 Express, G45 Express, and G965 Express chipsets can do it, too.
We highlight the four most common PC audio scenarios. Pick the one that fits your situation and we’ll show you the best way to integrate your PC into your home-theater system.
One of the reasons we picked Turtle Beach’s Ear Force HPA2 headset as one of the 19 awesome upgrades we recommended in our June 2007 issue was the fact that it’s analog and can be paired with a soundcard. The new Ear Force AK-R8 is USB only, but this enables it to offer some compelling features in addition to fabulous surround sound.