AudioTrak Prodigy 7.1 - Performance Games & DVD
Games and DVD
The Prodigy uses the Sensaura3D algorithms for 3D surround and environmental effects. AudioTrak do use the latest versions of the Sensaura3D libraries, which in all cases worked extremely well. It supports a large list of major game sound API's, including DirectSound 3D, A3D 1.0, EAX 1.0, EAX 2.0, Macro FX, Environment FX, Multi Drive, Zoom FX, and I3DL2. The only API that it does not support is EAX3.0.
In Halo, the effects were quite good. The only thing that had me guessing were the footsteps, which seemed to be coming from behind the Chief, and not under him. At least the sounds were coming from somewhere else, and not in my head. Occasionally, some of the vehicle sounds would seem too distant or too close. Forget about firing the pistol in a tunnel, where you expect to hear lots of reverb and reflections. It sounds the same as firing outdoors. This is odd, because the footsteps had the 'correct' reverberated sound. On some of the outdoor levels, I had to take off the headphones and look around because the ambient sounds were extremely life-like.
With Tron 2.0, sounds were marginally improved. This is largely due to the fact that Tron 2.0 doesn't have a whole lot of environmental sounds, unless you count little computer-like bleeps and bloops. Directional cues from enemies was far better, because they would mutter some epitaph before they would attack, and the Sensaura3D had the dialog coming from the correct direction. It did have an effect on frame-rate, however, as the game felt a little sluggish at times.
In Counter-Strike, I did come across the odd stutter every few rounds. I am used to the Terratec DMX 6-fire doing this, so I didn't pick up on it right away. That being said, the Sensaura3D+EAX effects were great. It was very subtle, no over-the-top reverb, and most importantly, believable. It truly added to the precious Immersion Factor. By all accounts, these new Sensaura algorithms beat the snot out of plain old EAX. On maps like Aztec, the sounds were just so perfect, the occlusion in doorways and the rain sound fading when going to the bridge. I haven't had a C-Strike binge in quite awhile, and I was positively glued to the game for days.
AudioTrak uses Intervideo's WinDVD 4.0 for DVD playback. All of the SRS features are bundled, TruSurroundXT, Dialog Clarity, and TruBass, with the WinDVD. This unfortunately makes it impossible to use the SRS and a different software DVD player. While I didn't have any complaints about using WinDVD, I just find this kind of bundling limiting.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that WinDVD played 5.1-channel DVD-Audio discs just fine. WinDVD has a DVD-Audio plug-in for $US39.95 that will enable the ultra-high resolution 24bit, 192kHz 2-channel audio which the Prodigy supports. But it's not ready yet at press time.
I watched Pulp Fiction, and two videos of Jimi Hendrix, Live at Woodstock and Wild Blue Angel. I would have included The Matrix and LotR, but they are both out on loan. The two Jimi Hendrix videos are a great test for a sound card. Wild Blue Angel was Jimi's last live performance at the Isle of Wight. I have always heard that this was his best performance--ever. In my humble estimation, it was a nightmare for him, his amps kept buzzing, the drums weren't loud enough, and he kept making some mistakes here and there. But it's the blues, what can you do? What is remarkable is that all of these little things were audible with the Prodigy.
Pulp Fiction I watched with various SRS modes. The TruSurround mode is a little quiet, but it does the job to be sure. With the right setting, the surround sound was accurate with the headphones. With the wrong setting, I was listening to the surround channels, and none of the dialog came through. On a whim, I tried the 'Karaoke' setting, which did, to some extent, mask out the dialog. Weird stuff, this SRS, but it does work.
To be perfectly honest, I'm not a home theatre buff. I've only got two ears--why do I need 8 speakers? To that end, I was able to use my headphones with the SRS modes to get a decent mixdown into two channels. It wasn't ideal, but then neither is my living situation, which precludes the use of speaker systems larger than two channels.
For a sound card that doesn't have any hardware acceleration, the Sensaura3D game effects were very good, and remarkably better than any other Sensaura3D-based card we have in the lab. As far as eating up resources, the Prodigy is no Audigy2. But it's not far off the Audigy2's trail. The Prodigy's drivers were rock solid, too.