Many Creative soundcard users are enraged by the company's
latest corporate tactics. In the past, many high-end PC components have
been almost synonymous with custom drivers. Whether it be NVIDIA, ATI, or
Creative; graphics and sound chip makers have large fan bases who write custom
mods both out of a desire for performance and out of necessity.
However while most hardware manufacturers have cast a blind
eye on the driver modding community or even encouraged it, Creative has taken a
hard-line stance that has many users crying foul. Creative on Friday
posted a notice on its message board, threatening
driver maker "Daniel_K" with legal action.
The notice, posted by Phil O'Shaughnessy, vice president of Corporate Communications at
Creative, reads as a terse cease-and-desist. O'Shaughnessy states:
We are aware that you
have been assisting owners of our Creative sound cards for some time now, by
providing unofficial driver packages for Vista that deliver more of the
original functionality that was found in the equivalent XP packages for those
sound cards...By enabling our technology and IP to run on sound cards for which
it was not originally offered or intended, you are in effect, stealing our
goods. When you solicit donations for providing packages like this, you
are profiting from something that you do not own. If we choose to develop
and provide host-based processing features with certain sound cards and not
others, that is a business decision that only we have the right to make.
The origin of this driver controversy stems from the transition from Windows
Vista from XP. When Creative rewrote
the drivers for its Sound Blaster Audigy series, it left off a number of
features. Among these features were DVD-Audio support, DD/DTS decoding,
an equalizer, CMSS2/CMSS Stereo Surround support, and THX Options. Many
alleged that Creative purposefully crippled its older Sound Blaster cards to
push sales of its flagship X-Fi cards. Others point out that all the
Vista drivers for Creative cards, including the X-Fi drivers, are filled with
glitches and frequently crash and stop working, indicating that the problem is
more a general lack of success in driver writing. Some users have even
reported that they've experienced crashes and have been unable to restore their
soundcards to working order, even after numerous driver reinstalls.
Amid all these problems, Daniel_K stepped into action and released
a set of custom drivers for the Sound Blaster Audigy series. These
drivers re-enabled the crippled functionality from XP, improved stability, and
improved general performance. Daniel_K, having spent many hours
programming the drivers, solicited contributions from supporters as is-oft done
in the custom driver community.
An enraged Creative is now battling to squelch the spread of the drivers
online, unhappy that the drivers enable features that it intended not to allow.
However, it is now facing an uprising from its former supporters, as indicated
in the forum thread in which Daniel_K was put on notice. The forum thread
features over 1,600 messages, nearly all angry blasts against what is perceived
as Creative's draconian assault on the modder community.
User "Eggchaser," a "trusted contributor" writes, "He
does something that Creative are either not capable of doing or refuse to
do. If you are not capable then I suggest you sack your software writers
and employ ones that can ... Incidentally you flagship products (X-FI) STILL
do not run properly on Vista with YOUR drivers ... Shame on you for doing
this, actually I laugh at you for doing it because what you have done is lost
yourselves customers ... One customer lost and counting."
Another contributor, "includeao," writes, "daniel_k must be
praised has a hero ... Creative IS stealing MY goods with bad marketing, services
Many users are suggesting a boycott of Creative. Creative is already
sagging under sinking sales of sound cards and its stock price dove steeply
enough for it to voluntarily delist itself from NASDAQ last year. For an
interesting read on the business side of Creative's woes, refer to AnandTech's
analysis of the
While daniel_k's posts on the creative forums advertising the drivers may have
been deleted, the O'Shaughnessy memo does indicate that daniel_k intends
to keep up his modding.
Says Shaughnessy, "Although you say you have
discontinued your practice of distributing unauthorized software packages for
Creative sound cards we have seen evidence of them elsewhere along with
donation requests from you. We also note in a recent post of yours on
these forums, that you appear to be contemplating the release of further
quote: It actually grabs from the msinfo32 menu.
quote: Bring back NVIDIA sound storm!
quote: both out of a desire for performance and out of necessity and
quote: Haha, in CS 1.6 A3D had to be banned from competition. The right soundcard/driver/config would mean you could hear people almost across the map with prettying good accuracy of location. Huge advantage because almost all walls are spamable.
quote: We are aware that you have been assisting owners of our Creative sound cards for some time now, by providing unofficial driver packages for Vista that deliver more of the original functionality that was found in the equivalent XP packages for those sound cards...By enabling our technology and IP to run on sound cards for which it was not originally offered or intended, you are in effect, stealing our goods.
quote: Isn't EAX pretty much on the way out anyway? Most game developers seem to be opting for Dolby Digital or OpenAL instead.
quote: On the flip side, one can argue that Creative, by not supporting the functionality is robbing its customers of features that it advertised.
quote: Summary of Software Features------------ Entertainment - Audio Creation - Game3DMIDI Playback Yes Yes Yes3DMIDI Interaction No Yes NoEAX ADVANCED HD 5.0 Limited Limited YesEAX ADVANCED HD 4.0 Limited Limited YesEAX ADVANCED HD 3.0 Yes Yes YesNumber of Auxiliary Effects 2 4 4Maximum Number of Reverbs 1 2 4Insert Effects No 4 NoASIO Out Channels: Dry 1 Pair 5 Pairs 1 PairASIO Out Channels: FX No 4 Pairs NoASIO In Channels: WUH 8 8 8ASIO In Channels: Basic 2 (1 Pair) 2 (1 Pair) 2 (1 Pair)ASIO 2.0 Support Limited Yes LimitedASIO 2.0 Direct Monitoring 0 12 (6 pairs) 0Bit-Matched Playback No Yes NoBit-Matched Recording No Yes NoCMSS-3DSurround Yes No YesCMSS-3DHeadphone Yes No YesCMSS-3DVirtual (2 Speakers) Yes No YesCMSS-3DVirtual (4 Speakers) No No YesCMSS-3DInteractive Yes Yes Yes24-bit Crystalizer Yes Yes YesGraphic EQ 10 Bands 10 Bands 10 BandsSmart Volume Management Yes Yes YesBass Management Advanced No AdvancedNoteSound Blaster X-Fi supports Dolby Digital and DTS bitstream out at 48 kHz only.
quote: These changes had a number of unfortunate side effects. kMixer dependency issues First, while all efforts were made to work with all legacy XP audio drivers, the global graph communication to the audio driver does differ from the way kMixer communicated to the audio driver, in terms of timing and processing blocks and demands for more precise reporting of sample position. As a result, any legacy XP audio driver whose behavior depended on kMixer specific behavior could break in Vista, if Vista subjects the driver to an unexpected condition. This was ultimately the root cause of several bugs found in Audigy and X-Fi drivers for Vista, such as audio dropouts, distortions that only happen once a while, constant distortions, or audio/video synchronization drift that only happens after several hours of watching movies. These bugs are being addressed now. Pre-mixed Audio Second, with the way this new emulation structure, all "MME" and "Direct Sound" applications will ultimately result in pre-mixed PCM audio that is sent to the driver in one and only one format (in terms of sample rate, bit depth and channel count), and that format is governed by a Control Panel setting that Microsoft would prefer be configured only by the end user. This eliminates any opportunity for hardware to accelerate sample rate conversion or to take full advantage of advanced SRC technologies such as the ones used in Sound Blaster X-Fi products ( http://www.soundblaster.com/products/x-fi/technolo... ) when using standard operating system audio. Direct Sound 3D HW Acceleration - RIP In addition, unlike Windows XP, there is no "Direct" path from DirectSound applications to audio drivers or hardware at all. DirectSound is emulated into a Windows audio "Session", as depicted here: DirectSound Click to enlarge The diagram below puts this in perspective in the context of the entire audio architecture. Note that DirectSound implementation is circled in red: Entire Vista audio architecture Click to enlarge Note that the Vista DirectSound emulation sends mixed audio content to the standard OS audio path, and offers no "direct" path to hardware at all. Since the whole point of DirectSound acceleration is to allow hardware to process unmixed audio content, DirectSound cannot be accelerated in this audio model. Game Audio Issues This results in bugs such as loss of EAX functionality in games to complete incompatibility, depending on how the game title was authored and how well the Microsoft DirectSound emulation code works. In addition, given this model any and all bugs that are exclusive to DirectSound games could not possibly be due to Creative audio drivers or any other IHV (Independent Hardware Vendors) audio drivers. Custom Audio Effect APOs Vista does support insertion points for custom audio effects ( http://www.microsoft.com/whdc/device/audio/sysfx.m... , http://www.microsoft.com/whdc/device/audio/vista_s... ) depicted above as APO1 and APO3. Forthcoming Creative audio products will use APOs to implement certain features, but these custom effects do not allow acceleration of DirectSound because as mentioned above they receive mixed content, not unmixed content. Creative supported hardware acceleration for Gaming and Music Creation The good news here is that, as depicted above, Vista still permits proprietary user mode to kernel mode driver stacks, which means that Creative products may continue to support non Microsoft driver models and technologies such as OpenAL (http://www.openal.org ) for 3D gaming, SoundFont Management System (http://www.soundfont.com ) ASIO (http://www.steinberg.net ) for audio content creation. As was the case in Windows XP, these audio interfaces will continue to be thin pedal-to-the-metal APIs that allow user mode applications to access hardware features directly. OpenAL - the key to optimum audio for gaming in Windows Vista OpenAL continues to be the most widely used API for optimum 3D sound in PC gaming and the direct to hardware path offered by this API is the only way to access the hardware accelerated audio processing offered by cards in the Sound Blaster range. Combined with Creative's high precision SRC technology, patented 3D audio spatialization and EAX technology, multi-channel / multi-speaker rendering, EAX 5.0 DSP effects, Crystalizer and CMSS technology, Creative's Sound Blaster X-Fi continues to be THE ultimate audio solution for Windows gaming. While the Microsoft architecture works very well for simple multimedia applications such as music listening and moving watching, these technologies will continue to offer optimal performance with minimal CPU impact in gaming and music creation applications for years to come.
quote: I'm no fan of Creative, but they are not obligated to provide any functionality at all for Vista. When the product was marketed and sold, they obligated themselves only to provide the features on the OS listed, which was not Vista.
quote: What gets me is creative has the nerve to say Daniel_k is stealing, when technically Creative never released their product for Vista. Now if this were an XP driver then creative would have a case, but as it is designed for an OS that creative technically does not support, I don't see how they have a case at all whatsoever.. You can't play both sides, and i suspect a judge would say the same thing..
quote: They stifled Aurora, there was another sound card firm (cant remember name) that fell victim to legal costs.
quote: To: firstname.lastname@example.orgCc: Susie_Hayne@creativelabs.comCc: email@example.comOver the years, I've bought a dozen CL products -- mostly audio cards, of course, but video cards in their day as well. I feel comfortable characterizing myself and other audio card purchasers as a touch nerdy -- confident with choosing & installing computer hardware, and reasonably well informed. Over the past three years, I've repeatedly considered buying one of your latest audio cards, and repeatedly stifled that temptation... there being increasing uneasiness from my experiences of CL support and with issues mentioned in forums. The fiasco of CL's Vista issues & "support" have about severed our relationship.But I'm just one repeat-customer. And "one" can be ignored. How does CL fair in the broader milieu of technically-inclined users/builders? I suggest -- quite strongly -- that you read the details of the reader-responses at the end of the article linked here: http://www.dailytech.com/Creative+Says+Custom+Driv...These DT readers are not "fanboys" of some competitor's product. They are not, for the most part, whiners. They -are- your repeat-customers; or perhaps I should write "your EX-repeat-customers"?About half-way through, I begin skimming the responses. Perhaps, then, I missed someone supporting CL. That's a "one" you'd better find and not ignore: a ONE who is satisfied enough to continue purchasing CL products. Take care out there... John
quote: Dear Sir/Madam,I read with interest your actions regarding the Creative forum user Daniel_k. Before I continue, please allow me to summarize some of the facts that I am aware of.1. ALChemy is a technology developed by Creative, that converts DirectSound calls into OpenAL calls for Windows Vista compatibility reasons.2. ALChemy is supported on Audigy and X-Fi sound cards, but for the privilege of using such a feature on Audigy cards (and possibly older cards that I am unaware of), the user is required to pay $10.3. Daniel_k released a modified Creative driver that allowed users to use ALChemy on Audigy cards. For this reason, he was threatened with legal action, and all of his posts were deleted.Now, this strikes me as odd. Let me recount a similar situation that I heard about a while ago. Have you heard of a company called ATI Technologies? The graphics card company, now part of AMD? They released a product in 2002/2003 that was titled the Radeon 9700 Pro. At the time, it was the best performing card available. Seeking to also tap the middle tier graphics card market, ATI also launched the 9500 Pro. Now, what was the hardware difference between the two cards? Other than the memory chips used, and possibly the cooling technology, there was no difference at all.Naturally, as such things happen, this fact was discovered, and using either software, firmware or hardware modifications, or a combination of the three, it was possible to convert a 9500 Pro to a 9700 Pro and save yourself a bit of money. Guess what ATI did about it? Nothing.I hope that you are aware how much more money ATI makes than you. I hope you are aware how much more was at stake. I hope you realize why it was the right thing to do. They artificially crippled a graphics card - they knew it. They did the sensible thing - they introduced a new graphics card, the 9600 card, that used a physically different core, and thus could not be converted into a 9700 Pro. I should hope the sitation is clear - ATI probably lost a lot more than you did, yet they handled it with aplomb. I daresay it might have even gained them popularity. Have you heard of the Omega Drivers? DNA Drivers? These are custom driver sets, which among other things work on ATI graphics cards. Guess what ATI and Nvidia have done about them? Nothing. Do they infringe IP? Probably. Do they contain the modification that allows a 9500 Pro to be converted to a 9700 Pro? Yes I've seen it myself. Yet they exist, and are a mark of the popularity of ATI and Nvidia. They represent the enthusiasts who are willing to tinker, and it seems ATI and Nvidia both realize the value of enthusiasm. I'm surprised to see that Creative evidently only sees the value of money.I hope its evident what your actions have done to your company. I have never, in all my life, seen users register at a forum for the sole purpose of expressing their disgust, promising never to touch Creative products again, and condeming everything you do. What ever arguments I give, I do not think I could illustrate the point as clearly as the state of your forums. Your customers are disgusted with you. You showed what you really care about - money - and it looks like they showed you the door. I hope it is clear, however important money is to you, that your greed cost you a lot more than lost sales of X-Fis ever could have. Your greed is your downfall - had you realized that without fans you have no chance of doing business, you might be doing better.It seems to me that it is unfair of some people to blame the software developers who you pay to develop drivers. They do not make the decisions. They do not dictate policy. In fact, I feel sorry for them - your greed may very well cost them their jobs. It seems clear that Creative has, for a number of years, released yearly updates to its products that were often nothing more than a tweak and a name change. That you have the audacity to charge for driver updates, that you buy out competitors rather than compete fairly, that you purchase OpenAL so that any who wish it to use must now go through you, ensuring a monopoly - all of these are the sign of a business that has stagnated, stopped growing and innovating, and must now be allowed to die so that younger and better companies can take over.I've purchased several Creative sound cards - an SB16, a Vibra 128, a Live! 7.1, and most recently an X-Fi Xtreme Gamer. I hope it is clear from the tone and content of my email that my current Creative soundcard will be my last, and also that that decision is based solely off your poor support, hostility towards your user community, and the attitude that users must pay large amounts of money for artificially locked features. There is a saying I heard - you can't put a price on goodwill. Looks like you found that out the hard way.
quote: I am writing this email to share my concern regarding your company's recent actions regarding custom driver-maker Daniel K. I won't attempt to convince you that you have mischaracterized Daniel K.'s actions or that you have misperceived the level of threat from them as well, although that is my avowed opinion. Rather, I want to simply communicate the unsoundness of your actions on a financial level, in that your actions are destroying the trust and eroding what remains of your market share in all areas of Creative's business, not simply among your sound card line.I have been a long time customer, personally buying and recommending for purchase Creative products beginning with the original Soundblaster series of cards. Despite increased competition and the enticement of other manufacturers over the years, I have never bought another brand of sound card for my computer or recommended another brand to friends, family, or institutions where I have worked and had purchasing power or influence. I and those with whom I have influence have also been consumers of other creative branded hardware because of my prior positive experience with, and loyalty to, your brand--the most recent of which being my recommending of your Creative Zen Stone mp3 players to several of my more budget-conscious friends, co-workers, and family, which resulted in purchases being made and an increase in the general estimation of your offerings with those individuals.In light of my distaste for your recent actions, however, my purchasing and recommending habits will shortly change unless I hear that your position in this matter undergoes a marked change; preferably a reversing of position. Please understand I am not threatening you or seeking to intimidate you, but rather communicate my sincere concern and plead for a return to customer-friendly policies, especially as regards those in the enthusiast/modder community that is the focus of your recent actions. I would prefer to be able to remain a creative customer and to direct me and my acquaintances' buying power towards your company, but I will be unable to do so in good feeling or good conscience if your company position remains on this adversarial standing. I hope to hear of future communication with Daniel K. of a more amiable tone, as demonstration that you and your company value your customers; so that I and others can continue as such.
quote: It would be a real shame if we end up loosing proper hw accelerated sound cards for games, but so many people hate creative with such force they'd quite happily rip out their hw accelerated sound cards and stick to on-board just to spite them.
quote: By enabling our technology and IP to run on sound cards for which it was not originally offered or intended, you are in effect, stealing our goods.
quote: Creative released crummy drivers "at a cost" only after pressure from end users.
quote: If they wish to use that hardware with third party software, I don't believe Creative can legally do a damn thing about it.