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Creative Labs X-Fi Xtreme Music
OpenAL wrapper allows X-Fi users to take advantage of 3D sound in Windows Vista

Creative Labs has opened up the doors to its ALchemy Project to enable hardware acceleration for DirectSound and EAX audio algorithms in Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Vista. The Alchemy Project is currently in its beta stages and intends to work around Microsoft’s audio limitations in Windows Vista due to the removal of the Hardware Abstraction Layer, or HAL.

Microsoft’s removal of the HAL removes the software layer required by digital signal processors to enable hardware acceleration for various 3D audio algorithms including DirectSound3D and EAX in pre-Vista games. Nevertheless, digital signal processors that support OpenAL can still take advantage of hardware audio acceleration.

The Alchemy Project intends to work around Windows Vista limitations by translating DirectSound calls into OpenAL – essentially an OpenAL wrapper. In order to take advantage of the ALchemy Project OpenAL wrapper the installer copies a few necessary files into each game directory.

The automated installer will install the necessary files into each game directory, if there is official support for the game. Officially supported games include:
  • Battle for Middle Earth 2
  • Call of Duty
  • Call of Duty 2
  • Diablo 2
  • Everquest 2
  • FEAR
  • Full Spectrum Warrior
  • Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers
  • Guild Wars
  • GTA: San Andreas
  • Hitman: Blood Money
  • Max Payne 2
  • Midieval 2: Total War
  • Neverwinter Nights
  • Neverwinter Nights 2
  • NOLF 2
  • Rome: Total War
If the installer does not officially support your game, Creative Labs provides a guide for advanced users to take advantage of the OpenAL wrapper. Manually adding game support requires the copying of two files – dsound.dll and dsound.ini. On occasion, the unsupported game will work with the default configuration settings. If the default settings do not work, the dsound.ini file is tweak able for better performance. Available settings in the dsound.ini include Buffer, Duration, DisableDirectMusic and MaxVoiceCount settings.

In its current beta stages, Creative Labs ALchemy project only supports Sound Blaster X-Fi based sound cards with OpenAL compatible drivers. Users of Creative Labs previous Audigy 2 and Audigy 4 will have to wait patiently for hardware accelerated DirectSound3D and EAX support in Windows Vista. Jessie Lawrence, developer relations for Creative Labs claims:
For the initial beta phase of Creative ALchemy, we made the decision to concentrate on products based on the X-Fi chip. Games developers have put a lot of effort into supporting the advanced features of this chip so we want to provide the best level of support that we can for our most recent hardware. Support for Audigy 2 and 4 class products will be determined as the current beta progresses and we are able to assess the quality of the beta and overall demand for Creative ALchemy.
Users fortunate enough to have an X-Fi based sound card can download the ALchemy Project installer from the Creative ALchemy Project download page.


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RE: No HAL in Vista
By Lakku on 1/23/2007 4:30:22 AM , Rating: 1
EAX is virtually useless, as it doesn't do half the things half as well as Creative thinks it can. It still isn't any better then A3D really, which leads me to say there is no need to reinvent EAX. There is, however, a need to get a good sound API that is actually useful. At any rate, there is already a good replacement and it is used by just about every Xbox, Xbox 360, and PS3 (which, by the way, also offers linear PCM 7.1 192kHz audio in some games, aside from AC3) game; Dolby Digital. Look at games for all platforms (mostly Xbox and 360 right now), they all, or just about all, support Dolby Digital. I don't need half baked attempts at audio effects, as DD or DTS Interactive provide a great 3d sound experience. And you don't need DirectSound3d to experience it.


RE: No HAL in Vista
By ViRGE on 1/23/2007 5:18:13 AM , Rating: 4
DD/DTS are encoding schemes for digitally transmitting multiple sound channels over a single datastream. They are not technologies to calculate positioning, occlusion, reflections, etc of a sound.


RE: No HAL in Vista
By nurbsenvi on 1/23/2007 8:39:51 AM , Rating: 2
But EAX still sucks I never used it because it makes no difference in gaming.

By the way is there any game that can actually do real-time Dolby digital surround?


RE: No HAL in Vista
By imaheadcase on 1/23/2007 9:16:33 AM , Rating: 2
No difference in gaming?? You need to get your ears checked..

The difference is night and day.


RE: No HAL in Vista
By jtesoro on 1/23/2007 9:49:49 AM , Rating: 2
I don't think a lot of users have the right equipment to appreciate the full effects of EAX. I'm guessing that most have 2.1 speakers of "normal" quality, and with this I won't be surprised if it all just sounds the same to them.


RE: No HAL in Vista
By TheDoc9 on 1/23/2007 10:43:48 AM , Rating: 2
I've got a 4.1 system myself and really notice very little in gameing although the difference is there. In fact I'd say the A3d was better than even present day EAX aside from the game glitches it caused.


RE: No HAL in Vista
By Bluestealth on 1/25/2007 12:55:22 AM , Rating: 2
Games that implement EAX correctly are very low imho, with the right setup and implementation the games simply sound amazing.
One game that I thought pulled it off well recently was Far Cry, another game to a lesser extend was fear. I have a feeling that A3D was much easier to use for developers and thus it sounded better, having heard EAX5 done correctly on a few games I have found it far superior to A3D, however done incorrectly to be worse.

A good 5.1 setup should be all you need, however a 7.1 setup fills in for side effects a lot, and IMHO is far more important for gaming then it is for movies.


RE: No HAL in Vista
By jtesoro on 1/27/2007 5:49:30 AM , Rating: 2
I'm actually playing Far Cry single player at this time. I was just using my 2.1 speakers but your comment got me to continue the game with my Turtle Beach 5.1 headset connected to the SB Audigy 2 in my PC. It sounds much better and now it's easier to isolate where the baddies are coming from using sound!


RE: No HAL in Vista
By Hare on 1/23/2007 11:02:02 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
By the way is there any game that can actually do real-time Dolby digital surround?
READ the previous message. It's just a way to transport multiple channels through spdif-interface.

There are kvantizillion games out there that have multi channel audio. If you have a soundcard that can encode DD then you've got a game with Dolby Digital sounds. My Abit AB9 board can encode DD, my previous NF2-board had "soundstorm" and was great with games (DD).

If a game has multi channel audio, it CAN have dolby digital. It's just not done with software since it's too CPU heavy. You need a separate chip. (Actually it can be done with CPUs but just isn't done due to the performance hit.)

This just proves that most people have no idea what Dolby Digital is. EAX sounds can be DD...


RE: No HAL in Vista
By nurbsenvi on 1/23/2007 11:35:11 AM , Rating: 2
I'm sorry but I still don't get it...

I have a home theater system hooked up to my computer through SPDIF (via Audigy2) and played numerous games but never saw Dolby Digital 5.1 flashing on my receiver I saw liner PCM and Dolby Digital 2.1 but no 5.1 on... what the heck am I doing wrong?


RE: No HAL in Vista
By Hare on 1/23/2007 12:48:33 PM , Rating: 2
Audigy2 (or any Creative card) doesn't support Dolby Digital encoding so you have absolutely no way you can get multichannel audio with the digital connector.

If you want multichannel audio you have no option but to use the analog connections. Creative simply refuses to do anything valuable. They just sit on their ____ and think that their propriety EAX is enough to make people buy their cards...

The only way you can get Dolby Digital is via passthrough (movies etc). That way the sounds are already DD so your soundcard doesn't have to do anything, just pass the data.


RE: No HAL in Vista
By Spivonious on 1/23/2007 3:54:38 PM , Rating: 2
Umm...every card since the Live! 5.1 can do DD decoding. So if you want surround, plug in your speakers to the soundcard. If you want to passthrough, then plug in the digital out and check the passthrough option. Dolby Digital 5.1 will only show up on the receiver if the game actively supports it and it is turned on in the game's options.

To the article: Couldn't you just register the dsound files with Windows and then every game can access them from one location?


RE: No HAL in Vista
By typo101 on 1/23/2007 5:22:10 PM , Rating: 2
DD encoding is what were looking for, and I was not aware any Creative cards did it.

The only ones i heard of are from Auzentech.
http://www.auzentech.com


RE: No HAL in Vista
By Cincybeck on 1/23/2007 8:22:36 PM , Rating: 1
Supposedly the new X-Fi's do it out of the box. From my understanding it's more of a driver implentation or lack there of with the audigy cards. With a program called redocneXk you can have a realtime AC3(Dolby Digital) 5.1 signal encoded from the ASIO channels and sent threw your audigy card to your receiver threw the spdif connector. I've tried it and it works but, I was experiencing sound delay and a audible static. Although I was using the Creative drivers and it recommends using kX drivers from ttp://kxproject.lugosoft.com.


RE: No HAL in Vista
By guwd1 on 1/25/2007 7:09:45 AM , Rating: 2
I still can't se the point... by going from high quality multichannel PCM to DD you have effectively reduced the audio quality. It's the same thing as going from a cd to mp3: You get smaler file-size but the sound is compressed. Obviously there are major advantages with DD, just as in cd vs mp3. But I thought we were talking about soundquality here?


RE: No HAL in Vista
By Lakku on 1/26/2007 4:32:38 PM , Rating: 2
Who is using multichannel PCM in games (or in any game/computer program not related to music creation or professional audio) outside of the PS3? We are just talking about games on the PC and 3d sound APIs, but maybe I missed something.


RE: No HAL in Vista
By typo101 on 1/28/2007 10:11:54 AM , Rating: 2
Unfortunately my onboard sound does not encode DTS so I play my games in PCM over SPDIF. I never liked having all those stereo cable going from my computer to receiver, so I can deal with the loss of surround because I don't game much.

However, I'm not so sure these DTS encoding cards use PCM at any stage, but I dont know much about sound in games or DirectX.


RE: No HAL in Vista
By Lakku on 1/26/2007 4:47:01 PM , Rating: 2
By nature, DD Live calculates positioning, otherwise no Xbox, 360, or PS3 game that supports Dolby Digital would have positional sound. You should try using DD Live or DTS Interactive sometime, because the sound quality is much better then almost any EAX game. Try Chaos Theory or Advanced Warfighter, which can have EAX turned off (yes, EAX 2.0 is supported by most games and hardware). It sounds better with it off and it still supports reflections and reverb, which is all EAX is anyway. Why do you think very few games actually take the time to use EAX 5.0 or 4.0 unless Creative gives them incentive? At any rate, EAX adds very little to most games, and the sound quality of DD Live/DTS Connect on a good home theater beats the hell out of any Creative card, which relies on its relatively weak analog outs for your audio experience.


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