Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live!by Anand Lal Shimpi on August 17, 1998 6:45 PM EST
Environmental Audio Extensions
Why doesn't Creative Labs have an A3D card like Diamond Multimedia or the rest of the "3D" sound card manufacturers? Because Creative Labs has something they like to think is better than A3D...and in a sense, it is. What Creative Labs is betting on is their custom developed API (application programming interface) entitled EAX, short for Environmental Audio Extensions.
EAX is an open API that has been provided in conjunction with Microsoft (now with MS you can't go wrong ;)...) as a set of extensions to the DirectSound3D API. According to software developers the implementation of EAX into their programs isn't a difficult task at all, a definite plus for the market as software support is something that seems to be lacking in almost every single case where a "revolutionary" new technology is released.
What exactly does EAX implementation entail? Normally when a game programmer is writing the code for a title he/she uses the DirectSound3D API as a bridge between the software and hardware in terms of audio. The Environmental Audio Extensions provide programmers with a larger set of "instructions" to choose from by allowing for real time generation and panning effects including more realistic environment effects such as reverb and echo effects depending on the type of material the walls are made of in the room you happen to be in the game. For example, if you're playing a game which boasts EAX support (i.e. Unreal) with the SB Live! and you happen to find yourself in a room which contains 3 walls and an open area, the echo you would hear after firing a shot at one of the three walls would reflect a room with only three walls leaving an exit point for the echo where the 4th wall would be. Whereas if you were to find yourself in a completely closed area, the echo would be more continuous and feature an increased amplitude.
Creative has much confidence in the potential of their Environmental Audio Extensions, with the ease of implementation at a very attainable level there is no reason to expect EAX to be a failure of any sorts.
Environmental Audio Speakers
As mentioned earlier, Creative is selling an entire PC audio solution, not a $200 sound card. By acquiring Cambridge SoundWorks Creative managed to fund development of the ideal speaker configuration for the Environmental Audio support of the SB Live!, the PCWorksTM FourPointSurroundTM speaker system. Designed specifically for the Live! product, the FourPoint system consists of 4 satellites no larger than 3" square and a powered subwoofer. Retailing for around $99, this system will probably be the ideal choice for Live! users. The initial setup and configuration of the speakers may take a little getting used to, however that's just because of the nature of the speakers and the external volume control which plugs directly into the powered sub-woofer.
Although they look much like Bose speakers there was a noticeable difference between the high-end Bose system that was used which retails for around $899 and the $99 FourPointSurroundTM speakers, luckily the difference isn't great enough to justify the difference in cost. In comparison to the Altec Lansing ADA70 Digital Powercube Speakers, the Cambridge SoundWorks setup simply wiped the floor with the $140 USB speakers and then tidied up the place with some floor shaking bass afterwards.
The two rear channel speakers come with 12-ft cables while the other two speakers are outfitted with 9-ft cables to make setting up the system possible in just about any location. You can use the mounting brackets and screws to attach the rear speakers to your walls if you so desire. Cambridge decided to be a little too cool with their FourPointSurroundTM speaker system when they included two speaker stands for the rear speakers. Had the stands been of decent quality and construction (not to mention decent height - what are you going to do with 2' speaker stands?) the stands may have been useful, however this reviewer found himself wondering what to do with the cheap plastic tripods that kept on falling apart at even the slightest touch.
Playing EAX enhanced games and even using the Environmental Audio effects during normal audio playback was an entirely new experience with the FourPointSurroundTM speakers, the Special edition of Unreal that shipped with the card brought new meaning to the term "audio immersion" as every last shell from the rifle really sounded like it counted.
If you are looking for a little more, Creative will eventually start shipping their Desktop Theater 5.1 system which, as the name points out, is intended for use with a PC-DVD system. Taking the original FourPoint system adding a fifth channel, an amplifier, and a Dolby Digital Decoder, the Desktop Theater 5.1 will probably become the high end solution for the users that take immense pride in the quality of their sound system.