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Sound Blaster X-Fi Revisited

There’s still some confusion around the Sound Blaster X-Fi card. Looking at comments on the blog and e-mails that I’m getting, the confusion tends to be centered around the distinction between what’s handled via hardware or software. Before explaining that, want to call out three core points:

  • Comparing the physical card itself, there is no difference between the Dell version of the Sound Blaster X-Fi and the retail version.
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS playback is done through software codecs—this applies to both the retail and Dell versions of the card.
  • We do support Dolby Digital 5.1 playback; we do not support for DTS. More on this below.

The purpose of point #1 is to clarify that we’re not delivering limited functionality at the hardware level. This means like the retail version, through hardware, we support features like EAX (enhanced game audio for games written to support it); the 24-bit crystalizer (a processor that delivers improved audio quality from a variety of sources) and CMSS 3-D (which is a processor that emulates surround sound, for 2-channel environments or headphones).

Regarding points #2 and 3: Dolby Digital and DTS are sound decoders for movies. Even on the retail version of the card, both of these are done through a software codec ultimately licensed through Dolby or DTS. The Dolby Digital 5.1 software codec we use on all XPS 700 systems is licensed through Sonic, whereas the retail X-Fi solution is licensed through Creative. From a customer standpoint, if you have a 5.1 speaker set and a DVD movie that supports Dolby Digital (very common these days), you simply insert the DVD into the drive and play the movie. We don’t support DTS (which is supported through software on the retail card with Creative’s software codecs), not because of any hardware limitation, but only because we don’t install a software codec for DTS. Does this mean that your system won’t support DTS at all? No. If you have DTS-encoded movies and want to hear them that way, you can purchase a DVD player utility that features DTS capability.

I wasn’t able to finalize some specifics on the NVIDIA 7950 graphics card update. My apologies for making you wait. More details to follow next week.

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  • Lionel,

    You stated that " Dolby Digital and DTS are sound decoders for movies" as if movies are the only application these surround sound/multichannel/environmental effects technologies are used for.  

    Multichannel audio playback through Dolby Digital and DTS is now used for a wide array of purposes. For example: multichannel music listening, video games, and immersive audio book sound effects. Also multichannel audio is used for, aural (music) compositions, spacial awareness (medical) applications, business presentations/idea communication, educational/training skills enhancement, and more.

    While some of these applications of Dolby Digital and DTS technology are not yet as common as DVD movies with surround sound, they shouldn't be discounted or go unmentioned. The video game industry which is incorporating surround sound in more games than ever, was a $10 billion dollar per year industry back in 2004. It has only grown larger since.

    Customers purchasing computers, either PC's or notebooks, find many creative and entertainment uses for the hardware, as quickly as those new uses are developed.

    All this does is reflect a lack of understanding of the technology you sell to customers, when you stick with traditional (read outdated) and  incomplete definitions.

    So please, be more forward looking, and less limited in your definitions of the technologies Dell presents to its customers. You'll benefit from it by not excluding creative users, and everyone will benefit from systems integrators that better understand their product mix.


    -DL
  • D.L. Your comments are right on the mark, and thanks for the feedback. On the multi-channel audio side, Dell supports DVD-Audio playback. Also, as you mention, more of today's games are also incorporating multi-channel  technology.  

    My apologies for the oversight.

  • Lionel,

    Why did Dell launch a gaming system that does not support Dolby Digital 5.1 for video games?  You have the hardware installed.  Dell simply chose to not install the broader functionality codec, if I am reading you correctly.

    Quite candidly, who really cares about DVD-Audio playback.  That's what I have a wide screen High Definition TV downstairs for.  I buy desktop computers to play applications.  If this were a laptop, that would be fine as I do watch movies when travelling on my laptop; however, for a desktop, if Dell assumed that it's market was consumers who want to watch a DVD in Dolbly Digital 5.1, Dell missed the entire reason to market a gaming system.  

    All in all I love the machine.  It's quite impressive, all around.  I am just disappointed to hear Dell characterize it's OEM components as idendtical to the retail specs when they are barely comparable.  

    Just my thoughts.  It's still a great machine, but for a nominal investment more, you could have put it over the top.  We would have paid for it.
  • Lionel,

    Can you please go into detail around some of the develoment related decisions behind the XPS 700 chipset.  I am most interested in understanding whether is wast cost-based decision making or if there was a consumer focused rationale.

    I cannot think that it was cost-centric on the actual system side; however, I can see Dell being concerned about having to train its support teams on the new technology, which has a cost to it.

    I am not expecting to miss not hacing dual ethernet or fast packet, etc.; however, it seems like Dell "chose not to support" some very key value added components to the chip set.  

    Thanks for any response, although can you deeper into the actuall internal discussions at Dell?  I know these issues must have been debated in a real world fashion.  

    Thanks
  • I pulled this from the Creative site.  Can Dell's card do all of this:

    If you are looking for a sound card that enhances your listening enjoyment - at a price that fits your pocket - Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeMusic is it. The latest in Creative Technology's offerings of cutting-edge sound cards, Sound Blaster X-Fi harnesses the power of the Sound Blaster Audigy series and betters its features! Never before has audio fidelity been so crystal clear. Be immersed in breath-taking surround sound, be it during music listening, movie watching or PC gaming. Upgrade your existing library of MP3s and other music files to DVD-Audio quality with 24-bit Crystalizer. Or turn your stereo music into amazing multi-channel surround sound with CMSS-3D. With Creative MediaSource, you can easily Super-Rip CDs into Xtreme Fidelity quality audio permanently! Sound Blaster X-Fi's THX certification, Dolby® Digital EX and DTS-ES™ support means your PC hub can be transformed into a virtual home theater.

    If it cannot do all this can you please address the "why" rather than the fact that Dell "chose" not support, etc...  Thanks
  • Lionel stated "Even on the retail version of the card, both of these are done through a software codec ultimately licensed through Dolby or DTS. The Dolby Digital 5.1 software codec we use on all XPS 700 systems is licensed through Sonic, whereas the retail X-Fi solution is licensed through Creative."

    Why is it necessary for Dell to not have the full functionality of the sw codecs which are in the retail version of the SB X-Fi XtremeMusic audio control panel?  There are many configuration options in the XtremeMusic DD5.1 menu which are not available with the Sonic DVD player - this means the solution you are providing has less features than the retail version.

    Would you please explain what the (D) means as it is shown on the XPS 700 order/configuration pages in the following context:  "XtremeMusic (D)"?

    Lionel states "If you have DTS-encoded movies and want to hear them that way, you can purchase a DVD player utility that features DTS capability."  

    Isn't this a straight out statement that an XPS 700 buyer has to purchase an additional item in order to get the functionality that is in a retail SB X-Fi card?

    Finally, it is this approach that indicates that Dell doesn't understand what it means to market a HIGH END system to enthusiasts.  Enthusiasts don't want features removed or replaced by other programs with significantly less functionality (i.e. configuration options).  

    The customers buying the XPS 700 are willing to pay for a high end system with ALL the features and there is no reason why Dell can't leave those features in the system (even if it means charging a little more for the system - although, when you get a $4-5k system...it should have all the bells and whistles - like Dell's competition does in the enthusiast marketplace).

    Understand your customer and the enthusiast you are marketing to with the XPS 700.
  • I'm confused: I keep seeing that there is going to be an update on the 7950.  What is being updated??? Am I going to need the update to get my computer (that is being shipped without the processor upgrade or a gift card, with two 7950's, and is on a UPS truck right this moment) to work? Or am I spending loads of money for something that still has bugs?

    -Robyn
  • Lionel,

    Given many of us have begun receiving and setting up our XPS 700s, what assurances can you make us that we will receive the $200 gift certificates we were "promised"? Dell was adamant about not providing an email confirmation that we would get the GC and rather said that we will definitely get it after the PC is delivered.

    Can you please confirm when these GCs will be sent out? What if for some reason we don't receive one when we were indeed promised one?
  • Brian: Thanks for your comment.  Gift cards will be mailed out to customers.  Lead time is 4 - 6 weeks since you initially talked to a salesperson to make that choice.
  • Would you please explain what the (D) means as it is shown on the XPS 700 order/configuration pages in the following context: "XtremeMusic (D)"?
  • Lionel,

    Is Dell mailing the $200 (or equivelant) gift cards to all its XPS 700 customers, including those in the UK? I've spent over £2,000 ($3,000) on my system, and I'll feel miffed, if I'm left out in the cold. Thanks.
  • Chairman Mao: if you ordered your system up until July 18, 2006, the gift card is an option.  Please re-issue a comment with your order details and be sure to fill in the e-mail address field so that I can have someone contact you.  Thanks.
  • explain2me: My apologies for not responding the first time around.  The short answer is I don't know for sure.  I'll see what I can find out and will let you know.
  • Seems rather obvious that you have refused to answer this question twice in this blog - while answering the other questions.

    Would you please explain what the (D) means as it is shown on the XPS 700 order/configuration pages in the following context: "XtremeMusic (D)"?

  • Lionel:  if YOU don't know, how do you expect the customer to know what it means?  There are no footnotes to explain it.

    Since it applies to the Sound Blaster SW audio control panel (which is called "XtremeMusic" - I know what it means - DEFEATURED - that's why it doens't have the reatil functionality of DD5.1 and DTS included.

    Question is, will you admit it?  I don't think so.  How about that Dell Code of Conduct that is posted on the corporate website?  C'mon, you can be honest with us customers, it won't hurt you to do it.