Fremont (CA) – The sound card market is going to get much more interesting: After years of Creative’s dominance, Asus decided to step up to the sound card table and is gearing up to launch HTPC and high-performance products.
Asus has been developing a number of sound card products, which are slated for a CeBit launch. A few days before the tradeshow opens its doors, we decided to visit Asus’ North American HQ in Fremont, California, and learn more about the firm’s plan to turn the sound card market upside down.
After four hours of meetings with different departments, we walked out thoroughly impressed with the effort that Asus is making on all fronts. Without any doubt, the most important news are upcoming sound cards that are bound to seriously shake up the market. Asus told TG Daily that it will introduce cards that can output and input HDMI. The company also plans to introduce a card with three HDMI ports.
Gearing up for the HTPC market
The new Xonar DX is a working name for what basically is a cut-in-half Xonar D2X sound card. This new version is designed to fit into every home entertainment center PC (HTPC) that uses PCIe X1 interfaces. We are not sure if it is such a great idea to remove the aluminum EM shielding (practically a trademark of the Xonar D2 and D2X), but it appears that usability is not affected.
Asus will be providing half-height and full-height brackets, and both are set to be gold-plated, just like the original D2X model. Regardless of its size, Asus kept almost all of the features from the original product, including a 4-pin floppy power connector.
Asus sides with Dolby and DTS
The new board supports Dolby Digital Live and DTS Connect, but we do not know whether the same applies to THX. EAX 5.0 is supported via a driver-wrap, neatly bypassing all the problems that came with the Windows Vista audio driver model.
Professional sound card gets triple-HDMI interface
Sound enthusiasts may be more interested in a product that is currently in development – the Xonar AV1. This sound card is developed as a foundation for future Xonar products. The capabilities of the Xonar AV1 are ahead of consumer, prosumer and even a large number of professional solutions on the market.
The Xonar AV1 main card, and HDAV-DB1 daughterboard, will have more than 10 different interfaces, with the most interesting ones being the three HDMI ports (two external). HDMI-in is going to be a game changer for all high-class computers, since video enthusiasts will be able to capture their home videos using a clean digital input.
In order to get the HDMI capability, Asus put some serious silicon on the board itself: “Splendid HD” no longer is a software feature, but rather supported through a real video processing chip that will mix the sound and audio in order to produce best possible A/V mix.
The only downside of the new card – as far as we can see now – is that it uses a proprietary interface to connect the HDAV-DB1 daughterboard with the main card. While it may not pose an issue today, users may be stuck useless cards simple because they cannot replace a bad cable. However, we were told that Asus is still polishing this product.
We were not able to get any information on the price, but it appears that there will be different versions. If Asus comes up with two products (just the AV1 and the AV1+HDAV-DB1), the card could hit some interesting price points, which means that the pro-sumer and entry-level professional markets will be wide open.
With Asus expanding its sound card line-up from two sound cards to five (excluding USB sound chips that we did not show in this preview article), we can only imagine that Creative Labs is watching this one very closely. We’re still without hardware to verify claims coming from Asus office, but as it stands right now, there is a good chance that the sound card market will get much more interesting.