Onboard Audio - ALC888DD vs Azalia HD (Gigabyte DQ6 vs eVGA 680i) - AVS Forum
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Old 11-24-2006, 12:03 PM - Thread Starter
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So I'm getting ready to build a new HTPC to replace the hack job I threw together 6 months ago as a MCE test box. I have an MSDN account so I plan on running Vista Ultimate on the new machine.

I would like to use On board Audio if possible just to avoid having yet another PCI Card in the machine. In an existing thread where I said I was considering the Asus P5Bs, someone said the onboard Audio on them isnt all that great and the ALC883 Chip would be a better choice. Well I found alot of you also reccomend the ALC888DD in the Gigabyte P965-DQ6 (2 PCI) so I am strongly considering that board right now.

However, the nForce 680i boards are starting to hit the market and the eVGA model (2 PCI also) can be had for only about $30 more than the Gigabyte mentioned.

So, this begs the question, how does this "Azalia HD" audio stack up to the ALC888DD as far as onboard processing goes?

I plan to use the SPDIF as the only audio connector from the HTPC to a Pioneer Receiver and will be using it for Standard Def TV (500MCE), some movies that have been re-encoded to DIVX and then some DVDs as well. I only need 5.1 at max but want it to still sound good when doing all the Stereo work when watching TV and DIVX



I also know some of you are waiting for the ALC 885 chip, but I'm looking to buy something NOW and dont want to wait for this next gen chip.


In case your curious, the other components to this system will be a E6600 C2D, 2GB DDR2800, existing 500MCE Tuner and Plextor SATA DVD. I am also researching the right video card for this system, hopefully one that has a Component Video pigtail (for my current Analog HDTV) and also either a HDMI or DVI connector that will support HDCP (for a 1080p replacement set coming next year)

Thanks all for your insight and help.

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Old 11-24-2006, 04:35 PM
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For S/PDIF, it probably doesn't make too much difference. I've not heard that any on-board solution has, for example, significantly less jitter than the others. In some cases, the audio chip solution can do extra stuff like convert everything to Dolby Digital or DTS before firing it out the S/PDIF port.

Azalia aka "Intel HD Audio" is essentially an update/tweak of the AC'97 specs-- it's not a chip name itself, but a specification for audio chips to meet. The eVGA board you mention has a RealTek chip (which one was undisclosed in my brief web search), and since the ALC888DD is an Azalia RealTek chip, too... the difference may in fact be slim to none.


Updated:

According to this site, the eVGA board has the long-sought ALC885! I don't know how reliable this information is, but if it's true, I'd not worry about the ALC888DD anymore if I were you.

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Old 11-24-2006, 05:13 PM
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I just cant believe people get a nice HTPC and skimp on the audio almost every time. Get a nice sound card like a SB Audigy ZS or a X-Fi Xtrememusic.

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Old 11-24-2006, 06:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Mr Pink57 View Post

I just cant believe people get a nice HTPC and skimp on the audio almost every time. Get a nice sound card like a SB Audigy ZS or a X-Fi Xtrememusic.

pink

If you're outputting to a receiver with it's own decoders, why would you want to pay additional $$ to get at best the same level of audio quality, and with more cables to boot?!

With SPDIF output to a receiver/decoder, using onboard sound saves money, reduces number of cards in the unit, reduces heat, reduces cabling...
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Old 11-24-2006, 10:46 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by archibael View Post

According to this site, the eVGA board has the long-sought ALC885! I don't know how reliable this information is, but if it's true, I'd not worry about the ALC888DD anymore if I were you.

I wish it were that easy. I just did a little searching of my own and found this link that says its an ALC882.

Then I found a eBay Sale for a system with the eVGA board in it and this guy makes mention of the ALC850

Ugh, I wish eVGA had either the exact spec or a High Res TIFF of the motherboard.

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Old 11-25-2006, 10:17 AM
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I absolutely agree.
But on the other hand, when I built my first HTPC about a week ago, I contacted an AV magazine, called Hitech in Athens, Greece, and their advice was that apart from the fact that you and I were right, the major advantage of an add-on sound card, like X-fi extreme music or elite pro, compared to the on-board solution, is that you avoid any currency interferences from the mainboard or other relevant sources.
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Old 11-27-2006, 02:04 PM
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Hi,

I think I come just on time :

I have got an Evga 680i sli and yes the onboard HD codec is a realteck ALC885 but as an audiophile I also have a XFI Elite Pro.

My first conclusion is about the analogic output, none of the both are very very good but the Elite Pro is far better because less influenced by the computer noise, the sound is far better in terms of (I don't know how to say in English but in fresh we say 'timbres') openess and 'leasibility'.

Within two days, in the evening, I will get to a hifi store just to compare the SPDIF output of the two solutions with three DAC's : A Goldmund Digin (very, very good), Bel canto new DAC and 3D LAbs DAC1000.

But the Elite pro seems to have an advantage with it's ASIO bit by bit support.

Moreover, with the Elite pro solution, the 96KHz oversampling and ASIO coched box effects can be heard with the analogic output not with the Realteck.

I will tell you my impressions.

Is a computer based SPDIF (HDD .WAV source file) solution far better than any CD drive or player.... ?
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Old 11-27-2006, 02:22 PM
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Thanks for the confirmation Roburx69.

We use "timbre" in English as well, though I will admit I'm stumped as to the translation for "leasibility".

I don't expect miracles out of the analog outputs; the PC is a very noisy environment, and I prefer to do analog work in a receiver designed explicitly for that purpose, and use the PC as a digital transport mechanism only.

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Old 11-27-2006, 06:45 PM - Thread Starter
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Yes, thanks for the confirmation Roxbur.

I also sent an email to one of the guys at AnandTech as they used the eVGA in a mini review they did of the 680i Chipset as a whole and asked the guy to go look at the board and tell me what chip he found, and he also said his had an 885.

So I guess the question is will I lose anything by going with the 885 as opposed to the 888DD

The DD signified a few Dolby features that maybe the 885 doesnt have. Which is a better combination?

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Old 11-27-2006, 10:38 PM
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Roburx,

There is an older thread here that seemed to confirm that Realtek HD codecs can output bit perfect even at 44.1 kHz. Somehow I recall reading that the X-fi can't do this, but because it resamples with an extremely high SNR (something like 123 dB), the process should be transparent. Or perhaps the story was that it does output bit perfect but only in "audio creation mode" when the DSP is bypassed?

Anyway, I'd be very interested to hear about your comparisons with external DACs. Be sure that you've activated bit perfect in the Realtek control panel, if that is available on the 885.

Salutations.
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Old 12-01-2006, 05:21 PM
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My 680i got here two days ago and the audio chip is indeed ACL885.

My receiver (SR603x) and speakers (Velodyne Front Row) aren't here yet. The BIC H-100 sub made it though. So, I'm just running headphone out. My other PC has an audigy 2 on it and the ACL885 does a much, much better job of positional audio through the headphones. Night and day difference. I'll post more once I get the HT equipment and start running a digital out.
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Old 12-14-2006, 08:24 AM
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Isn't one of the key advantages for HTPC HD-DVD/Blu-Ray playback of the ALC885 over a Creative Labs card the HDCP audio related capability?

I presume one wouldn't be able to get the high def Dolby or DTS stream passed from the spdif out of anything non-HDCP compliant like a Creative card etc?
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Old 12-14-2006, 08:32 AM
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I see the EVGA nForce 680i SLI 775 uses a chipset fan. That sounds very bad for a quiet HTPC application. How loud is this fan?
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Old 12-14-2006, 08:39 AM
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While both are decent boards, the audio quality IMHO is absolutely sub-par. If you're truly serious about decent audio, i'd at least invest in a soundblaster X-FI ExtremeMusic. It will easily handle your Dolby and DTS decoding and it's THX Certified.

If still want an SPDIF output, i'd go with the X-FI elite pro. It's a bit pricy ($350.00 on Newegg), but worth every penny. It's feature rich and comes with a massive breakout box. I likes

An X-FI will also reduce the load on your CPU.

It all comes down to your budget, but i'd not go with onboard audio.
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Old 12-14-2006, 09:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dabl View Post

Isn't one of the key advantages for HTPC HD-DVD/Blu-Ray playback of the ALC885 over a Creative Labs card the HDCP audio related capability?

That's the idea, yes. Although when/if HDCP audio protection gets enabled with the software is a key question.

Quote:


I presume one wouldn't be able to get the high def Dolby or DTS stream passed from the spdif out of anything non-HDCP compliant like a Creative card etc?

Correct. You can get a downconverted or natively lossy stream over SPDIF, but high-def streams like DTS HD and Dolby TrueHD won't come out over SPDIF.

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Old 12-14-2006, 09:49 AM
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Originally Posted by archibael View Post

That's the idea, yes. Although when/if HDCP audio protection gets enabled with the software is a key question.



Correct. You can get a downconverted or natively lossy stream over SPDIF, but high-def streams like DTS HD and Dolby TrueHD won't come out over SPDIF.

I don't understand. If the DTS HD or Dolby TrueHD encoded bitstream won't be passed via the ALC885 spdif out (to a receiver with the respective decoders), what's the point of the ALC855 chip?
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Old 12-14-2006, 10:27 AM
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Originally Posted by dabl View Post

I don't understand. If the DTS HD or Dolby TrueHD encoded bitstream won't be passed via the ALC885 spdif out (to a receiver with the respective decoders), what's the point of the ALC855 chip?

There is an HD Audio header on the motherboard which can be connected to the HD Audio input on an HDMI add-in card. The HD bitstream can be passed over this and remain HDCP compliant since the ALC885 is apparently HDCP compliant, but again, this requires software/drivers to do, and there's no evidence this is forthcoming any time soon.

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Old 12-14-2006, 11:09 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Casper42 View Post

So I'm getting ready to build a new HTPC to replace the hack job I threw together 6 months ago as a MCE test box. I have an MSDN account so I plan on running Vista Ultimate on the new machine.

I would like to use On board Audio if possible just to avoid having yet another PCI Card in the machine. In an existing thread where I said I was considering the Asus P5Bs, someone said the onboard Audio on them isnt all that great and the ALC883 Chip would be a better choice. Well I found alot of you also reccomend the ALC888DD in the Gigabyte P965-DQ6 (2 PCI) so I am strongly considering that board right now.

However, the nForce 680i boards are starting to hit the market and the eVGA model (2 PCI also) can be had for only about $30 more than the Gigabyte mentioned.

So, this begs the question, how does this "Azalia HD" audio stack up to the ALC888DD as far as onboard processing goes?

I plan to use the SPDIF as the only audio connector from the HTPC to a Pioneer Receiver and will be using it for Standard Def TV (500MCE), some movies that have been re-encoded to DIVX and then some DVDs as well. I only need 5.1 at max but want it to still sound good when doing all the Stereo work when watching TV and DIVX



I also know some of you are waiting for the ALC 885 chip, but I'm looking to buy something NOW and dont want to wait for this next gen chip.


In case your curious, the other components to this system will be a E6600 C2D, 2GB DDR2800, existing 500MCE Tuner and Plextor SATA DVD. I am also researching the right video card for this system, hopefully one that has a Component Video pigtail (for my current Analog HDTV) and also either a HDMI or DVI connector that will support HDCP (for a 1080p replacement set coming next year)

Thanks all for your insight and help.


Have you considered Intel boards? I have Intel D975XBX2. It has onboard a Sigmatel 9274D audio codecs. I use S/PDIF out only, and the quality is excellent. The Intel Audio Studio application that comes with it is very good, and provides two processing engines:
1. Sonic Focus
- a bunch of presets
- 7 band EQ with adjustable frequency, gain, and shape
- low cut filter
- speaker delay
2. Dolby
- Dolby Digital Live - does not convert 2.0 to 5.1
- Dolby Headphone
- Dolby Virtual Speaker
- Dolby ProLogic IIx

I previously owned a Turtle Beach Montego DDL, and while it was superior for gaming, I did not like it converted my 2.0 music to 5.1 all the time.

Anyway, I believe the sound on the Intel D975XBX2 is very good for HTPC when using the S/PDIF.
In addition, the sound chip can play 2 audio streams simultaniously, meaning you can use it for multi-zone.
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Old 12-15-2006, 06:37 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by archibael View Post

There is an HD Audio header on the motherboard which can be connected to the HD Audio input on an HDMI add-in card.

What is "HD Audio header"? As far as audio is concerned, I can see only the Intel HD Audio analog front panel header and an S/PDIF-out header on the nForce 680i motherboard.
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Old 12-16-2006, 10:58 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by renethx View Post

What is "HD Audio header"? As far as audio is concerned, I can see only the Intel HD Audio analog front panel header and an S/PDIF-out header on the nForce 680i motherboard.

Damn, you caught me with egg on my face.

I was looking at an ASUS 680i board (the Striker Extreme), which does have the HD Audio header (it's undocumented, but labelled as "ADH" in the manual diagram-- look for an eight-pin header with pin 12 missing). The EVGA does appear to be missing it. Which is just damned odd, as the 885 is an Azalia-compliant chip, and the entire point of including it would be to get HD audio out of the thing digitally. Maybe they think people want to do the analog decode with damned thing, but that's pretty nuts. Motherboard DACs are typically not what you'd call HD-worthy.

Sorry! You're right, I don't understand the draw of the 885 as currently implemented on the EVGA board. It's a great chip, but I would only recommend it in the digital regime.

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Old 12-17-2006, 01:48 AM
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Thanks for the clarificaiton. But it's still confusing. After searching a bit more, I found that Intel DG965WH also comes with "HD Audio Link Header". This is a 16-pin header with

Pin 1: BCLK (bit clock)
...
Pin 7: SDO (serial digital out)
...
Pin 9: SDI (serial digital in)
...

(D965GWH Product Guide, page 42, page 46) Apparently this is exactly the same header as the "ADH" in ASUS Striker Extreme (the same pin number, the same missing pin position). (Curiously D975XBX2 lacks this header.)

Another document (DG965WH Technical Product Specification, page 14, Block Diagram) shows that this header is directly connected to the HD Audio controller in ICH8 via HD Audio Link. The audio codec (Sigmatel STAC9271D) is also connected to this link. See also High Definition Audio Specification, page 15, High Definition Audio Architecture Block Diagram. This means that the HD Audio Link Header has nothing to do with the onboard audio codec! To utilize the codec's capability of "HD audio out of the thing digitally", we still have to use the codec's SPDIF-out, don't we?

Anyway right now all the video cards with HDMI-out can accept audio only from SPDIF and HD Audio Link Header is useless for a while (if it has something to do with future HDMI video cards, perhaps with passthrough of DD TrueHD and DTS-HD).
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Old 12-17-2006, 09:15 AM
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The HD Audio header (16 pins, not 18) has, as you point out, both a serial data in and a serial data out back to the link. It's a bidirectional bus, which means that the HD output from a codec can be put back out on the link... and therefore potentially out to a card which can translate it from serial to HDMI or DVI or some other kind of signalling. I'd be lying if I said I understood the details of the audio spec-- with research at the sources you linked above, you'll be as knowledgeable as I am about it, and probably more so), but the bidirectional serial interface was designed with this capability in mind. As it is, the only path I can see is:

Raw data from memory --> Azalia Controller -SDO-> Codec -SDO-> Azalia -SDO-> HDMI signalling

but that seems almost silly-- why not do the decode in memory with software and just send it on one trip through Azalia?

The Prolink ADD2 HDMI card accepts an HD Audio input, but most people are not interested in that solution since most HTPC people are going with discrete graphics HDMI rather than IGP (with good reason, considering the embedded drivers so far, and that the IGP stuff is not the best solution for a machine which will be used on games). And frankly, without more software support (as I mentioned in the case of the 680i chipset, above) it's just an expansion capability at this point with little solid use case.

At any rate, the point was in explaining how the 885's HDCP capabilities could be used for the new audio codecs... in this case, it appears they can't. In the case where the HD Audio header was present, you could make the case that the data was available to stream to a card with an HD Audio input. As it is, that case is not possible on boards with an SPDIF out only.

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Old 12-17-2006, 09:50 AM
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Thanks! Now I got a much better picture. "Bidirectional" seems to be a key point.

BTW are you using the Prolink ADD2 HDMI card? If so, how is it? I found ADD/ADD2 cards list. Among the HDMI cards in the list, only Prolink PV-CH7315 is available, isn't it?
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Old 12-17-2006, 03:08 PM
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The only one available so far is the Prolink, yep-- although I understand developers can get ahold of the Wintec one if they try really hard. I don't have it yet since I haven't completed my system yet, but it's in the plan. The new baby coming is forcing me to go as cheap as possible: $40 on ADD2 HDMI+S-Video instead of >$100 on HDMI Nvidia card, smaller hard drive, etc.

I'm liking it because it's cheap and silent by nature, but I'm not a gamer nor under any illusions I'll be able to mess around with custom resolutions if I need to.

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Old 12-19-2006, 11:12 PM
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Prolink PV-CH7315 (item #: ADD-7315-DVI-T; why DVI?) is with Low profile bracket only. So it cannot be used in a standard desktop/tower case. Supports resolution up to 1600x1200? HDMI without support for HDCP (?) is totally useless. It seems that buying a GeForce 6600 dual DVI-I card at eBay (~$40) is a much better solution.
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Old 12-20-2006, 07:41 AM
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I don't usually go off on tirades but.....

Let's clear up a couple of things ok?

SPDIF via an optical connection is absolutely the best way to transfer your DIGITAL audio(and in a pc it is ALL digital) to an external processor.

Period.

Anyone recommending people go out and buy a sound card, of ANY description(well except for those that want DD or DTS encoding) and use the spdif on that instead of the onboard is a little confused, or works for Creative.

Why anyone would choose to use analogue, unless they had no choice, from a pc is beyond all logic.

Remember, simplicity NOT layers of complexity is the path to audio heaven.
Multiple conversions (d-a, a-d, d-a) only serve to lower the quality.

Don't believe me?

Test it yourself, install that $700(or more) sound card and simply change the connection from it, to onboard.

I dare anyone to do it double blind and tell the difference.
Use any test equipment you like, IT can't tell either.

It's all zero's and one's remember, not a two in sight.

Now if your connection is analogue THEN we have a different story.....
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Old 12-20-2006, 08:08 AM
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I don't usually go off on tirades but.....

Let's clear up a couple of things ok?

SPDIF via an optical connection is absolutely the best way to transfer your DIGITAL audio(and in a pc it is ALL digital) to an external processor.

Period.

Anyone recommending people go out and buy a sound card, of ANY description(well except for those that want DD or DTS encoding) and use the spdif on that instead of the onboard is a little confused, or works for Creative.

Why anyone would choose to use analogue, unless they had no choice, from a pc is beyond all logic.

Remember, simplicity NOT layers of complexity is the path to audio heaven.
Multiple conversions (d-a, a-d, d-a) only serve to lower the quality.

Don't believe me?

Test it yourself, install that $700(or more) sound card and simply change the connection from it, to onboard.

I dare anyone to do it double blind and tell the difference.
Use any test equipment you like, IT can't tell either.

It's all zero's and one's remember, not a two in sight.

Now if your connection is analogue THEN we have a different story.....

Actually, if you want to clear up a few things...

Depending on distance traveled, and cables in use... Coaxial SPDIF is absolutely the BEST way to carry digital audio from a PC to a receiver. Optical requires an additional conversion from electrical digital to optical digital, and then back again. This could induce additional bit errors, delay, and timing drift. Optical is the best solution if you are going a longer distance (over about 5 meters) but under that, with a well shielded cable and components, the coax will be the best quality.

I will agree that if all you are doing is spdif output, the onboard is the cheapest solution, as long as you aren't doing any gaming. If you are doing gaming, then a case CAN be made for a secondary PCI based sound card. The X-Meridian, for example, can encode game surround sound into DTS on the fly, and send it down the SPDIF to your receiver. NO onboard sound chip can currently do this. This gives the ability to have 5.1 sound for games instead of just movies (the onboard via spdif can only do 5.1 if it's originally encoded into AC3 or DTS, everything else is 2.0).

As to why using the analog connections from your PC to receiver/speakers? Same situation, if you are a gamer, the only way to get surround sound from your PC to the speakers is via analog (unless you have the DTS on the fly thing). SPDIF will ONLY carry pre-encoded AC3 or DTS 5.1, all other sound is 2.0.

Finally, before you start making declaritive statements that there is no difference between onboard and pci based audio cards in a spdif scenario... Especially in optical spdif transport, it's quite possible that the pci based onboard could be higher quality than onboard is. Cheaper optical transmitters and receivers can cause some substantial dispersion and frequency drift if lower quality components are used. I'm not saying that onboard uses these cheaper components, or that pci based uses more expensive components, I'm just saying that it IS possible, and it wouldn't surprise me if this was so. Your typical layman might not hear the difference, or notice it unless it was pointed out to them, but a serious audiophile might, and test equipment DEFINATELY could.
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Old 12-20-2006, 11:15 AM
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Can anyone comment on whether the Realtek ALC885 should be able to pass above 48 KHz via spdif?

I saw this reply from Asus tech support
saying that the Realtek ALC882M can only support S/PDIF output of 48 KHz or less due to the Dolby Master Studio technology.

I presume the ALC885 doesn't have this limitation?
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Old 12-20-2006, 12:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by renethx View Post

Prolink PV-CH7315 (item #: ADD-7315-DVI-T; why DVI?) is with Low profile bracket only. So it cannot be used in a standard desktop/tower case. Supports resolution up to 1600x1200? HDMI without support for HDCP (?) is totally useless. It seems that buying a GeForce 6600 dual DVI-I card at eBay (~$40) is a much better solution.

They slacked off and copied most of the specs from the 7312 DVI card. They even left in the bits about "DVI hot plug". And the resolution is listed above as 1920 X 1080 /16:9. Basically it's just a transport for the graphics chipset, and will support whatever the chipset supports.

Customer service wouldn't point me to a manual, but they did state that the card was HDCP 1.1 compliant-- otherwise it would indeed be utterly useless.

The low profile bracket thing is extremely annoying, and they've only recently put that into the description, but I'm planning on doing some mods anyway to the case, so it doesn't bother me.

I do not speak officially in any sense for
Intel Corp., Technology Manufacturing Group
but I do work there.
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Old 12-20-2006, 04:20 PM
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I use the analogue connections on my X-Fi for DVD-A discs... so far great results!
Oh, I use analogue for gaming as well, but that has been mentioned above.
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