Last year ASUS released the Xonar HDAV; it’s a sound card. The Xonar HDAV’s claim to fame was its ability to bitstream Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD MA over HDMI. Don’t have any idea what that means? I wrote a primer here last year, but I’ll give you the quick rundown.

Blu-ray discs are huge, you can store up to 50GB on a dual-layer disc. That’s not enough to store lossless video, but it’s enough to store lossless audio. In other words, you can have a bit-for-bit reproduction of the audio track that was mastered at a movie studio in your own home. For most consumers it’s cool as hell just for bragging rights, but for some super high end home theater enthusiasts it’s a perceived necessity.

These audio tracks are stored using one of two lossless compression algorithms: Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master Audio. The content owners however were very nervous about putting these audio tracks on BDs, specifically allowing PC users access to them. After all, if you had unencrypted access to one of these tracks you could potentially...uh...idunno, turn them into MP3s? Stop going to the movies? I have no idea. Regardless, the studios were nervous and the result was a ridiculous requirement for security.

In order to play one of these tracks you have to properly implement what’s called a Protected Audio Path (PAP). I go into much greater detail about the encryption/decryption requirements for a PAP but you need OS, software, driver and hardware support for it. Windows Vista gave us OS support, ArcSoft and Cyberlink gave us software support and the GPU vendors gave us driver support - all we were lacking was the hardware.

The GPU vendors didn’t include support in their designs for a number of reasons, so no integrated or discrete graphics currently support sending these compressed audio streams over HDMI. Next year that will change, but for now it is what it is.

The only hope was for sound card makers to tackle the problem, but the sound card market isn’t what it was back in the 1990s. ASUS was the first to take it seriously, because, well, ASUS takes everything it does seriously.

The Xonar HDAV launched and as you’ll see, I haven’t reviewed it. When it first hit, driver support wasn’t there. Despite the hardware support, you couldn’t send TrueHD or DTS-HD MA over HDMI because the driver didn’t allow it. This part took months to fix, it took some more months to work out a number of other bugs and in that period I just gave up on it. I went back to it not too long ago and while it worked, I’d lost my interest.

Before I ever heard of the ASUS card I heard that Creative Labs and Auzentech were working on one. I even wrote about it. I actually expected it to be out first, but for whatever reason it got pushed back. The card finally launched this year and today it finally received support from Cyberlink to bitstream these codecs without any loss in quality. The PowerDVD 9 patch notes tell you right here:

You do need PowerDVD 9 for this to work, no it doesn’t come bundled with the card, yes the latest patch is needed for it to work.

Auzentech sent me a card and I went to testing it. Perhaps it would be my one last hurrah with high end HTPCs before I accept fate and build a modest XBMC box for my needs.

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  • Wellsoul2 - Wednesday, September 02, 2009 - link

    Seems like alot of hoops to jump through...

    I'll just stick with my $80 ASUS and PCM optical out.

    IMHO if Microsoft had just said no to DRM we would have a better
    OS with better sound by the hardware layer as in XP.
    All this DRM just impedes technology.

    It's not scientific but to me the sound in Vista is not as good as
    XP with the apps I use.
    Reply
  • Fallen Kell - Wednesday, September 02, 2009 - link

    You are kidding me right? XP's Audio Mixer was HORRIBLE! If anything had to get touched by the OS (say for instance volume control), the audio was immediately downsampled to 16bit. Reply
  • CookieMook - Wednesday, September 02, 2009 - link

    I for one have an NVidia 8800 GTS (640 MB) card and get video through the X-fi Home Theater HD to my JVC-RS1 projector. However, I get HDCP issues whenever trying to view Blu-Ray content via Power DVD 9 Ultra. If I bypass the X-fi HTHD card, I have no problems with HDCP. Anyone else get video but HDCP failing with this card? Reply
  • adder - Wednesday, September 02, 2009 - link

    does this card output decoded DTS MA,DTS HD via analog 7.1 outs,since there are lot of people with older recievers. Reply
  • Fallen Kell - Wednesday, September 02, 2009 - link

    I don't think that this is the intended target for this card. I am not saying that it can't do it, but I don't think it does. If you simply want analog out, I believe any sound card which has 5.1 or 7.1 analog outputs will send the audio that way, but I believe that there are certification issues when doing analog out and you can only use the lower quality audio streams when doing so on a PC. Reply
  • maddoctor - Wednesday, September 02, 2009 - link

    It can do the analog. You must look the serial like connector in the card and multiple colour cable that intended to connect with. These will go to the speakers. Reply
  • gwolfman - Wednesday, September 02, 2009 - link

    @Anand

    I have an Intel DG45FC mini-itx board running Vista Ultimate x64 that I'm currently using for my HTPC with PowerDVD. I use it to bitstream standard DTS and DD to my Onkyo TX-SR606. As you stated, I am constantly having to play with the audio configuration settings to have it work correctly. If I get it working correctly, a few reboots later (for unknown reasons) it starts magically sending LPCM instead of DTS/DD. I have to spend 20+ minutes with PDVD and Vista audio settings and multiple reboots to get it back. Sometimes I even need to disconnect the HDMI cable going from my HTPC to my receiver to get it to come back; sometimes doing that I lose video on my HDTV and have to reboot again. It's way annoying!
    Reply
  • Dreamwalker - Wednesday, September 02, 2009 - link

    I tried it few weeks ago, recommendet on AVF forum and I'm really impressed. Not only it supports much more video formats (.mkv,...) it should also be able to do all the lossless audio passthrough, at least judging from their webseite and all the logos.

    I would really like to see if it works with the Auzen.
    Reply
  • Fallen Kell - Wednesday, September 02, 2009 - link

    The lossless pass-thru is ONLY with the Asus card mentioned in this article. There is a thread dedicated to this over at AVSForums:

    http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=10...">http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=10...
    Reply
  • tim851 - Wednesday, September 02, 2009 - link

    It's just the same with the video games industry. All those contraptions designed to prevent illegal copying are only hurting those, who have paid for their games. Pirates can get fully cracked versions of games, that don't even need to be installed, that you just put in a folder and play without ever thinking about admitting developer distributed spyware to your PC, about forced registrations or about incompatibilities with installed software.

    The paranoia of the content industry is so dumb and so proven to be ineffective, that you just know there are alterior motives.
    Reply

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