Sound Experience Test Cont.We started a new game in order to get the full experience of Doom 3 in surround sound. When we first turned on our onboard audio and 5.1 speakers, we were hit by the wall of sound that is the Doom universe. To have the ambient sounds of Mars City active all around is a slightly disturbing (in a good way) experience. Our first real test of the sound card was in talking to some of the first few people we meet on Mars and spinning around. With a touch of satisfaction, we heard the voices pan around.
More important than analyzing how well id Software could handle programming a rudimentary positional audio test is determining how effectively they put all the Mars City sounds together when evil is converging from every direction.
Taking our new audio arsenal into combat lived up to everything for which we could have hoped.
Hear a grunting noise behind you? About face and fire away! Navigating in the dark chambers of the Martian base with surround sound became much easier. With our two channel audio (either speakers or headphones) we can hear left and right, but determining front and back positioning without surround just didn't work as well as we needed it to.
For those out there with 4 speaker or 4.1 setups (or those who just want to hook two pairs of speakers up to their system to save a little on the cash flow, we tested audio with an old 4 channel system. We noticed that the center channel on our 5.1 system, in addition to playing noises that were directly in front of us, is used for radio communications, and audio played back via the PDA. But all is not lost for those without a center channel. Doom 3 seems to play all center channel data through the front left and right speakers as well. Not having a center channel doesn't impact our amazing surround sound gaming experience in any real way. Yes, the PDA, radio communication, and the like loose just a bit of distinction, but the real meat of the system is to be able to locate enemies via audio. This is just as amazing using 4 channel sound as it is with 6.
Discrete Audio Solution Testing and PerformanceThis is more of a foot note than anything else. We noticed absolutely no difference in audio quality when testing with the Sound Blaster Audigy 2. Of course, the Audigy offers more bells, whistles, and features, but as far as fulfilling its function as a 5.1 channel audio solution, it's no better or worse than our Realtek onboard hardware. Were we doing an in depth sound reproduction test, our results may or may not have been different, but from a subjective standpoint (simply taking gaming experience into account), we couldn't say one was better than the other.
We have also attempted to test the performance impact of enabling surround audio in Doom 3, but had a very hard time doing so. When playing Doom 3, the frame rate is locked at 60 frames per second, whether vsync is enabled or not. Our original sound test system spent its time maxed out at 60fps, so we hooked up or Sempron 3100+ system and went to work. We still couldn't get the frame rate to drop sufficiently below 60fps without creating a graphics card bottleneck. We tested the cut scene right before the action starts in the decommissioned communications building, and noticed absolutely no difference in measured frame rate (with FRAPS) when playing with and without surround enabled. This test was performed at the default High Quality mode.
It is possible that on lower end processors a performance impact might be noticeable, but we don't believe it would be significant at this point.