Compro

Compro Technology has been in business since 1988 and has been providing interesting PC based graphics and multimedia products based on the latest technologies in both the OEM and Retail markets. Their retail products are marketed under the VideoMate name and can be found at leading e-tailors. We recently received several of their products for review with the Compro VideoMate S350 satellite TV tuner card and VideoMate H900 TV Tuner card being of notable interest to us.


The VideoMate S350 is a digital satellite TV tuner card based upon DVB-S standards. The card utilizes the Philips 9-bit ADC chip that provides full SDTV and up to 1080i HDTV digital TV watching, DiSEqC 1.2, Transport Stream, and MPEG-2 digital TV recording when utilizing free-to-air DVB-S TV signals. Compro has included their Picture Purifying Technology that improves both SDTV and HDTV reception on your PC. The unit also features Compro's Power Up Technology that can automatically boot up your system from the Windows Shut Down (ACPI S5), Stand by (ACPI S3), or Hibernation (ACPI S4) modes, record your favorite shows, and will then automatically shutdown your system when recording is completed.

The S350 comes with a 37-key remote control unit and is bundled with ComproDTV 2, ComproDVD 2, and Ulead PhotoExplorer 8.5 SE software. The S350 will support 3rd party satellite TV PVR software as well. The ComproDTV 2 software supports timeshifting, channel surfing, still frame capture, digital EPG, subtitle and Teletext, advanced picture in/out picture to watch live TV or playback video files at the same time, and support for up to four digital channel windows in PIP mode. The VideoMate S350 is also a video capture card that can capture analog video (NTSC/PAL) from S-Video or Composite sources and can record in MPEG-1/2/4 formats.

In our initial tests we had a few minor issues with the first release of the ComproDTV 2 software that centered on digital channel switching times, but this has been fully addressed in the latest release. The clarity of both SDTV and HDTV signals has been impressive along with the ability to watch digital TV shows in the lab on our standard test bed (not that we ever do that). The software also has the capability to set up your main TV channel in wallpaper mode on the desktop while still providing picture-in-picture capability for up to three other windows. While we are still testing this card, the technology works very well provided you have the required digital dish and LNB for capturing the DVB-S signals. The included software is now mature and has some impressive features. Although this product is designed for a small and highly specialized audience we have to say we really like it so far.

BlueGears

BlueGears has been providing computer and home entertainment audio solutions into the OEM/ODM markets since 2000. They recently started focusing on providing retail products under the BlueGears brand name. We will be reviewing their recently released b-Enspirer sound card in the near future but would like to provide some first impressions today.


The b-Enspirer is powered by the C-Media Oxygen HD CMI8788 audio processor that features 8-channel support, 24bit/192kHz capability, and a 110dB signal-to-noise ratio. The package comes with an installation CD, TOSLink Fiber-Optic cable, and owner's manual. The card itself is very compact and has six RCA jacks and two Optical S/PDIF (in/out) connectors on the bracket.

The basic features of the card include:
  • DTS Interactive - a real-time 5.1 channel encoder that takes 2 or more audio channels and encodes them into a DTS bit stream.
  • DTS NeoPC - an up-mix matrix that turns any 2 channel audio into 7.1 channel surround sound.
  • Dolby Digital Live (AC-3) - real time 5.1 channel encoding.
  • Dolby Pro-Logic IIx - surround processor; converts stereo audio into 7.1 channel surround sound.
  • Dolby Headphone - converts 5.1 surround or 3D gaming audio for use over stereo headphones.
  • Dolby Virtual Speaker - creates virtual surround sound from a generic two-speaker configuration
  • C-Media FlexBass - configurable LFE channel crossover frequency (from 50 to 250Hz)
  • C-Media Magic Voice - provides the ability to disguise voices in online chatting (Ed: Unfortunately, it can't get rid of Gary's Texas twang....)
  • C-Media Xear3D - 7.1 Virtual Speaker Shifter technology
  • Supports EAX 1.0 & 2.0, A3D 1.0, and DirectSound.
The b-Enspirer is targeted to the home theater crowd and in our initial testing it excels in this area. In fact, this card has replaced our Creative X-Fi in our upcoming HTPC article. The gaming aspects of the card are very good and exceed the current on-board sound solutions but the card has limited EAX support. The CPU utilization rates were excellent in our game tests but frame rate losses in titles like Battlefield 2 were similar to the on-board solutions with FPS reductions up to 16% in some cases. While Realtek has struggled with their EAX 2 implementation as of late we did not find the same issues with the latest driver set in the vast majority of games we have tested. However, in BF2 we found turning off EAX resulted in the best audio performance and quality as the EAX implementation in this game (and BF2142) is still not as good as the ADI1988B audio codec and far under the Creative X-Fi series of cards.

Our feelings remain the same: if your PC is dedicated to gaming then the Creative X-Fi is still your best choice. The b-Enspirer offers an amazing number of features for the $109 price tag and is best suited for those who place a premium on HTPC features or audio quality in music or video titles instead of gaming. We are still completing testing with the new driver set but feel at this time that if you are looking for an all-around audio solution for your PC then this card deserves a serious look.

Final Remarks

This concludes our second Tech View 2006 article, and we will take a look at some interesting memory technologies and a whole host of motherboards in our final article for this series.

Index
POST A COMMENT

22 Comments

View All Comments

  • Trisped - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    Can/did you test the Oxygen HD CMI8788 audio processor's ability to decode 5.1+ digital sound and output it to analog speakers.

    I ask because the creative labs forums are full of 360 users who complain that they don't get clean playback on their X-Fi cards. I have an Audigy2, which isn't any better. A replacement would be nice...
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    We are currently finishing the decoding tests. This will include output to both digital and analog speakers directly from the card and through a A/V receiver. Reply
  • LoneWolf15 - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    By my understanding, Vista does away with hardware DirectSound acceleration (or at least, hardware DirectSound3D). This means that any games or other programs that use EAX done via DirectSound3D will no longer have surround sound under Windows. Only apps that use OpenAL will be useful.

    Creative cards based on EMU10k chipsets will offer users a number of options, what with the kxProject's OpenAL drivers for these cards. However, those drivers aren't compatible with the X-Fi, which has a different chip. I'm curious as to whether many of the X-Fi's features will be obsoleted by Windows Vista.

    It could be that I'm drawing incorrect conclusions, so I'd be interested to hear from people more knowledgeable than I. But it seems like high-quality DACs will be the one important feature in Vista-ready sound cards, and that other fancy bits will become irrelevant.
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    X-Fi will work fine in vista, more so than other soundcards. Creative engineers have found a way to intercept directsound3d so x-fi can process it on the soundcard so does not matter in Vista.

    This driver will be released sometime late next month. The X-Fi card will still be the top dog for games (good or bad to some people :P)
    Reply
  • imaheadcase - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    To add from post above, here is link to article.
    http://www.custompc.co.uk/custompc/news/98878/vist...">http://www.custompc.co.uk/custompc/news...ll-suppo...

    Here is a quote from the article....

    ..........
    However, our source at Creative Labs exclusively revealed to Custom PC that the company has developed a driver for its X-Fi range of sound cards that will allow for full hardware sound processing in all games, not only those that use OpenAL. The driver works by intercepting DirectSound 3D calls from the game code and converting them into OpenAL on the fly, before these calls reach the DirectX 10 API. By converting the calls to OpenAL, Creative circumvents the limitations of Windows Vista.

    Creative told us that the driver is expected to be completed by December, a month before Windows Vista is due to launch, and will support all Creative X-Fi sound cards. However, older Audigy and Sound Blaster sound cards will not be supported initially, which means that the only way to get high-quality positional audio in Windows Vista is to buy an X-Fi.
    ..........

    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    Just in case these points are not readily noticeable for some:

    1) This is going to create more load on the Creative sound cards, which COULD cause more CPU utilization. Now, I don't know why anyone else would buy an X-Fi, but if I bought one, I would be buying it to offload as much processing as possible onto the Audio card, vs the CPU. Pretty much defeats the purpose of buying an add-in Audio card(for $200-$300 usd, and for gaming).

    2)Creative, like all the rest of the gaming industry, is PROBABLY going to use this as an excuse to raise prices on their X-Fi line, and "force" users into buying one. If I'm incorrect, then why hold off on the drivers for the older products ?

    Since MS has been delinquent in sending me my copy of Vista Beta (yes, I'm an MSDN subscriber), I can only speculate here, but what about all the current Audio solutions on the market RIGHT_NOW ? Will this force the system into some form of Compatibility mode ? Older video cards causing the system to revert to using Directx 9L(D3D 9), I can understand, but as far as I'm aware, Direct Sound wasn't broken.

    This smells so much like MS, and OEMs trying to rape the end user to the ninth degree it's pitiful, and thats coming from a person who prefers Windows to *NIX (on the desktop) . . .
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - link

    quote:

    Since MS has been delinquent in sending me my copy of Vista Beta (yes, I'm an MSDN subscriber), I can only speculate here, but what about all the current Audio solutions on the market RIGHT_NOW ? Will this force the system into some form of Compatibility mode ? Older video cards causing the system to revert to using Directx 9L(D3D 9), I can understand, but as far as I'm aware, Direct Sound wasn't broken.


    We are running audio tests on the RTM release at this time. I hope to have an article up in about three weeks with the results of several audio solutions. The timing is dependent upon a couple of final driver release dates that are around 12/15 now.
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, November 30, 2006 - link

    That is good to hear Gary, and thanks for mentioning it. I hate to sound like an ass when making comments about up and coming technology, and in no way do I direct this at any of the other readers here, or the AT staff. I just get worked up, thinking *this* product or that is great, then something like this comes out, and throws a monkey wrench into the big picture.

    I'm sure, I'm not the only person here, that sees Creative s "solution", as a complete *hack*. Being brought up, from very young, believing that when you do something, you do it right ONCE, and not 50 times WRONG. Perhaps I should send my parents over to Creative s
    "Lab" ?
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Friday, December 01, 2006 - link

    We are also looking at reviewing the new "low" cost X-FI cards under Vista once we have final drivers. Reply
  • Trisped - Tuesday, November 28, 2006 - link

    The odds of creating more work for the CPU by off loading work on the sound processor does not make sense to me. What might cause an increase in CPU usage would be if Creative finds ways to do things that cannot be done in current Vista settings. The reality is that is not going to happen.

    As for being forced to buy something, most people buy SoundBlaster because it has the most perks. As I see it, off loading sound work to the hardware is a perk.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now