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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  • Fallen Kell - Thursday, September 3, 2009 - link

    I would say no, it won't. Higher resolution means needing a higher bandwidth connection, either with more data in parallel, or at a faster speed. If they are stating limits, it means those are the limits. Currently, those are fine limits for dealing with current HDMI 1.3 spec equipment, since those do not require to handle anything higher than that. Remember, this is HDMI, not DVI. DVI supports much higher resolutions (well dual link DVI) in its specifications. HDMI does not.
  • medi01 - Thursday, September 3, 2009 - link

    Sorry for trolling, but I can't help posting it:

    "Let's make an anti pirate very-very-very-well-protected HD standard, so that nobody could steal our mega-cool-HD-content!"
    "And let's make it so, that just watching it in the provided quality feels like an achievement!"

    So, what's the status of "Blue Ray ripping" at the moment?
  • archer75 - Friday, September 4, 2009 - link

    Blu Ray ripping is quite easy to do. There is a great guide over at

    Just rip the video to mkv, the DTS-HD MA or true HD to lossless FLAC, subtitles if you need them, all with EAC3to. Then merge the files together with mkvmerge. Done.
    You will get 100% of the audio. Bit perfect. And none of the DRM or need to buy this soundcard. Easy.
  • Comdrpopnfresh - Thursday, September 3, 2009 - link

    It may very well be worthwhile trying the systems that did not work, with different drivers.

    "The one thing both of my test platforms had in common was their NVIDIA graphics using the latest 190 series drivers. I swapped an ATI Radeon HD 4890 into the P55 board, installed its drivers and it worked right away; under both Windows Vista 32-bit and Windows 7 x64.

    I’m not sure what the NVIDIA/Auzen incompatibility was, and perhaps switching to an arbitrary older driver would fix it"

    The better question may be: what is the NVIDIA/Creative imcompatibility?

    This seems eerily similar to the problems with X-Fi sound cards and Nvidia- problems dating back to the NF4 chipset. It didn't matter what driver one used with the sound, or graphics, cards. The result was SCP- snap, crackle, pop (the S being an ear-bleeding scream/shriek for some). Creative insisted it was a IRQ sharing, or latency handling issue with Nvidia's chipset. But the story kept changing as the problem persisted:

    Running in SLI was to blame, then customer overclocking, use of Nvidia graphics cards on Nvidia motherboards in general, the PCI bus- switching to PCI-e was to cure it, placing the sound card too near to a graphics card, placing it near EMI sources generally within the computer anywhere, memory configurations, driver version on both sides, improperly seated soundcards, lack of EMI shielding...

    The problem has spanned so many generations of motherboards, soundcards, graphics cards, drivers, OS's, and X-Fi soundcards; That it takes hours just to scroll through the troubleshooting/problem thread (scroll, not read) on Creative's own forums. It got so large, infact, that the moderators had to lock the first thread and continue the discussion in an entirely different one.

    The ironic thing, for me at least, is when I read this on page 2:

    "The first jumper block lets you configure how the video signal gets sent to the X-Fi HTHD: either video HDMI input on the back of the card or over the PCIe bus. Apparently NVIDIA and Auzentech have been working on a way to pass video (or audio) over the PCIe bus instead of an external cable. This feature doesn't appear to work on any NVIDIA chipsets today, but it may at some point in the future (or with a future NVIDIA chipset)."

    I thought to myself- "Nvidia and Auzentech developed a way to pass audio or video over the PCI-e bus... but the feature doesn't work; as both companies are finding it impossible to work around the dumb, deaf, and blind licensing-elephant in the room."
    Then I read about the failure on the next page. Typical Creative.
  • Automaticman - Thursday, September 3, 2009 - link

    "The first jumper block lets you configure how the video signal gets sent to the X-Fi HTHD: either video HDMI input on the back of the card or over the PCIe bus. Apparently NVIDIA and Auzentech have been working on a way to pass video (or audio) over the PCIe bus instead of an external cable. This feature doesn't appear to work on any NVIDIA chipsets today, but it may at some point in the future (or with a future NVIDIA chipset)."

    The card is not designed to pass video over the PCIe bus. If you look more closely at the card you will see an SLI connector at the top. I still don't think they have it working yet, and of course, you need to get the card working with NVIDIA in general first. The internal video jumper certainly isn't going to work without and SLI connector attached, though.

    In an earlier press release they did specify that it was for NVIDIA and not an ATI Crossfire connector.

    Personally, once I saw the card was priced over $100 more than the ASUS HDAV slim card and did not come with software (ASUS includes TMT2 - not win7 compatable but I didn't find that out 'til later) I went ahead and picked up the ASUS. It works fine, but they need to make it more set-and-forget.
  • Crittias - Wednesday, September 2, 2009 - link

    Anand mentions on the last page of the article that there are plenty of open source projects with UIs that completely outclass PowerDVD. Could someone elaborate on some of these options for me?
  • Fallen Kell - Thursday, September 3, 2009 - link

    MediaPortal+StreamedMP skin/plugin">">


    Media Player Classic - Home Cinema

  • sprockkets - Thursday, September 3, 2009 - link

    Those are nice, but have no native bluray support :(
  • sprockkets - Thursday, September 3, 2009 - link

    Yeah, the XBMC project.">
  • bersl2 - Wednesday, September 2, 2009 - link

    "Encryption legend"?

    This is the (n+1)th time bringing this up, I'm sure, but that particular legend made me nauseous.

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