Opening the box reveals the complexity of the system even before it is setup. It is very tightly packed into its shipping container, to the extent that the inventory list was necessary to find that some parts were still buried in the styrofoam the system came packed in. All in all, it comes out at close to 70 individual pieces, including the parts for the stands. That's just an idea of the task at hand; laying out all of the pieces is worth it in the long run.

The system is centered around the decoder/amplifier. There is a strong functional resemblance between this unit and the receiver in a home stereo system; it switches between a number of different inputs and handles decoding, balance, and volume. The unit is designed for flexibility, with an extensive choice of connections as follows:

  • Creative Labs Digital DIN connection
  • Optical SPDIF connection
  • Coaxial SPDIF connection
  • Front and rear analog inputs

Click to enlarge

These connections are not wired commonly, and each can be selected from the front of the unit or via remote control. This means that multiple sources can be played back at the desktop without routing them all through the computer, much like a home theatre receiver could switch between the TV, VCR, and DVD audio feeds. However, unlike a home receiver, each source would have to have a different type of connection, as opposed to a home stereo that uses mostly RCA and some digital connections. This way, the unit is almost guaranteed compatibility through one connection or another with the primary source, and any remaining inputs could be used for secondary devices.

One interesting thing to note is the lack of 6 analog audio inputs for the system, despite the presentation of the DTT 3500 as a complimentary product to the Creative Labs SoundBlaster Live! 5.1 series. It does not require the six channel card as it does all of its own decoding, though at the same time it does not allow analog access to the center channel, or direct access to the subwoofer for the LFE channel, for anyone with a 6 channel card. As a result, in order to take advantage of the center channel and full Dolby Digital surround sound effects, a digital connection to the system is required.

For our testing purposes, we used two types of digital connections to the decoder. From the SoundBlaster Live! 5.1 Platinum card in the test system, both the DIN connection and a coaxial SPDIF connection from the Live Drive IR were used. Under Windows 98/ME, both of these connections offer AC-3 data pass thru using software DVD decoders, the desired source for testing the system. Unfortunately, the Live!'s AC-3 pass thru is not currently supported under Windows 2000.

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