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Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro PC Sound Hardware Print E-mail
Monday, 01 December 2003
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Creative Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum Pro PC Sound Hardware
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With the fully-enhanced WinDVD 5, you can play any DVD-type disc in its full glory. Now I could see the DVD-A menus in Pet Sounds, access all the features and generally fully enjoy the disc.

While I was at it, I bought and downloaded Fengtao Software’s DVD-Idle Pro, which adds, among several other things, multi-region capability to WinDVD and many other players, largely by disabling their region-checking (though its behaviour is not entirely reliable). I live in Region 2 now, so I would quickly run out of region switches in my DVD drive if I had to switch each time I played a different region’s disc. In the U.K. and Europe, virtually all players are multi-region. Thankfully, the result is the essential internationalization of movie and DVD release dates, in tacit recognition of the fact that regionalization is stupid and unnecessary in the first place.

DVD-Audio discs are essentially region-free, although once in a while, you’ll find one on which the DVD-Video zone has accidentally been regionalized. Another red herring is the TV standard for the video. There are some record companies that have been tardy releasing DVD-As in Europe because, they claim, they “have to do the PAL version.” However, just as most European DVD players are multi-region, most European players and display devices are capable of handling both NTSC and PAL. As a result, the answer is simple: when authoring a DVD-A, you only need to include NTSC video material. Almost nobody will be inconvenienced, wherever they are in the world. Just as with a CD, you can play the same disc anywhere.

A nice feature of the Audigy is the compact IR remote, which is about half the size of the one that came with the Audigy 1, and much more ergonomically designed. The first time you try to use it, for example to control the volume, there is a lag while it does some processing, but thereafter changes take place at once.

Let’s move on to evaluation of another disc, this time Philip Glass’ magnificent Koyaanisqatsi. This consists of music composed for Godfrey Reggio’s film of the same name and now available in a new recording that includes almost everything that appears in the film, unlike the original release, which truncated it to suit the music medium of the time, the LP. The sound was excellent, and in the title track, the deep, sonorous voice came unmistakably from all around.

Unfortunately, however, I found that both Creative and InterVideo players did not respect the fact that the disc was supposed to play smoothly from one track to the next without a break, inserting pauses where there should be continuous music. This was a problem with some early hardware DVD-A players, but it’s very unusual to encounter it today. In addition, the InterVideo player was a little more temperamental than the simpler Creative player, not always responding correctly to menu clicks. Occasionally, the InterVideo player had some kind of problem and the audio broke up into short segments, as if the computer was very busy doing something else at the time – though exactly what it was up to was not at all evident. Quitting and starting again cured the problem.

The Downside
It’s in a computer. That’s the big one – a computer is just not a nice place for audio. Even with digital I/O taken to external high-quality converters, without the kind of careful attention to power supplies and other factors that you’ll only find in an expensive pro-audio type PC, there is bound to be jitter, and when using the analog outs, noise from digits gets into the audio. So the performance is not what you would expect from a regular DVD-A player connected to your hi-fi.

The software is a bit cranky playing DVD-A discs, especially the InterVideo player (which admittedly is not part of the basic kit, but you’ll want it if you want to experience all the content on DVD-Audio discs).

What you do get with this system is the best audio I have so far coaxed out of a computer sound card. The external I/O box is ideal for the home studio – though that’s not an angle I’ve covered in this review – where the EAX audio environments add a good deal to your on-board MIDI instruments. I actually augmented that side of the Audigy (which has its own quite decent MIDI sound generating capability) with an up-market Yamaha sound card, bringing its S/PDIF output in via the digital input on the I/O box, which is very nice.

I owned the original Audigy with the I/O tray that fitted into a drive slot: the Audigy 2 is much nicer in every way and the ideal system for an audio-conscious PC user. It enables you to listen to surround in your office while you’re working, and even watch movies. It supports up to 7.1 speakers. And of course it is an example of how, increasingly, you can play DVD-Audio discs everywhere.

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