Sunday, September 28, 2008

S/PDIF and positional audio using DTS Connect

The ALC889A and ALC1200 with DTS Connect, DTS Interactive and/or Doldby Digital Live.

Gigabyte ALC889A with software can fully encode positional DTS for 3d games and general windows use. This is a function of the bundled software and I dont think it would work on Linux.

When buying a new PC one of my big concerns was sound quality and sound drivers. I did not want to buy a separate sound card and I wanted to use my home theater system. Unfortunately due to a hasty purchase some years back I somehow managed to buy a home theater system that takes Stereo In, SPDIF Coaxial In and SPDIF/Toslink Optical In. This means that to get surround my sound card must produce a DTS or Dolby digital signal with more than 2 channels. Also, the home theatre system only had a single Stereo. Some sound cards have multiple analog stereo outputs which plug into many stereo inputs on the home theatedr system which relies on the sound card to produce 3 or 4 analog signals.

In persuit of fewer cables, the important bit again: the sound card must produce a DTS or Dolby signal with more than 2 channels. Many sound cards will encode to DTS or Dolby but produce a stereo digital signal. That means you have stereo and in 3d games and it will not be positional sound. When watching movies the sound card will pass the digital signal directly to the sound card but it will not perform any positional encoding. Some sound cards will label this as "DTS" and "Dolby" which is deceptive.

For 3d games or any funky usage of winamp you PC needs to be able to encode DTS or Dolbly signals on the fly. Realtime encoding of DTS and Dolbly goes under the name of "DTS Connect", "DTS Interactive" or "Dolby Digital Live" and involves a combination of software or hardware to produce the multi-channel digital output. (Rember: A 2 channel DTS signal is not the same as 7.1. Many sound cards will perform stero encoding which is not what you want).

I bought a Gigabyte GA-MA78-S2H which has the ALC889A sound chipset and this implements DTS Connect and DTS Interactive and I get positional sound in games and music via my optical out. The software that comes with this Gigabyte mainboard is great and allows you to tweak all sorts.

One of the more impressive tweaks is to adjust the center channel which is usefull when you play stereo music on 5 speakers. Typically you end up getting all of the voice out of the center channel and its nice to distribute this across other channels by making the center channel wider.

Some websites suggest that the using DTS Connect and DTS Interactive takes 1-3% CPU power to perform this. I dont notice a difference so I dont really care. Dolby Digital Live encoding is supposed to be slightly more efficient to encode in software but I dont currently notice a difference so I dont really care - it works.

My experience with Gigabyte is good. Now although the ALC889A that is used on the gigabyte mainboard can fully encode DTS I believe that this is a feature of the gigabyte software. The ALC889A is a customised ALC885 and is made by Realtek for exclusively for Gigabyte.

One of the alternatives to Gigabyte was ASUS which also has an exclusive sound chipset from Realtek - the ALC1200. I did quite a bit of research and could not confirm that it is able to do DTS Connect. I would imagine it is more advanced because its version number is higher [How technical is that :-) ] but nowhere could I see any mention of realtime positional encoding of Dolby Digital Live, DTS Connect or DTS Interactive and they fall into the same trap where the mainboard supports Steria Digital encoding, will pass DTS and dolby signals from a DVD to your amp or will render the DVD digital to your 4 analog stereo outputs. Very Deceptive.

I dont think that this board will have DTS for linux since the DTS Connect / DTS Interactive has to be implemented by software drivers. In comparison, there has only been one "perfect solution" which was implemented completely in hardware. The nVidia Soundstorm along with its nForce 2 transparently produced full digital signals. This was implemented in hardware.



Friday, September 19, 2008

Installing Windows

Its that time again - I have a new computer. Its been about 6 to 8 years since I have bought something new for my home PC. I'm buying a beast in a box (Micro ATX, Quad Core, 8gig memory, Blue-ray, Wifi, etc) and hopefully it will be another 6 to 8 years before I have to buy another PC.

The big question is what software I should re-install?

Windows ultimately ends up as an unstable dog with fleas due to failed attempts at finding reasonable software. Having learned from my many mistakes with software of all types, the following is a list that I consider being the most effective in their category. I have linked to the author's website so that in future the latest version may be downloaded.

There are still a few items that I am looking for (suggestions welcome):
  • Photo touchup and image Editing
  • Media Player and Media Organiser
  • Offline CD Collection Organiser
  • Archive Organiser (Old Documents, Projects, Backups, etc)
The following list is linked to its author's website. Free may be open source, freeware or freely downloadable (subject to license, eg: ie8, etc).

Operating System

Windows Vista Operating System
Windows XP SP3 Operating System

Office Suite

Microsoft Office Documents
Open Office Documents
Star Office Documents
Retail (Inexpensive)

Internet Browser

Fire Fox Internet
Google Chrome Internet
IE 8 Internet

DVD Player

Windows Media Player 11 Media
Power DVD Media


Acrobat Documents
KeyNote Documents
DVD Shrink File Archive
Image Burn File Archive
IZArc File Archive Slick Free
Dyna DNS Internet Dynamic DNS name Free
Free Download Manager Internet
uTorrent Internet
Google Earth Map
VLC Media Player Media
Dot Net Platform
Java 6 Platform
Shockwave Platform
CC Cleaner OS Tool I don’t like it phoning home Free
Daemon Tools OS Tool Mount CD images (old games, etc) Free
Easy Cleaner OS Tool
FreeUndelete OS Tool Install this before you need to Free
Process Explorer OS Tool Replace Task manager Free
Treesize OS Tool
Tweak All 3 OS Tool Helps removing Browser Helper Objects Free
UnixShell OS Tool wget, grep, etc Free
Who Lock Me OS Tool
Terminals Remote Desktop Multi Tab - VNC, Telnet, SSH, Citrix Free
Google Desktop Shell
Launchy Shell Incredible ** Free
TeraCopy Shell
Xplore2 Shell Plugins required Free
nLite Slipstream
Virtual Box Virtual Machine 3-5% slower than VMWare but free Free
Tomcat 6 Web Server

Development Tools

Hibernate Development
HSSQL Development
Inno Setup Development
IntelliJ IDEA Development Amazing Retail
JDK 1.4.2, 5.0, 6.0 Development
Maven Development
Subversion Development

Internet Tools

FireFTP Firefox Plugin
Adblock Plus Firefox Plugin
Bookmark Duplicate Detector Firefox Plugin
Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer Firefox Plugin Same bookmarks at home and at work Free
FoxyProxy Firefox Plugin
IE Tab Firefox Plugin
NewsFox Firefox Plugin
PDF Download Internet Better flexability when clicking on PDFs Free

Web Resources

Life Hacker Internet Resource Life Free
DZone Internet Resource Development Free
Google News News Resource
SlashDot News Resource Technology Free
Old Version Internet Resource
Softpedia Internet Resource

Thats my list of software. Suggestions and recommendations welcome. This list is actually future documentation for myself and it may help others make their life easier.


Monday, September 08, 2008

International Shipping

I have been playing with which is a US re-mailer and gives me a US address in Florida. This allows items purchased from US companies that only deliver to US postal addresses. This costs about $60 a year which has already payed for itself when buying high cost items.

The price of a mid-range / cheap goods turns out to be only slightly cheaper (R100-R500) when purchasing them locally. High end goods seem to attract a very high margin locally so you can easily save up 50% of the cost by purchasing from overseas when taking advantage of exclusive US discounts.