Note that this is a Legacy FAQ and contains information that is no longer current. See the Update below for current status.
Dell Tech Support is denying warranty service for speaker damage if the popular VLC Media Player is installed on a Dell laptop. Also we got a report that service was denied because a KMPlayer was installed on a laptop. The warranty remains valid on the other parts of the laptop.
VLC has a feature that can make the audio seem louder than other players. VLC achieves this by using a process that creates hard clipping (see below in this thread for explanation) which can damage small speakers. Dell has tested VLC and verified that the speakers can be damaged after several hours of using VLC. I believe that HP (Hewlett Packard) also says that VLC damage is not covered under its warranty.
If you choose to use the VLC player, it is suggested that you do not set the volume higher than 100% in order to avoid potential damage to the speakers. If you contact Tech Support about a speaker problem, it is suggested that you do not have the player installed.
If you have already been denied warranty service for a speaker problem only because you have the VLC player, please see the next post which is marked "Verified Answer". Send DELL - Terry B a private message. The way to do that is to click on his link, which is his name in blue letters. That will take you to his profile page where you can click on "send a private message" or "add as friend".
As of 3-3-2014 the exclusion no longer applied to models that have Windows 8 or 8.1. The exclusion still applied to Windows 7 systems that did not have the latest audio driver and BIOS installed.
The current version of the VLC Media Player boosts audio to only 125%, not the 200-400% of earlier versions, so the issue might be moot now anyway. (Note that there might still be a risk if you use software to boost the volume over 100%. Dell recommends to not go over 90%.)
Within the last year we have received a couple of reports of owners being denied service again. My guess is there are a few service reps out there who didn't get the word that the exclusion no longer is supposed to be enforced. Best advice is to remove all media players except Windows Media Player before seeking warranty service for speakers.
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Wow! Did not know that. You would think that companies would have a buffer to keep that from happening. They can dim a screen to protect your monitor, but no way to keep a speaker from blowing?! Not their fault. I am not throwing blame or anything. But that kind of stinks.
You would think that companies would have a buffer to keep that from happening. They can dim a screen to protect your monitor, but no way to keep a speaker from blowing?
Probably they don't blow. My guess is that they are burning out or having mechanical failure from the heat produced by unnaturally high average amplitude. I heard that one of the Dell laptop models got a BIOS revision to help protect the speakers from the VLC Player but I don't know how such protection could work except by lowering the overall volume.
I played some short samples of a pop tune with VLC Player and simultaneously recorded them into a graphic audio editor, and made some screen shots of the amplitude waveforms -- just the left channel to keep it simple. These amplitude graphs represent the relative energy of the audio signal. The highest peaks represent the greatest amplitude, which increases as the waveform moves away from the center crossing line in either up or down direction. The center "zero crossing" line represents silence.
Example 1 shows VLC playing the tune normally with its volume set at 100%.
Example 2 is VLC Player playing the tune with the volume set to 200%.
In both examples, the maximum amplitude of the signal is nearly as large as it can get, which is the saturation point of 0 dB (zero decibels). The 2nd example would sound louder because its average amplitude is greater. That is shown in the graph by the increased density of the waveform. A greater proportion of the signal is close to 0 dB.
VLC can't make the laptop's amp produce more wattage than it was made to produce, so where does the increased volume come from? The program seems to increase the signal's amplitude to beyond the 0 dB limit -- super-saturation. That would definitely increase the volume but the problem is that signal over 0 dB create very blatant digital distortion -- basically a loud noise. To fix that, all of the signal over 0 dB is simply chopped off, or clipped.
Example 2 shows the increased average amplitude but with a form of distortion known as "clipping". It is called "clipping" because of the way the graph looks after parts of the signal have been hacked off. It is a form of distortion because the waveform has been ruined by hacking off parts of it. If you play a song with VLC Player set to 200% volume you can easily hear the distortion in the audio signal.
Here are very extreme close-ups of examples 1 & 2. The waveform in example 1 resembles a sine wave more or less.
Example 2 is the same slice of music but with VLC Player's volume set to 200%. The maximum amplitude is the same as in example 1, but now there is much more of the signal near maximum so the average amplitude is much greater here. In example 1, the waveform was forming peaks near the maximum. In example 2 the waveform is creating plateaus near the the maximum, which means that it is now starting to look more like a square wave -- typical of hard clipping.
The maker of VCL Player says there is nothing about the player that can cause damage to laptop speakers, and for all I know that may be true. Those guys are smarter than me. However these graphs demonstrate that the player creates hard clipping when the volume level is set to 200% and dramatically increases the average amplitude.
The graphs actually under-represent the increase in the amount of average amplitude between example 1 and 2. That is because the graphs represent amplitude in decibels, which is a logarithmic scale. If the graphs accurately represented the increase in amplitude they would be too big to use. The bottom line is that there is a whole lot of extra energy for the speakers to have to convert into mechanical energy and heat without breaking down.
Wikipedia has an explanation of why hard clipping can damage speakers in its article on audio clipping. It also mentions another problem with hard clipping that can destroy speakers, upper level harmonics, but that is probably not the main concern.
Sorry for the delay in replying -- been under the weather.
The CyberLink PowerDVD that was included with the laptop should support 8 or should upgrade to a version that supports 8. You should be able to find the software for your laptop at My Dell Downloads.
Great Post Jimco
If anyone was refused help by technical support when the only troubleshooting performed was finding VLC player installed please feel free to private message me. Just click on my portrait or the link in my signature and then click start conversation. In your message please include your contact information, the service tag of the notebook and any case numbers that tech support may have offered. I will be happy to investigate further.
For those of you that have asked for official Dell documentation on the subject please take a look at the following link.
Issue with increased volume while using VLC media player
When using VLC media player, volume can be increased to max output. This eventually distorts the speaker output. If audio/video playback is continuously done using VLC with max volume (100%) over a period of time then even if the volume is kept at a lower level sound would be distorted. This distortion is permanent.
Why does this happen?
Some audio application like VLC player will allow large power output through speaker, approx 200% to 400% of original sound output. In this situation, excessive usage may damage the speaker.
What is the resolution?
If you are using VLC or any other amplification software, ensure that both the inbuilt audio output is set to 90% and output volume from amplification software is set to 95%
Specialize in Laptops, Mobile Devices
Are you a representative from Dell, if not can you please let us know do any person from dell has replied on such post?
Hello Jim, Are you a representative from Dell,
Hello. I am 100% independent of the Dell company and do not represent it.
if not can you please let us know do any person from dell has replied on such post?
See the post above yours from Dell - Terry B. Terry B is a Dell liaison.
I have replied to your original post
I would check to see if the distorted sound is present regardless what player that you are using. I also suggest testing with a head set or external speakers and see if you notice distorted sound then.
Specialize in Laptops, Mobile Devices
Running your new speakers at MAX volume right out of the box is bad for them. Just like any other item that has moving parts, you got to break them in... I have yet to hear anyone said that VLC broke their speakers on their laptop or desktop...