Sound Blaster X-Fi Revisited

There’s still some confusion around the Sound Blaster X-Fi card. Looking at comments on the blog and e-mails that I’m getting, the confusion tends to be centered around the distinction between what’s handled via hardware or software. Before explaining that, want to call out three core points:

  • Comparing the physical card itself, there is no difference between the Dell version of the Sound Blaster X-Fi and the retail version.
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS playback is done through software codecs—this applies to both the retail and Dell versions of the card.
  • We do support Dolby Digital 5.1 playback; we do not support for DTS. More on this below.

The purpose of point #1 is to clarify that we’re not delivering limited functionality at the hardware level. This means like the retail version, through hardware, we support features like EAX (enhanced game audio for games written to support it); the 24-bit crystalizer (a processor that delivers improved audio quality from a variety of sources) and CMSS 3-D (which is a processor that emulates surround sound, for 2-channel environments or headphones).

Regarding points #2 and 3: Dolby Digital and DTS are sound decoders for movies. Even on the retail version of the card, both of these are done through a software codec ultimately licensed through Dolby or DTS. The Dolby Digital 5.1 software codec we use on all XPS 700 systems is licensed through Sonic, whereas the retail X-Fi solution is licensed through Creative. From a customer standpoint, if you have a 5.1 speaker set and a DVD movie that supports Dolby Digital (very common these days), you simply insert the DVD into the drive and play the movie. We don’t support DTS (which is supported through software on the retail card with Creative’s software codecs), not because of any hardware limitation, but only because we don’t install a software codec for DTS. Does this mean that your system won’t support DTS at all? No. If you have DTS-encoded movies and want to hear them that way, you can purchase a DVD player utility that features DTS capability.

I wasn’t able to finalize some specifics on the NVIDIA 7950 graphics card update. My apologies for making you wait. More details to follow next week.

About the Author: Lionel Menchaca