There, I said it: The "Microsoft of Sound". In case you weren't aware, that generally isn't seen as a positive comment. Let's see the similarities. Both are considered monopolies in their respective areas. Both use patents to scare off competitors, or just buy them out. Both have bloaty, buggy software. That's a lot in common. Too much. (Are we sure they aren't run by the same people?)
Creative Labs, in case you weren't aware, makes PCI sound cards for PC's. And not just retail kits either -- they also find themselves plugged into Dell and other OEM's as well. So to say the least, they've got a fair amount of brand recognition. Just about anyone who's ever looked into building their own computer in the last decade has heard of "Sound Blaster" in one form or another. Their current line-up is called "Audigy"; however, the Sound Blaster moniker died with the "Live!" series. I guess they realized that name was more well known than the company behind it. Creative doesn't just do sound though. With their purchase of 3DLabs, they are into 3D workstation graphics as well. That involvement in 3D graphics is something I'll get into later in this article.
First I'll talk about their main business, and that's sound. Currently, in the area of high-end consumer audio, there aren't a lot of choices. At least, when you look toward games. As far as music and movies are concerned, there are some more options in the form of the VIA Envy series for those of us looking for something above the standard Realtek, CMedia or Analog Devices integrated audio.
AC '97 audio has made quite a few strides, at least for "Joe Sixpack". It seems sometimes all they see is "7.1 audio" and assume it's as good as any add-in card, then hook it through a cheapass 5.1 set of tin cans.
Those solutions however don't support many of the hardware effects that are finding ways to make games more immersive. On top of the lack of quality they display in presenting the audio itself. Most are still limited to 16 bit resolution, as opposed to the 24 bits both the Audigy and VIA lines support. When it comes to gaming, we're still back to square one. Creative Labs Audigy, or else you aren't going to gain all the effects found in that game.
One of the reasons for that, is how this sound tech is put in the game. That would be in the form of Creative's EAX in most cases. While many cards now offer limited support for EAX, Creative always sits on the license for whatever is the current leading form of the standard.
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