On August 1, three representatives from Voyetra/Turtle Beach delivered an entertaining presentation and demonstration of their newest (just released the previous week) PC sound card, Santa Cruz. Henry Gil made the presentation and Phil Greenberg was on standby and provided in-depth answers to technical questions.
The presentation started by showing off the Santa Cruz with a replay of the Dolby Digital sounds of the opening minutes of a DVD movie through a set of 6 speakers set to stereo sound by Dan Schneider. The sound was impressive, even though the modest speakers were simply set in a row on a table on the stage. The Santa Cruz has little to no need for the PCs processor when performing or changing audio tasks.
Only the sound reproduction was demonstrated, but on the recording side, the Santa Cruz has acoustic echo cancellation for internet telephony, which also works with applications requiring sound input, such as voice recognition or video conferencing.
The Santa Cruz card itself is packed with exciting hardware and firmware that can be upgraded. The Santa Cruz comes with a comprehensive set of software applications that include a narrated demonstration of how to set up the sound system. Its design includes an on-board Digital Signal Processor that off-loads MP3 recording and playback from the PC processor. The DSP also provides acceleration of 96 DirectSound3D streams. The Analog-to-Digital converters are 18 bit, and the Digital-to-Analog converters are 20 bits. The embedded software also provides dynamic allocation of resources.
The overall result is a 96 dB Signal-to-Noise ratio for sound reproduction. The Santa Cruz can feed powered speaker systems of the 2-speaker stereo kind or any combination up to Dolby Digital 6-speaker (5.1) systems and headphones. I was able to access the specs on the www.tbeach.com web site by following the Santa Cruz hyperlinks.
The demo configuration consisted of a PC (with the Santa Cruz card) and a Video Logics Digitheater (amplifier) unit with 6 speakers. Two outputs from the Santa Cruz were connected to the Digitheater: (a) the VersaJack (software-set to the Digital out) for DVD and MP3 playback and (b) the Front (Analog) channels 1 & 2 for playback of the CD player.
Expansion with Accessories
Three accessories are possible: (a) an S/PDIF I/O board with coax and optical In/Out connected to an expansion header; (b) an array microphone; and (c) a daughter board with 64-voice synthesizer attached to the Wave table Header. For now only (c) is available. The S/PDIF I/O and the Array Mic options are not available yet, and no dates have been announced.
The Software Suite consists of 9 titles:
Applications most useful for the casual user include the Control Panel and the AudioStation. The Control Panel has 6 tabs that provide a centralized control for the settings of the card. The Main tab contains the VersaJack, Record Source and Master volume. The VersaJack pull-down menu in turn has the three selections of Digital Output, Headphone Out or Stereo Line In. The Mixer tab contains the faders for all of the Santa Cruzs inputs like audio using Digital or Analog CD. The Equalizer tab contains 8 presets for various types of music like rock or classical, and allows the enabling of favorite settings. It also allows for the users to create their own EQ settings. There is a tab for Effects that includes Reverb and Chorus. The Synthesizer tab allows the allocation of voices (from 64 to1088 and beyond) and the control of the on-board MIDI Synthesizer. There is also a Miscellaneous Tab that allows the user to free up their computers resources by disabling support for older DOS-based games and enabling MP3 acceleration. The AudioStation 4.0 is for organizing multimedia music and video clips into play lists.
Next Generation Soundcard
The presentation convinced me that this is the next generation 6-speaker soundcard. At this time the Santa Cruz capabilities are for the Multi Media friendly Windows 95/98. To use it on NT4 requires SP4 or higher, and some of the features are not available. The card is already listed in the DELL4me August Home Systems Catalog but it was not available in other stores when I checked in early August. Interest in the Santa Cruz was evidenced by the many questions from the audience that led to fairly lengthy discussions that took as much time as the presentation itself. The meeting continued with a raffle of three PXD eJay software titles. After the meeting ended some of the attendees continued to show interest by talking with the presenters as they packed the equipment and readied themselves to leave.
Technical Configuration Summary
A brief summary of the connectors and PC requirements follows:
Connectors External, Internal and Expansion
In all, the Santa Cruz card has 12 connectors: six external and six internal of which 2 are for expansion.
Externally, the sound card has the usual set of a game (joystick) connector that doubles up as MIDI in/out, Left/Right output (channels 1,2) and the microphone input. Additionally, it has external connectors for the L/R rear speakers (channels 3, 4), a Line L/R input (channels 1, 2) and the VersaJack output which can be set from the Santa Cruz Control Panel Main tab to one of three ways: (1) to drive Headphones (channels 5, 6) or (2) Digital Output of channels 1,2 or as a Dolby Digital (AC-3) pass-through, or (3) as Line Input for channels 3,4.
The 6 internal connectors of the sound card comprise: three 4-pin MPC-3 headers for inputs from two analog CD/DVD ROMs and one telephony product (TAD), one 2-pin Digital CD-in S/PDIF, one 25-pin connector for a Wave table header for a MIDI daughter card (Cancun or WaveBlaster compatible) and one expansion header for optical/coax in/out expansion.
To add the Santa Cruz to your system you need a 200 MHz processor with MMX, 32 MB RAM, a PCI 2.1 slot and 69 MB free disk space.
|Paul Chuhnov enjoys classical music and is a member of the IEEE Computer Society. He can be reached at email@example.com or from w3.nai.net/~paulch/.|