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Media Hardware Technology

The Future of Creative and the Sound Card Market 351

Posted by Zonk
from the they-still-make-sound-cards-huh dept.
Hanners writes "Elite Bastards investigates the future of Creative Labs, and in particular their PC sound card business, which is facing a number of big challenges during 2007. Windows Vista has seen some large changes to the driver model required by audio devices, the abilities of on-board solutions have improved somewhat, and the amount of competition in the market place has ballooned. So what does all of this mean for the traditional leader of this market? As well as outlining all of these issues, they speculate as to what measures Creative may need to take to thrive once more in this changing market."
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The Future of Creative and the Sound Card Market

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  • by RingDev (879105) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @11:44AM (#18415331) Homepage Journal
    2 words that would make me go out and pick up a Creative card...

    Linux Drivers

    -Rick
    • by brouski (827510) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @11:46AM (#18415357)
      Hell, I'd be happy with Vista drivers.
      • by Nik13 (837926) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @02:03PM (#18417955) Homepage
        Vista drivers are just a very small part of the problem with Creative's junk.

        When I bought a SB live, I was running Win 2k Pro. AC3 passthru was broken for pretty much as long as I ran that OS.

        Then XP came out. XP drivers? Can't have that. You had to install the old and incompatible VxD-based Win9x drivers (which did BSOD my system half the time), then somehow apply the new WDM drivers on top of that. Retarded.

        Even today, they still suck. Want app for the live drive's remote control? Download it off their website. Oops, it says "can't find previous version" so it won't install (do they still expect me to use the Win9x drivers disc that shipped with it?) Same for the Play Center app...

        Now that Vista's out, same story about drivers. "Just spend a ridiculous amount on a X-Fi you don't need" is their answer. But I've *NEVER* got a single good driver for the 350$ card I already bought in about 6 years, what makes me think me new card will make this any better?

        Oh, and drivers are just a small part of the problem.

        Adding a SB live to a system with a KT133 chipset made it BSOD like every 5 minutes with Win98. Even the PCI latency "fixes" didn't solve this (just BSOD'ed every 15 minutes instead). Had to buy a new motherboard because of that...

        Their promised ASIO support in their drivers for the SB Live? I'm still waiting!

        Non-standard interconnects! I'm still extremely pissed off about this. I bought a set of Cambridge Soundworks speakers (Creative's own) -- the DTT3500 along with it. It comes with a short cable. The plugs on that? A 1/8" mini plug on the card - like a normal stereo earphone, BUT with an extra ring (3 pole). Good luck finding one like that anywhere, I never managed. At the other end of that cable, you have a totally non-standard *9pin* mini-din. Good luck finding extensions for that! Even Creative won't sell you any. I called them, and they told me to buy buy one at Radio Shack... I would, if they used NORMAL / standard plugs! I wonder how their X-Fi breakout box connects - likely another weird plug you can't find anywhere should your cable go bad.

        So much stuff... And the new cards still suck. No Dolby Digital Live. Very poor connections: on the "basic" X-Fi, the spdif out is same plug as microphone input! So if you plan to use the digital output and that you might need a microphone sometime, then you need something like the X-Fi Elite Pro (300$ instead of 70$).

        Way too much problems - more than I've ever had with any other computer part. I've upgraded to an M-Audio card since then. I'll consider using Creative's junk again once THEY stat paying ME to use it. Even the onboard Realtek HD audio on my cheapo HP tower is far better (good drivers, good sound quality, standard plugs and all).
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by aaronl (43811)
          The KX Audio Project drivers will fix the software related problems on Creative cards. I don't use their hardware any more, but those drivers were great when I did.
      • by Sylver Dragon (445237) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @02:18PM (#18418255) Journal
        I had the same problem. I'm running Vista Business and I have a Creative Live! card (from before they added all the other adjectives). By default it doesn't work with Vista, and it looks like Creative is using this as an excuse to get people to upgrade (i.e. Buy a new one, we're not making drivers). Truth be told, I am still happy with this card, so I see no reason to upgrade. Fortunately, I did find a work around. Download the XP driver from Creative's site, and run the setup in XP Compatibility mode. Viola! I have sound, and the OS doesn't seem any worse for the wear. Now, if you're on 64-bit, my understanding is that you'll have to jump through some hoops to disable the driver signing bullshit, and as always YMMV. caveat emptor.
    • by Joe U (443617) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @11:49AM (#18415445) Homepage Journal
      2 words that SHOULD make you go out and pick up a Creative card...

      Stable Drivers

      Creative drivers have a tendency to, um...putting it nicely, SUCK horribly.
      • by phorm (591458) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @12:52PM (#18416699) Journal
        The cards themselves are good. It's definitely all in the drivers. For example with my good ol' SBLive:

        Windows (Creative's Driver): Soundcard caused freeze-ups and crashes
        Moved to linux (open source drivers): No more freeze-ups (switched to Cedega for my gaming needs)

        so then I tried

        Windows (Open Source Driver): Again, worked very nicely, without freeze-ups (although in general I still stay mostly in linux nowadays)

        Now as far as linux goes, I love my old SBLive 5.1 cards. They're cheap, and do hardware mixing so I can happily use ALSA/OSS apps alongside KDE/arts or Esound without having the card tied up. On my other machines (laptops etc) that don't have hardware mixing, I generally go with esound but unfortunately not every application supports it (some are OSS/Alsa only).

        I'll happily buy creative cards that have good OSS drivers. I won't buy the others because, no matter how good the card might be, my experience with Creative's drivers have not been good.

        Outside of the soundcard realm, I remember that their "Creative Webcam Go" actually came with a driver CD that did not work. Yes, the drivers would not install from the accompanying CD (I know other people with the same camera, same problem), so you needed an internet connection to download the updated drivers. Way to go, Creative.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ivan256 (17499)
          Creative did not design the Live!. They got the chip when they bought Ensoniq.

          Creative has a history of producing crap, treating their customers like crap, and squashing the competition financially before they have a chance to become much of a threat.
          • by Maarek_1 (740578) * on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @01:59PM (#18417897)
            Incorrect on several levels. As a former employee of Creative Labs I was there when the Live! first came out. The Live! was built around the EMU10K1 processor which was designed by EMU whom Creative purchased. Ensoniq was purchased prior to EMU and was done specifically for their PCI card development, however that tech was leveraged in the Soundblaster PCI 16 (or 16 PCI) and the Ensoniq branded cards.

            Secondly although I will not defend Creative's drivers very heavily (although I do think they are better than most give them credit for), their hardware is far from crap. The only bad hardware I have ever seen them produce were some of their mice which had flaws in the hardware itself (this was later fixed).

            You might be surprised to learn that Creative won several customer service awards due to their quick adoption of support Knowledge Bases and their phone services. I do feel that service has gone down lately (from my sources this is mostly a result of triming costs) but they still remain one of the few tech companies that does not outsource customer service (US service is in the US, Europe in Europe, and Asia in Asia).

            I assume you are refering to Aureal when you say they "squash" competition. There were bad steps taken on both sides of the issue, but it was all started when Aureal began selling their products based on EAX support. Creative took them to court over it and rather than making the correct business decision and settling out of court, they chose to fight it out. This bankrupted the company and Creative purchased their assets. I don't see where Creative was "squashing" them rather than giving them enough rope.
            • Hardware, also the creative Jukebox and Zen lines.

              They used a riser for the headphone jack, that riser had a 5 month lifespan (Across 5 players I've owned or had friends own, all broken :().

              Creatives Drivers for these products were terrible, so terrible that a company was started to provide a replacement, Notmad [redchairsoftware.com].

              Thier Soundstorm technology put into several Nforce 2 boards is a gigantic pile of crap, basically you have to remove their drivers, do several updates and then run all the sound processing th
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              I can't claim to know the exact story, and Wikipedia is not always accurate, but from the A3D article, we find:

              "Creative Labs sued Aureal for patent infringement in March of 1998[1], and Aureal countersued for patent infringement and deceptive trade practices. Aureal won the lawsuit brought by Creative in December of 1999. However, the cost of the legal battle caused Aureal's investors to cease funding operations, forcing Aureal into bankruptcy. Creative then acquired Aureal's assets in September of 2000 th
        • I haven't had a sound daemon running in over a year. It's only the last six months or so that it Just Works, but with a recent kernel and ALSA libs everything from Flash to Totem to Gaim is mixed in software just fine.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by nine-times (778537)

        Really, I've always been surprised at the low quality of Creative's drivers. I've had many systems with very standard hardware that have been unstable when I put a Creative card in it. I've had many Creative cards that wouldn't be recognized by their own driver installation programs. (i.e. I install a SB Live!, download SB Live! drivers from the site, run the install, and it says no SB Live! is installed. I find out later it's some OEM version of the card that, in spite of having the same serial number,

    • by Ngarrang (1023425) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @11:55AM (#18415579) Journal
      With the move by many motherboard makers to integrate EVERYTHING, I am surprised that Creative has last this long producing stand-alone cards. There will always be a need for high-end audio, though, so if Creative loses the low-end, they could continue to produce high-quality audio cards for the discerning gamer and audiophile.

      As for Vista, maybe it is just me and lack of desire to ever want to touch it, but I don't see it as a deciding factor. At no point has a new M$ release 100% replaced the previous version. There are still DOS, Win3.1/95/98/ME/NT and 2K systems out in great numbers. Many of the newer integrated chipsets do not have drivers for the older OSes. BUT, thanks to the ubiquity of the SoundBlaster card, those older OSes can still have audio. I don't see this as a huge and growing market. No, it is a dying market, but the need still exists.

      Live on, Creative!
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Applekid (993327)
        "There are still DOS, Win3.1/95/98/ME/NT and 2K systems out in great numbers. Many of the newer integrated chipsets do not have drivers for the older OSes. BUT, thanks to the ubiquity of the SoundBlaster card, those older OSes can still have audio. I don't see this as a huge and growing market. No, it is a dying market, but the need still exists."

        Provided they find old cards. Sound Blaster Live and above have no legacy support. Does Creative still even produce any Sound Blaster 16 cards, or has the stock in
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by paeanblack (191171)
          There are still DOS, Win3.1/95/98/ME/NT and 2K systems out in great numbers.

          Do you really think anyone still running DOS/Win3.1/95/98/ME/NT is the type of user that buys aftermarket add-on cards to install in their computer?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by greg1104 (461138)
        There will always be a need for high-end audio, though, so if Creative loses the low-end, they could continue to produce high-quality audio cards for the discerning gamer and audiophile.

        Audiophiles moved on some time ago to using cards from companies like M-Audio instead of Creative, as they have better sound quality when doing playback of digital music like CD rips. The only market Creative has left are the gamers who care about 3D positioning of sound effects and similar complicated features. On-board s
      • by PopeRatzo (965947) *
        I think the sound card market should stay strong into the future. Regardless of the improvement in capability of onboard audio, there will always be a certain group of audiophiles and musicians who will need something more. At one time, Creative targeted this market and provided a decent, cheap entry into DAW with technologies like Sound Fonts. I remember someone giving me a Creative Sound Blaster 6 years ago that had digital I/O, real Midi connectors instead of a game port, and a breakout box that fit i
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Cadallin (863437)
        Creative don't compete in the high end. They never did. The true "high end" is currently dominated by Mixers with integrated Firewire or USB 2.0 audio interfaces, and multi-in-out audio break-out boxes by companies like MOTU (Mark of the Unicorn), Mackie, and Apogee, with the "upper mid-range" being budget equipment by people like Edirol. They're for computer based audio production work. That's the real "high end." (Caveat, in reality most of the companies I just mentioned are mid-range audio production
    • by Kenja (541830) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @11:59AM (#18415673)
      Two words that make me not ever want to buy another Creative product....

      Windows Drivers

      Not sure why you would want to subject Linux to those resource hungry, crash causing, never working drivers. But what ever helps you make it through the day I guess.

      Use to be that a Sound Blaster was a simple audio card that just worked. Then they started adding firewire and other crap that I dont need to it and the resources just started going away. If I need MIDI or digital audio I'll buy a pro level card. I just want to play the frikin game.
    • You know what two words would make *me* buy a Creative card?

      Smell Blaster
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      My main Linux box has a Soundblaster PCI 128, formerly Ensoniq ES1371. It works just fine with both OSS and ALSA drivers.

      I don't want all the surround junk. All I want is a decent quality analog to digital conversion. With the (long-obsolete, alas) PCI 128, I have it. But there just doesn't seem to be any market for a plain old sound card, just like it's impossible to buy a plain old cell phone.

      ...laura

      • by soliptic (665417)

        All I want is a decent quality analog to digital conversion... there just doesn't seem to be any market for a plain old sound card, just like it's impossible to buy a plain old cell phone.

        I'm pleased to say you're wrong. You just need to stop looking in general computer/consumer shops/magazines, and start looking in hobbyist "prosumer" audio circles. Manufacturers like M-Audio, Echo, RME, Terratec etc do a wide range of cards which have no tacky wank like "environmental FX", and just concentrate on hi

    • by fyoder (857358)
      What card do you recommend for Linux? I have an audigy 2 with dicky line in (have to use mic in which works but...). In fairness this may be a non-Creative kernel driver, but to an end user what matters is that things work, and if you could recommend a sound card for Linux that 'just works' I would appreciate hearing about it. Thanks.
      • by cortana (588495)
        Sound Blaster Live 5.1 value. Has hardware mixing, so multiple programs can play sounds at once.
    • by evilviper (135110)
      Linux/BSD has no problem with Sound Blaster Live cards, and at this point, they're $15 a piece.

      What has Audigy got that I would want to pay more for?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nuzak (959558)
      My AC97 (which does EAX2 and DirectSound3d just fine thanks) has perfectly solid linux drivers. Until you want to do something crazy, like, oh, support headphones and s/pdif out at the same time. I'm not even talking about both signals at the same time (which would be nice), I'm talking about having to edit some crazy alsa config file just to make the other one work at all.

      But I can't expect much, it's only the most common onboard sound chip on any PC.
  • Ah, poor Creative (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Aladrin (926209) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @11:45AM (#18415349)
    I'd still be their customer if the SB Audigy 2 I purchased didn't pop and click all the time. Apparently it's some kind of issue with nforce chipsets, but nobody can figure out exactly what, and the most common fix is to move it to a different slot. I ended up taking it out and using the on-board sound and it's just as good. It sits on top of my PC as a reminder that more expensive doesn't necessarily mean better.
    • by brunascle (994197)
      same. i replaced nearly my entire (new) PC before i realized it was my sound card. the sound card is so low on my the-problem-might-be list that i spent another $1000 before even bothering to check it. i'm using the onboard Realtek audio now. the quality is noticably less, especially in games, but it still sounds good.
      • by Aladrin (926209)
        Luckily I only spent $100 on speakers. I was SO sure it was the little 1" speakers in my monitor that were doing the popping. It was odd because they sounded pretty doggone good otherwise. Ah well, I like my new speakers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Billly Gates (198444)
      It may have an issue with irq routing/sharing.

      See if you can turn the bios to non plug and play os and change the dma and irq settings for that pci slot. PS disabling plug and play os can make windows2k and occasionally XP blue screen due to the hal being setup during installation.
  • Biased (Score:5, Interesting)

    by theNetImp (190602) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @11:47AM (#18415395)
    as an ex-employee I hope the competition eats them up and they go away.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)

      as an ex-employee I hope the competition eats them up and they go away.
      As an ex-customer, so do I.

      Creative has been anything BUT creative with their sound card product line, unless you count creative ways to eff up your computer. I think they are the classic example of product quality stagnating in a monopoly market.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      I'll concur with that. Creative wasted a bunch of my money and I'll never forgive them for it. The problem is that their Soundblaster PCI product went through dozens of engineering changes without any documentation or warning on the box. Thei VX model in particular had ONE fucking board which was released with two 8-bit DMA channels rather than a real 16-bit DMA channel. They used software to fucking hide the shortcut on Windows. On Linux, I was fucked. Stuck with a fucking 8-bit DMA, and all my apps were 1
  • Leader? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Thaelon (250687) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @11:47AM (#18415409)
    They're only the "leader" because they have no significant competition in the after-market add-on card market. Just try and name two other sound card manufacturers.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ToxikFetus (925966)
      Just try and name two other sound card manufacturers.

      Roland and Ensoniq?
       
      Whoa, sorry. Just had a flashback to 1991.
    • by kabocox (199019)
      They're only the "leader" because they have no significant competition in the after-market add-on card market. Just try and name two other sound card manufacturers.

      Intel. Integrated audio is all I hear.
    • Re:Leader? (Score:4, Informative)

      by paeanblack (191171) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @12:00PM (#18415697)
      They're only the "leader" because they have no significant competition in the after-market add-on card market. Just try and name two other sound card manufacturers.

      M-Audio, Turtle Beach, E-MU, off the top of my head. I'm neither a musician or an audiophile, nor have I purchased a soundcard in 6 years.

      What I don't understand is why Creative even still exists. Onboard audio has long been sufficient for games/mp3s, and anyone who is serious about audio for recording/mixing/audiophile/etc, is not going to bother with what Creative offers. They are the Monster Cable of the sound card market. Saying they are the only player in the space just means you either work for or exclusively patronize Best Buy and simply haven't seen the rest of the industry.
      • by SkunkPussy (85271)
        Creative now own EMU - so prepare for EMU to suck harder the more time goes on.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by evilviper (135110)

        Onboard audio has long been sufficient for games/mp3s,

        No, it hasn't. Most chipsets still sound unbelievably crappy, even with cheap speakers.

        and anyone who is serious about audio for recording/mixing/audiophile/etc, is not going to bother with what Creative offers. They are the Monster Cable of the sound card market.

        It's ironic. The fact that you think Creative is the Monster Cable of soundcards suggests YOU (ironically) "exclusively patronize Best Buy."

        You can find Audigys for $30, and SB Live!s for $15.

      • by afidel (530433)
        The reason they still exist is that they have the game developers wrapped up with EAX and they have the cheapest ASIO card on the market for the home music hobiest.
    • Turtle Beach and M-Audio. Do I get a cookie?
    • by The-Bus (138060)
      There's Turtle Beach (Voyetra); I believe they make onboard solutions as well. I named that one only because that's what I have right now. Years ago I had another brand whose name I can't recall. But you're right. The other results on NewEgg were not familiar to me.

      The answer for what Creative needs to do is simple. Continue making high end gaming and musician sound cards, and continue making onboard soundcards. I don't know if Creative makes any soundcards for console systems (or if consoles even need them
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by bitrex (859228)
      if by "sound card" you allow extrapolation to the more general term "audio interface" there are plenty - M-Audio, http://www.m-audio.com/ [m-audio.com] Echo Audio http://www.echoaudio.com/ [echoaudio.com] Mark of the Unicorn, http://www.motu.com/ [motu.com] Digidesign, http://www.digidesign.com/ [digidesign.com] RME, http://www.rme-audio.com/ [rme-audio.com] Apogee, http://www.apogeedigital.com/ [apogeedigital.com] Edirol, http://www.edirol.com/ [edirol.com] etc.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by devilspgd (652955) *
      Well, there is that little "Intel" startup, I wonder if AC97 will go anywhere.

      I won't embarass you by mentioning Turtle Beach, M-Audio, Turtle Beach, E-MU, Roland or Ensoniq either.
  • No future with me (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pembo13 (770295) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @11:49AM (#18415453) Homepage
    Since they are moving to Nvidia style drivers, as opposed to the open source drivers they had before.
  • I bought an SB Live value edition, about 8 years ago, and have used it in every rig I've built since. I've seen nothing come along to make me want to upgrade. In fact, the card isn't used right now - I'm using onboard sound on my current rig, with s/pdif out.

    Why would I ever buy another sound card? Would anyone but an audiophile care? I have all the surround sound I need right now.

    I know the latest round have onboard ram to "speed up gameing 2 da xtreme", but the numbers dont bear that out - IIRC, only
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Actully, no true audiophile worth their $8000 1m interconnects is going to accept a signal from somthing that comes from as EM noisy a place as a computer. Only the purest analog recording on 4 inch wide ceramic unobtainium coated yak intestine based tape will provide the true soundstage and brightly warm, but not colored, sound that they require for critical listeninig.

      Computers. Hah!
    • by dslbrian (318993)

      Why would I ever buy another sound card? Would anyone but an audiophile care? I have all the surround sound I need right now.

      I usually build the systems I use, and I've found that in regards to sound the biggest problem I have is just with quality - its not usually the number of channels, which is always way more than the number of speakers I have. For some reason, no matter the motherboard manufacturer (I've used many), the onboard sound just sounds bad. I hear all the hiss and pop, and I can "hear" the

      • by geekoid (135745)
        WOw, I ahven't had those kinds of problems with onboard sound chips in 3 or 4 years.

        DO you use a specific mobo?

        I buy gigabyte, and it sounds great.

        The only thing I use the micro phone for is VOIP, Ventrillo, or temspeak, and it is a USB headset.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by stratjakt (596332)
        Analog outputs, I agree. But I'm using sp/dif, it's a digital signal out, so there's no noise, hiss, or pops. I can't say for the quality of the mic-in, but I only use it for the likes of skype, and nobody has complained thus far.
  • by Applekid (993327) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @11:52AM (#18415537)
    Once upon a time motherboards didn't have onboard hard drive controllers. Or, if you want to be more recent, RAID-enabled controllers. There were lots of companies fighting and making really good RAID solutions (as well as some bottom-of-the-barrel companies making lousy solutions). Nowadays I'd be hard pressed to find a new modern motherboard without RAID capabilities.

    Does no one buy the add-on cards anymore? Well, no, the super high end has amazing 12-way hardware RAID cards that would make the freebie RAID weep.

    But, freebie RAID is good enough for most users. I suspect it's the same for sound cards.

    Motherboard sound isn't that great, but who has really great computer speakers anyway? What ordinary user even swapped his speakers from the craptastic freebies that came with his Dell?

    There will always be a market for sound cards. While they may whine and kick and scream about it because of how hard it is to please the professional audio crowd, that's where it's heading.
    • by garcia (6573)
      What ordinary user even swapped his speakers from the craptastic freebies that came with his Dell?

      You mean like the Harmon Kardon speakers that came with mine that sound fantastic even to my audiophile ears (just not when connected to the on-board audio jacks)? Craptastic HK are not.
    • by Animats (122034)

      There will always be a market for sound cards.

      Probably not. The high end will probably have a digital connection into the mixing console, rather than a sound card in the computer.

    • by grommit (97148) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @12:57PM (#18416773)
      While they may whine and kick and scream about it because of how hard it is to please the professional audio crowd

      It's not really that hard to please the audiophile crowd. Just coat all the connectors in gold, add a bit of shielding here and there and charge insane prices for your products. It works for Monster Cable after all.
  • Its about time... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @11:57AM (#18415637)
    Creative would have to be one of, if not the most evil of PC hardware manufacturers.

    They are driven purely by their marketing Joes, and not by customer demands, or innovative tech.
    You only need to read up on the happenings with Aureal to see the lengths they will go to.
    Even after Creative bought out Aureal, none of Aureal's the superior tech made it into Creative products.

    The day Creative looses thier hold over the soundcard market, is the day real 3D soundcard innovation will start.
  • I hope they die (Score:4, Interesting)

    by LibertineR (591918) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @11:58AM (#18415659)
    Bought an Audigy 4 Pro at full price.

    Ran fiber optics from Tivo and DVD player into it for full digital sound against Logitech digital surrounds in my office. Fantastic sound, tons of controls.

    Multimedia machine now dual boots Vista........

    Audigy 4 Pro reduced to steaming pile of garbage. If you touch the mixer, raise or lower volume, sound goes away and doesnt come back without a reboot. Fiber inputs no longer work, nor does digital coax input. Surround, what do you think? GONE, bitches.

    Every boot into Vista comes with the suspense of whether there will be sound or not.

    Creative had YEARS to work on Vista drivers. I will never buy another product from them.

  • That was what, mid to late 90s? Since then onboard sound chips have been far more than enough for an average user, lately they've been getting to a level that would be good for some of the more audiophile users (full 5.1 or better support, spdif or optical out, etc.)

    The only market creative has left are gamers and a small segment of amature musicians who want the inputs of their breakout boxes. I say a small segment, because pros will realize there is much better specialized equipment for that.

    They need t
  • The last time I used a sound card was the Soundblaster Live, at least 4 years ago. Back when SB Live + VIA 686 chipset = hard disk errors. Due to driver hassles and the fact that onboard sound was finally up to snuff, I ditched Creative and have been using onboard sound ever since. Performance nuts claim that onboard sound overhead eats up a couple percent of your CPU, but this hasn't been a perceptible loss to me. Note that I'm only hooked up to a couple mid-quality speakers and a sub. If I was doing
  • All they have to do is find somebody to sue. Isn't that how things work these days?
  • by Dzimas (547818) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @12:00PM (#18415709)
    Creative Labs has never produced high end equipment. If you remember back to the 1980s, the thing that allowed them to gain a foothold was their inclusion of FM synthesis at a reasonable price. The company branched into wavetable synthesis with a vengeance in the 1990s, using chipsets developed by California synthesizer company E-Mu Systems (also seen in cards by Turtle Beach and others). They eventually bought E-Mu for around $28m, primarily because of their ability to design/build high quality multichannel audio synthesis chips (stuff which can be done exceedingly well in software today).

    Sadly, Creative's "professional" division (AKA E-Mu) didn't fare well after the purchase - their lineup of hardware samplers and synths floundered in the early 2000s due to the availability of quite credible software synthesizers. emu.com still produces a handful of "mid-range" professional sound cards that share the same core chipset as many of Creative's cheaper efforts. Unfortunately, they no longer have market advantage in that segment and the E-Mu name has been sullied by their association with Creative Labs (the "Sound Blaster legacy). That puts Creative in a tough spot because decent quality sound is now definitely a commodity product. They've already passed the point of including "silly" features - 7.1 SuperWOWHyperCool sound with 1024 voices of synth playback, etc. The highly profitable soundcard era is long gone and their mp3 player lineup is now being sold at cut rate prices at Wal-Mart. That can't be good for the bottom line.

    • Too bad the article is Slashdotted. In any event, this is a great point. Creative has the problem that it isn't high-end enough to compete in the professional audio space, yet their core business is all but commodified. It's a good example of how companies are increasing being forced to join a race to the bottom, specialize in high-end/boutique-style wares sold in low quantities for high margins, or get clobbered. Companies like Creative get screwed either way -- they aren't well situated to join in the
    • That's funny because the best workstation out there, the Korg Triton is powered by a supped up version of the Live!'s audio chip the EMU10K which obviously came from the EMU side of the house.
    • by glindsey (73730) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @01:40PM (#18417551)

      If you remember back to the 1980s, the thing that allowed them to gain a foothold was their inclusion of FM synthesis at a reasonable price.

      This isn't entirely true. The thing that really clinched the foothold for them was the fact that they produced a card with Adlib-compatible FM synthesis as well as an 8-bit DAC for digital sound, at a price that was half the cost of the Adlib at the time. The DAC, combined with perfect backwards compatibility with Adlib cards, is what really let them take off, since games didn't have to change their music routines one bit -- all they had to do was add the routine for pumping sound effects out through the DAC.

      SET BLASTER=A220 I7 D1
  • Problems in Vista (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @12:01PM (#18415721)
    In addition to all the other problems in Vista, the audio driver model has removed any/all support for hardware acceleration of sound. This isn't exactly the best solution in my opinion because many older systems with AC '97 sound don't work as well anymore. Case in point, my Dell M60 laptop with a Centrino 2.0GHz and integrated Soundmax audio used to be able to play raw full-res HDTV clips using hardware accelerate with processor cycles to spare. Under Vista, the combination of crap video drivers and complete removal of audio acceleration means that disabling sound gives me just enough horsepower to skip every 5th frame instead of every 2nd frame. As far as I'm concerned, I'm sticking with XP.
  • by kabdib (81955) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @12:01PM (#18415725) Homepage
    Drivers that worked would be nice. Hardware that didn't freeze would help. Finally, sound cards should be heard and not seen: They should ditch all the extra garbage they install. Look, I bought a stupid little sound card, it's not like that bit of phenolic and silicon is the centerpiece, the very *core* of my PC experience. Yet the bloatware certainly thinks it should be and insists on putting startup junk in my face, installing processes that God only knows what they do, and (I have vague memories of:) calling home to Mom to update itself.

    I stopped buying Creative once it was clear they weren't going to support SMP systems anytime soon (heh, hyperthreading *forced* them to, finally), and that any improvements in their stuff was just going to involve shovelware on top of a bunch of creaky drivers that they were never going to fix any bugs in. Meh.
  • DSP Coprocessors (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @12:03PM (#18415763) Homepage Journal
    Creative puts a cheap, powerful DSP in every computer they serve. They should sell DSP coprocessors to accelerate "business" functions, which could extend the life of existing PCs. They would have even more success on the Linux platform that's rising as they sink, because anyone can patch existing apps to use the extra processing power. Creative should be leading the world in GPAPU (General Purpose Audio Processing), especially as they need the business.

    Of course, they don't even release driver source for Linux coders/users to fully exploit the soundcards we already paid for, so I doubt they'll wake up.
  • by revlayle (964221) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @12:05PM (#18415803) Homepage
    10 years ago i would have picked up a creative sound card solution without a second thought. they quality was greater then, there were no on-mobo solutions yet, and the competitions was either 1) crappy OR 2) over priced. Jump about 5 years later, on-mobo sound is in it's early years, but it is so crappy that even a low end SBLive was infinitely better now.

    Jump to today: Audigy cards are overpriced bloatware with cheap hardware components in them. Each new Audgy "revision" adds more useless features. The only way I would pay the prices they want for their recent sound cards if that they were decent for semi-pro use, which, unfortunately they aren't. That and on-mobo sound systems work, for the most part, pretty damn decently these days (esp. for basic audio playback). The only reason I would want any external or PCI-card based solution is to get some real clean inputs for vocal recording or other sound inputs, and for that, there are better solutions than creative.

    Ok.. Ok... E-Mu has good inputs on them and is a "Creative-owned" brand. Honestly, tho, if Creative went under, could E-Mu just move somewhere else?
    Also, at least in the US, they suck as an employer. Not because of the environemtn, their web-dev/customer-service facility in Stillwater, OK was a FUN place to work at - the corporate disparacy (and IT struggles) between the OK and CA offices were enough to make your head spin, and their compensation is HORRIBLE (Java devs with 2-3 years of experience getting maybe 30-32K???? Even with the small amount of experience they shoul dbe getting 40-50 in OK)
  • They could start... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Kegetys (659066) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @12:07PM (#18415835) Homepage
    with fixing their drivers. I have an Audigy 2 on my Windows system and the creative control panel absolutely sucks. Settings are scattered across multiple different applications that are extremely slow, bloated, confusing to use and buggy. Because of their stupid driver policy I also had to download the original driver disc image from eMule since I lost the original, as the drivers they offer for download do not work without the original driver from the disc installed. (Though that was a while ago, they might have come to their senses already)

    I liked the SB16 I had, and the SB128 worked well too but buying the Audigy 2 was a big mistake.
  • abilities of on-board solutions have improved somewhat


    The sound quality difference between latest creative cards and onboard processors are as indistinguishable as the difference between 1993 creative sound blaster 16 and pc speakers.

    apparently article poster didnt try out new X-Fi series from creative.
    • by rrhal (88665)
      For high-end audio I think most people use a Via sound codex.

      I think Creative's biggest advantage over on board sound is that they use hardware acceleration for 3D sound effects. If you are a gamer then the reduced load on the CPU might be worth a few $$ for the card. You also are unlikely (if you are a gamer) to mind proprietary drivers etc.

      • by unity100 (970058)
        you are clearly not an audiophile.

        neither via or realtek onboards i used came ever close to any soundblaster i used in terms of sound quality.

        3d, surround are just positionalizing of the sound, it does not relate to quality.

        i listen music more, i might add.
  • is speakers. What good does a $200 dollar sound card do without a good set of speakers, which are not cheap or even easy to come by.
  • by RexRhino (769423) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @12:25PM (#18416199)
    The need for a "high quality" consumer sound card doesn't exist anymore. Most of the super-cheap sound cards or audio embedded on the motherboard is comparable to your average consumer electronics (i.e. your Sony stereo system). Most computers have more than enough processing power to handle all the wavetable stuff.

    And if you need high quality (you are an audiophile, or you are doing pro or wannabe-pro recording), you would jump up to professional recording hardware, which would cost you only marginally more than a Creative Labs product.

    My SoundBlaster card was a lot of fun back in the day though. At that time, sampled sound playback was still somewhat of a novelty, and the soundblaster was pretty damn cool.
  • by 0111 1110 (518466) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @12:27PM (#18416229)
    My $20 Chaintech AV-710 [newegg.com] with its Via Envy 24 chipset sounds much better to my ears than the Creative Audigy that it recently replaced. I wasn't expecting there to be such a huge difference in sound quality. I found myself enjoying songs which I had long ago become bored with, because I could suddenly hear the music come to life with a detail, richness and sweetness that I had never noticed before. No doubt M-Audio [m-audio.com] has some better sounding solutions, but not at this price. Creative needs to get their act together and produce something with good sound quality. I mean, is there any feature of a sound card that is more important than that?

    From a gaming perspective maybe true 3D positional audio like Aureal produced with their A3D [wikipedia.org] Vortex chips in the late 90s before Creative sued them out of existence in a lawsuit involving...you guessed it, patent infringement. A lawsuit which Creative lost. Creative was not so interested at the time in using positional 3D cues. They were highly successful however if their goal was to prevent anyone else from pursuing accurate positional 3D audio in computer games. Have they finally caught up in terms of 3D audio to where Aureal was a decade ago? This is a particularly telling example of how useful patents can be at keeping smaller, more innovative companies to a minimum. They don't even need to win the lawsuit, just outspend the smaller company in lawyer fees.
  • by kimvette (919543) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @12:39PM (#18416465) Homepage Journal
    I got bit by the SMP bug, with the Sound Blaster Live! Platinum. They flat-out denied there was such a bug, blaming the chipset, despite their usenet newsgroup being FLOODED by workstation and high-end PC users who confirmed the bug, on a variety of chipsets. You could work around some of the race conditions by manually setting the sffinity using intfiltr but it did not resolve all of the issues, and it defeated the purpose of a high end card in an SMP system. It took a big OEM (Compaq) who had access to the source to produce a workable fix, but by then it was too late. Many Creative customers found alternatives such as Hercules Game Theater XP or Turtle Beach sound cards instead. It wasn't until Hyperthreading was announced that Creative resolved the issue once and for all, because they could no longer deny the bug existed now that SMP-like architectures going mainstream forced them to make their products thread-safe.

    Like ATI I avoid them, because they did not care about customer support issues once it endangered their bottom line. I also do not sell or recommend them to clients.

    Some of the PCI Audigy sound cards have looked fantastic, and they are more Linux compatible than my Game Theater, but I am too attached to the convenience of the external breakout box to give that card up. Are their products so good that I should give Creative a second chance? Have their policies changed for the better?
  • Create Labs (Score:2, Interesting)

    by dlhm (739554)
    I remeber my First Creative labs ISA card.. I put it in my Hyundai Super 286AT and thought it was the most awesome thing in the world.. my friend gave me brass monkey and 1 other song on a 3.5 inch disk. I thought the quality couldn't get any better. I now have a infinitly more powerful computer with a on-board solution and the only thing I listen to is internet radio and the occsional *ding* or other windows sound. I realized hearing a ding in 8-bit or 128-bit is about the same. I personally don't need a e
  • by Chryana (708485) on Tuesday March 20, 2007 @01:02PM (#18416881)
    What does Creative still has to offer? Their drivers are bloated and buggy, the audio quality of their sound cards is average, and they are overpriced. The only reason they have survived this long in their current form is that they ate all the competition in the sound card gaming market and that, as a consequence, they pretty much have a monopoly on 3d audio. Their buyers are mostly gamers who are willing to blow a hundred dollars or more to get 1% less cpu usage. On board sound already offers features that Creative doesn't match, and Vista will force them to rebuild their drivers from scratch, so it may take years before we see a sound card from them which makes decent 3d sound on Vista. If they don't bother updating the drivers for their Audigy line of cards, they are going to alienate themselves with a lot of their current customers. That leaves them with their line of mp3 players, which isn't too hot (or that much different from other products already on the market). I have no idea what they're going to do, but it really looks like continuing on their current path is a recipe bankruptcy.

Almost anything derogatory you could say about today's software design would be accurate. -- K.E. Iverson

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