3D Gaming World Interview

Interview with David Gasior of Aureal

Recently I had the opportunity to talk with David Gasior of Aureal Semiconductor. I asked him some questions about A3D 2.0, the Vortex 2, the future of Aureal and what we can expect from them in the near future. He was kind enough to answer all of my questions fully, so if you want to learn more keep reading.

3DGW: How soon do you anticipate EAX support for Aureal Vortex 2 cards?
David: I don't have an exact date, but we're aiming for Q1 99.  I know that MX300 users really want it now, but we want to make sure we do it right, and that it sounds really good.  If the quality is not there, it almost makes it pointless to do in the first place.

3DGW: What are the games that you know of that will support A3D 2.0 within the next little while, and will any currently released games get an A3D 2.0 makeover (patch)?
David: Heretic II, Sin, and Unreal are the next games to get A3D 2.0 patches.  At this time, we don't want to talk about new games coming out that will have A3D 2.0, but judging from the interest we have gotten from developers since the MX300 was released, I don't think we will have a shortage of titles in the new year.

3DGW: What other Vortex 2 sound cards will be coming out besides the Diamond Monstersound MX300 and will they differ in any significant  way from the MX300?
David: The Turtle Beach Montego II is currently shipping in some Dell machines, and a retail version should be available shortly.  The Xitel Storm Platinum also should be available soon.  They are all completely different designs, and incorporate different features into them.  For example, the Xitel Storm Platinum has an optical S/PDIF output (TOSLINK) on their card.  Turtle Beach has a home studio version planned with an additional wavetable set.

3DGW:  Are there any other companies planning on making Vortex 2 cards other than Diamond, Turtle Beach, and Xitel Storm?
David: There are none announced right now, but we have had several other manufacturers express interest and there may be some new cards announced later.  We also will hopefully see more OEMs placing the Vortex 2 directly on the motherboard.  What we want to be sure of is that we don't saturate the market with Vortex 2 boards.  Right now, you can pick up a Vortex 1-based board for around $20.  Can you believe that?  $20 for a good sound card?!  3 years ago, that was not even imaginable.  The problem with a $20 sound card is that no one makes money.  And if no one makes money, then companies fold and go away and that's bad for the consumers.  We want Diamond, Turtle Beach, and Xitel to be profitable; we want them to support their customers the right way.  And I think being more exclusive with who releases boards based on our chipset will help them, us, and consumers in general.  I think $99 for a quality sound card with good support is more than reasonable.  And since their products have different features, there will still be good competition between them.

3DGW:  There has been talk about the "MX-Link" card, an addon for the MX300. Is this an addon for just certain cards or will all Vortex 2  boards support daughter card upgrades like this?
David: The MX-LINK add-on will only be for the Diamond MX300.  Turtle Beach will continue to use the same header they did on the Montego I and will be creating their own add-on board(s) which I heard will work on both the Montego I and Montego II.

3DGW: Heretic 2 is supposed to have some kickin' A3D 2.0 support in the near future. Is it going to sound better than Half Life? If so, what can we expect?
David: Hahah, well I don't want to slam one game to hype another, but I will say that we were all really impressed with the way the Heretic II A3D 2.0 support came out.  The consensus from many people here was that it was the best 3D positioning they had ever heard in a game, and that included people who used to work for Crystal River, the ones who had pioneered the 3D audio processes we use.

3DGW: Unreal is supposed to support A3D 2.0 soon which also means all games running on the Unreal engine will get the facelift also. Is Unreal going to sound better with A3D 2.0 then it does with EAX?
David: I really haven't played Unreal all that much when I had the SB Live! installed, but from what I recall and from posts I have seen in newsgroups and feedback I have read on the audio gaming sites, EAX in Unreal isn't all that amazing.  If Unreal with A3D 2.0 sounds as good as Half-Life and Heretic II, though, I think the EAX implementation will pale in comparison.

3DGW: What are the main differences between A3D 2.0 and EAX?
David: A3D 2.0 is an entire sound engine, featuring direct path, occlusions, reverb, and reflections.  EAX (in its current format) is just reverb.  It is just not a fair comparison.  Even DS3D/EAX does not currently have all the features that A3D 2.0 has.

If you just look at the reverb aspect by itself, the biggest difference is in how we model the acoustics of a room (acoustics = wall reflections, wall occlusions and reverb).  A3D 2.0 uses Wavetracing to compute the acoustics on the fly using the actual 3D geometry of the each "room".  EAX approximates the acoustics using room presets, which are static and model reverb only.  We believe our Wavetracing approach offers superior accuracy, realism and interactivity.

We've been working with game developers from all the major companies - LucasArts, Interplay, Dreamworks, Activision, Eidos, etc. - and it is those developers who have helped shaped A3D into what it is, based on what they want to see and what they need to have.  We didn't sit around in a room and just pick out things we wanted; we listened to developers and based it on their feedback and what we knew we could do and do well.  Other than a rich feature set, I think the single best reason that a developer would code for A3D 2.0 is compatibility.  We are making every effort to make A3D 2.0 a complete sound engine that runs well on any sound card.  That way a developer can code to a single API and get the best results on any given hardware.

Our goal with A3D 2.0 is to make sure that if a game is coded for A3D 2.0, it will work on any sound card, and work really, really well.  What we are doing with A3D 2.0 is allowing for fallback provisions if a card does not support true A3D.  The game developer can decide whether to have the card fall back to hardware DS3D (which we will take care of the translation) or A2D (host-based A3D).  So no matter what sound card a user has, he (or she) will still get 3D positional audio.

Let's take a system with a Sound Blaster 16 in it, for example.  Plenty of those cards out there.  If a developer develops for DS3D/EAX, what will the SB16 user get?  Host-based DS3D processing with generic algorithms that really are unimpressive.  If a developer develops for A3D 2.0, he can specify to fallback to DS3D hardware first; SB16 doesn't have it though. Next, it will fallback to A2D.  The SB16 user will get host-based A3D processing in that game.  That means that user will hear A3D with our advanced algorithms and HRTF processing.  On their SB16 card.

We want to bring the best 3D positional audio to the PC platform.  End of story.  And A3D 2.0 is our next step toward continuing that.

3DGW: How will EAX2 compare to A3D 2.0, which one will be better? Or is most of EAX2 a replica of A3D 2.0?
David: Well, EAX 2.0 seems to be a small step towards A3D 2.0, but still appears to be a subset of what A3D 2.0 can do.  EAX 2.0 still doesn't seem to include any real-time geometry capabilities, for example.   I don't think the EAX 2.0 spec is finalized yet, so we'll see how Creative shapes it up for release.

3DGW: Are any other major Vortex 2 driver optimizations/addon's planned?
David: Oh definitely.  We are still optimizing the drivers to reduce overall CPU usage as much as possible.  EAX 1.0 and EAX 2.0 support are planned.  We are looking at implementing effects like we have for MIDI (chorus, reverb, distortion, flange, etc.) on digital audio playback as well, so you can listen to MP3 files, for instance, with some cool reverb.  We will also be adding support for more 3D sources, and also be making improvements to our A3D algorithms to continually refine what we think (and what many others think) is the best 3D positional audio you can get from a sound card anywhere.

And while not necessarily a driver optimization from us, there will be a number of new features enabled through each company's add-on boards, most of them having to do with digital input and output and home theater capabilities.

3DGW:  Will there be an A3D 3.0 or something after A3D 2.0 released by Aureal?
David: Sure.  I've only been with Aureal a short time, but I can tell its not a company that sits around looking at what they've done and just fawn over it. We're looking at what the next advance will be, what the next leap forward we can make will be.  Our A3D Group's main priorities right now are to make sure that A3D 2.0 is solid, stable, and easy to implement in as many 1999 titles as possible.

I'd like to extend my thanks to David for taking the time to answer all of my questions. Well folks, it looks like A3D 2.0 and the Vortex 2 are only going to get better, and it looks like they are going to stay on top for quite some time. Aureal is starting to gain a lot more good reputation and I'm looking forward to see what they have in store for us next.

Interviewed by: Adam "kami" Koebel
Date: December 31, 1998

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