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Creative: Doing Little to Please Consumers
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by Rob Williams on March 31, 2008 in Editorials

Despite Creative being a leader in PC audio, their stature as such is being compromised with newcomers releasing superb offerings. To make matters worse, they’ve just added to the pile by banning modded X-Fi/Audigy drivers, a move that received an outstanding response from the community.


Creative Technologies is a world-leading manufacturer for PC-audio chipsets, yet, they are a company we don’t hear from too often. The reason is that they don’t release new sound card products regularly, and when they do, they are normally upgraded versions of what’s already available.

However, in the past year, Creative have been in the news more than once for reasons that have had consumers up in arms. The first such incident occurred last summer when the company released ALchemy, a software upgrade for X-Fi and Audigy sound cards that enabled surround-sound capabilities under Windows Vista.

The problem didn’t lay with the software itself, but the fact that Creative wanted $9.99 from Audigy owners who wanted the feature.

Creative Calls ASUS Out

Fast-forward to last Monday when we were contacted by a Creative representative who wanted to set the record straight on recent ASUS Xonar claims. When ASUS issued a press release for their brand-new DX sound card (based on the C-Media 8788 chipset), they claimed support for EAX 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0, something that’s not feasibly possible due to a lack of an X-Fi chipset.

The problem was the fact that ASUS boasted EAX support, which the Xonar doesn’t offer… per se. As a workaround, ASUS includes a DS3D GX 2.0 engine, which in theory, emulates what’s possible with EAX 3.0 – 5.0. How it processes the information is different, however, and instead of relying on an on-board chipset to handle the work, DS3D GX 2.0 instead requires CPU power. According to ASUS, today’s processors are fast enough to handle the algorithms without causing noticeable slowdown to the user.

So, when taking a look at the information here, Creative is correct. The Xonar does not support EAX, at least in a 1:1 manner. It instead emulates it, and according to ASUS, the EAX technology is emulated so well, that it should prove virtually indistinguishable when compared to an actual X-Fi card in game titles that support EAX to the fullest.

Our resident audiophile Rory Buszka will be putting those claims to the test this week, to see just how noticeable the differences are. We are unsure at this point exactly how we will be performing testing, but we have a selection of games in hand that support EAX (and have been recommended to us by Creative) and Rory plans to perform selective listening tests between both headphones and PC speakers to see if noticeable differences between the X-Fi and Xonar DX can be heard.

If ASUS’ claims are correct and DS3D GX 2.0 really does emulate EAX to the point of being indistinguishable, then it’s understandable why Creative has been rubbed the wrong way. However, bear in mind that ASUS is not infringing on copyrights, nor have Creative attempted to follow-up with an X-Fi successor, despite the huge string of audiophile-quality cards from other manufacturers, such as HT Omega’s Claro Plus+, Razer’s Barracuda AC-1, anything from Auzentech, and of course, the ASUS Xonar.

Creative used to be the “ultimate” name in computer audio, but their name is in the process of being out shined by these newcomers. ASUS especially. The Xonar D2 was their first audio card offering, and it blew us away in our review. Of course, it’s the chipset that powers the ASUS card, so it’s what should be thanked, but ASUS have done a superb job of packing awesome features around it and finishing it off with an excellent bundle.

Creative Against Modded Drivers

The most common complaint about Creative is with regards to their lacking ability to deliver reliable and stable drivers under Windows Vista. While ALchemy was put forth to fix issues with older game titles, bugs still remained, and despite having not owned an Audigy or X-Fi card myself, I well knew of the issues thanks to posts in our forums.

Because Creative could not deliver reliable drivers, or at least drivers that opened up full functionality under Vista, driver-modder daniel_k took charge and modded the official drivers and re-released them to the community so that they could enjoy fuller functionality of their X-Fi and Audigy cards. This past month, however, Creative have abruptly halted discussion of the modded drivers on their forums, and have also asked daniel_k to stop. While there is no mention of a potential lawsuit, it’s clear that Creative would consider legal action if they needed to.

“Where we do have a problem is when technology and IP owned by Creative or other companies that Creative has licensed from, are made to run on other products for which they are not intended. We took action to remove your thread because, like you, Creative and its technology partners think it is only fair to be compensated for goods and services. The difference in this case is that we own the rights to the materials that you are distributing. By enabling our technology and IP to run on sound cards for which it was not originally offered or intended, you are in effect, stealing our goods.”

The company has two main issues with daniel_k. First is that he mods their drivers and re-releases them to the community. Essentially, these modded drivers fix certain issues under Vista, but also add some functionality, especially to Audigy cards, such as an equalizer, hardware MIDI, Dolby/DTS decoding and CMSS. Without these modded drivers, such functionality is not possible.

Creative, instead of taking it upon themselves to offer the same functionality in official drivers, have simply halted modded drivers that enabled the features for consumers.



(Source)

The second issue Creative had with daniel_k was that he solicited donations for his work, essentially cashing in on Creative’s property. In a sense, he is profiting (although surely not by much) with the help of Creative’s drivers, but at the same time, he’s asking for donations for the time and effort put into the modding. Opinions will vary on this issue to be sure, and it’s doubtful there is a clear answer of what’s right or wrong here.

However, these recent actions by Creative have really stirred up the community, with over 1,500 replies to the thread where daniel_k is asked to halt development. Laced throughout the Creative forums and that thread particularly are many quotes from people who promise not to support Creative in the future due to their actions. Some have even gone as far as to break the card they already own, as seen in the picture above.

Reading through the thread, it’s easy to see that many people share identical sentiments, as there are constant questions as to why Creative doesn’t just hire daniel_k to do the work they refuse to, instead of banning his development.

Whether or not you have an opinion on the entire debacle, Creative are not doing themselves any favors. Instead of creating a successor to current offerings, they issue e-mails correcting statements from their competitors. Then we have a situation where a driver modder, who was actually helping to sell Creative audio cards, is asked to halt development and had most of his threads edited to reflect their new found stance.

And to think, both of these major events only occurred since last Monday. I’ll be sure to keep an eye on the daniel_k situation, and will make updates in our news if anything noteworthy occurs. Also, since Rory will be receiving an X-Fi card this week, we’ll be sure to follow-up soon with our real-world comparisons between ASUS’ DS3D GX 2.0 and EAX.

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