TR: When can consumers expect an Envy24-equipped EPIA board?
VIA: I think we should we should see an EPIA with an Envy audio controller in the near future. Attached are some pictures of the EPIA-6026 reference board we have created that integrates the Envy24PT and a choice for developers to choose using either the VIA Six-TRAC codec or a high-end AKM I2S codec. The aim of this design is to enable easier integration of the EPIA into living room devices that demand high quality specs on par with CE devices, but still can benefit from PC functionality.
TR: Other than M-Audio and Terratec, will any other manufacturers be launching discrete sound cards based on the Envy24?
VIA: There are a few other Envy24 partners like HoonTech, EgoSys, and AudioTrak. Right now there are also some big designs in the wings, but I am afraid I currently can't say much.
TR: Can VIA comment on which manufacturers have shown an interest in building Envy24-equipped motherboards?
VIA: Currently Albatron has integrated the Envy24PT into their new PX865PE Pro II motherboard. Chaintech has also integrated Envy24PT into their latest P4 offering, the 9CJS motherboard. We are also very excited that AOpen has designed the Envy24PT into their upcoming K8 Tube motherboard.
TR: Does the Envy24PT have any special requirements (power, traces, etc..) that make it more difficult to integrate into a motherboard design than, for example, a CMI8738?
VIA: Well both the Envy24PT and the CMI8738 are PCI based controllers so I think in many ways their integration will be very similar. The most significant difference is that the CMI8738 integrates the DACs and ADCs in a single chip while the VIA Envy24PT requires an external codec. While on the face this might seem to be a disadvantage, the C-Media solution suffers from very poor performance i.e. poor frequency response, very poor intermodulation distortion etc. Therefore, the advantage of having a separate codec is that you do not get interference from the controller signals, and can lay out the chip more carefully, creating a proper ground plane, separate analog/digital power supplies etc. This will result in a solution with far greater audio fidelity.
TR: The Envy24 supports 32 DirectSound hardware channels and 16 DirectSound 3D hardware channels. Do the Envy24PT and HT support the same number of DirectSound and DirectSound 3D hardware channels as the vanilla Envy24?
VIA: The Envy24 chip did include support for hardware acceleration. However, in most implementations this feature was not used. For the Envy24HT we took out the support for DirectSound hardware channels.
VIA's view is that hardware acceleration is a legacy feature that can have a negative impact on sound quality. Today's high performance systems with multi-gigahertz processors have plenty of extra cycles to process audio with no noticeable effect on gameplay i.e. framerates. We also definitely see that game developers are moving away from hardware acceleration. This will start with the new Doom III engine which is completely software based (does not use hardware acceleration), and we feel most other game developers will follow this trend as it enables much greater control of the gaming sounds than relying on a third party API.
Another major point is that not enough attention is being paid to the quality of gaming sounds. Many reviewers who have looked at Envy24 based solutions have commented that the sounds of the games are crisper, clearer, and more realistic. The best example I can think of is one user commented to me how much more the rifle in Jedi Outcast sounded like the rifles in the actual movies, which I figure is what the sound designer would have wanted.