On the surface, the Entertainer looks like, well, a sound card. What did you expect?
The Entertainer comes decked out on a dark brown board that's just a shade away from black. Mad Dog even gives the card a little bling appeal with a gold-colored PCI back plate header.
The gold back plate is a little gaudy for my tastes, but it's loaded with more than enough ports to keep me happy. In addition to TOS-Link digital S/PDIF ports, the back plate provides access to analog mic and line-in input ports, and all four analog output ports. In a perfect world, the Entertainer would also have coaxial S/PDIF ports and hardware to move mic and headphone jacks up to the front of a case, but the card should have more than enough inputs for most users as-is.
For whatever reason, Mad Dog chooses to mask the Entertainer's audio chip under a sticker bearing its own name. Peeling the sticker back reveals VIA's Envy24HT-S audio chip, which is the heart of the card's capabilities and limitations.
As far as I can tell, this Envy24's "HT-S" moniker is little more than a branding exercise to differentiate it from the Envy24PT, whose capabilities are nearly identical. VIA is targeting the HT-S at consumer sound cards, and it looks like they want to keep the PT name associated with motherboard audio and information appliances.
From a branding perspective, it might not be a bad idea to reserve the HT moniker for discrete sound cards, but it seems sort of silly considering the Envy24HT-S and Envy24PT's similarities. Those similarities extend beyond the audio chips themselves and reach all the way down to the codec and DAC chips used in PT and HT-S implementations.
We've whipped up a number of audio quality and listening tests to throw at the Entertainer's two analog output options, but before we get into that, let's have a look at how the drivers handle switching between them.