Live! Experiences Review
Recently, on my way home to a Canadian three-day weekend, I once again dropped-by Electronics Boutique to check on the order status of my GeForce card (yes, I'm impatient for it). Alas, I made the age-old mistake of checking for new video and sound cards on their shelves.
I almost made it out of the store without buying something, but I noticed at the corner of my eye some new sound cards. On the shelf was a SoundBlaster Live! MP3+ and SoundBlaster Live! X-Gamer, both were non-OEM retail packages. I flipped over the X-Gamer box and sure enough, Creative had a board snapshot and other info (isn't it strange how Creative's website has no board shots, but their packaging does?).
My immediate reaction was "ack - my CT4830 OEM board is this card!". The side panel lists the requirements and what's enclosed. Lo and behold, Live!Ware 3.0 and a wicked bundle of full game titles. However, closer scrutiny revealed that the X-Gamer (CT4760) in fact had a S/PDIF internal connector, unlike the CT4830 OEM card. Since I do use this digital 2-pin connector for my digital-out on my Creative Encore 6x DVD drive for both CD-audio and DVD-audio playback, I took a sudden interest in this new X-Gamer card.
I dropped some more coin and hurried home. Once there, I compared the OEM CT4830 and the X-Gamer CT4760 side by side - there were no apparent differences other than the missing S/PDIF connector, a few diodes and a small chip on the CT4830. This leads me to conclude that the CT4830 can not be modified with a soldering iron, as many on the newsgroups have suggested - the circuitry and components are just not present on the OEM card to support an internal S/PDIF connector. Apart from these differences, both the X-Gamer and MP3+ sport gold back-plane jacks, metal-encased Microphone In jack, and somewhat more legible jack descriptions in low-light conditions.
I trundled off home, and sneaked the package into the house. It's interesting - now that I think about it - I don't carry a briefcase around for work as I never really use it for work items - but it makes a good 'Sneak the new computer bit into the house' bag.
The contents of the X-Gamer packaging includes a set of six CDs, a standard microphone with stand, a 4-pin analog audio cable, a 2-pin S/PDIF cable, a manual, and its warranty card. Since this is the X-Gamer card, the package includes a fairly healthy set of full (as in non-demo or not crippled in any way) game CDs as part of the bundle.
Amongst the six discs are: 'Need for Speed 4 - High Stakes', 'Descent 3', and 'Thief - The Dark Project'. The set also includes the 'Live!Ware 3.0 Installation' CD, and an 'Applications & Game Demos' disc. The latter has a demo of 'Aliens vs. Predator', 'Myth II', 'Prody Parrot 2.0 Value', 'IBM Via Voice Special Edition', 'Soft Karaoke', and 'Creative Digital Audio Centre'.
The reason that these particular games were bundled and not other titles is that these have full EAX support. Thief includes the latest patch available from Eidos, and sounds phenomenal in a 4-speaker setup. The same goes for NSF4 and D3 - both titles include the latest patches and are jacked for maximum spatial sound impact. It only seems apt that Creative threw-in IBM's excellent Via Voice recognition package with their bundled microphone. However, if Speech Recognition is your thing, I'd suggest purchasing a higher quality mic or headset.
Live!Ware 3.0, Not EAX 3.0
Once I installed the card in my gaming workhorse system and its drivers and apps, I began the arduous task of re-familiarizing myself with the Creative Launcher and utilities. I have to say - it took Creative three attempts and they succeeded on the third - you can actually find settings and panels quickly with the improved Launcher.
Not only that, but the C.L. is less annoying now. With LiveWare 1.0 and 2.x, it would default its width to the size of your screen - but now with Live!Ware 3.0, it defaults to about 66% the width of your screen regardless of your resolution. Why was this annoying? Well, whenever you would swing your mouse up to a folder or other items in the commonly-used upper corners of your screen, the Launcher would pop down. Do this a hundred times per week, and Live!Ware 3.0 is a blessing.
As part of Live!Ware 3.0, Creative included a rather amusing utility called 'Lava!'. Most of you will probably look at it once and uninstall it. However, if you're a techno-junkie or 'raver' like I am and have a fairly powerful system, you too can have a Rave, complete with trippin' graphic effects (If only I had this card and software seven years ago).
Playing it at full screen while cranking out some Orbital or Underworld on any TNT2 system is quite a joy to watch. I have a bad tendency of spacing out for hours when visually and audibly entertained with mesmerizing graphics. Lava! has extensive preferences and settings, numerous different scenes, and can be fully customized. It's great at parties, especially if you have a large-screen television and NTSC-out on your video card.
Other notable changes included with Live!Ware 3.0 is the Mixer, PlayCenter, and Recorder - all three now resemble each other in appearance - a 'style sheet' principle. Numerous companies are revising software to include a new global appearance exclusive to their own products. Other companies doing the same include Apple Computer with their highly successful Sherlock 2 and QuickTime 4.0 Pro products, and MetaCreations with their Bryce and KPT products lines.
I enjoy Creative's look and feel that it adds to slicker user experience. With the Recorder, any one of the many Live! inputs can be used as the source, including S/PDIF. Although I haven't tried it, I wonder if anyone out there has ripped audio from DVD-video yet and converted them to MP3 format.
Several people on the newsgroups have had problems with the Live!Ware 3.0 public download installer as well as the CD set. I have not experienced any problems installing or using installed software from this version, nor the installed copy. Likewise, several people are claiming that these newer cards are producing hums, hisses, and popping while playing MP3s and game audio. I have very high quality speakers on both my systems and excellent cabling; neither the CT4830 nor the X-Gamer produce any audio artifacting.
Lastly, numerous individuals were disappointed in this release of Live!Ware as it did not contain new features, specifically EAX 3.0 support. I'm sure Creative, in due time, will release a newer version of Live!Ware with EAX 3.0. But for now, we can be happy that user demands for a simpler interface have been addressed.