Creative X Fi Xtreme Fidelity

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We get our ears on Creative's new X-Fi Xtreme Fidelity audio processor at E3 2005.

Creative is preparing a new X-Fi Xtreme Fidelity audio processor that will completely change the way your games will sound. Creative's Jessie Lawrence calls the 51-million transistor chip "the most powerful sound processor ever developed." Creative Labs gave us a demonstration of how the chip's sound-processing capabilities can greatly improve the way our existing games, music, and movies sound.

The X-Fi's increased power allows Creative to introduce new sound-processing applications too computationally intensive for current CPUs and sound cards. Since the final X-Fi silicon isn't ready yet, Creative used software emulator running on an Intel Pentium 4 Extreme Edition system to simulate the performance of the new sound chip, but the general-purpose processor could only run at "60-75 percent of the real X-Fi hardware" since the dedicated audio chip is designed specifically for sound processing. The X-Fi chip is able to run advanced, real-time algorithms to improve audio in three specific areas: crystallization, expansion, and virtualization.

Creative's 24-bit "Crystalizer" allows the X-Fi chip to convert compressed 16-bit audio up to 24-bit quality. The crystalizer essentially repairs the highs, lows, and audio dynamics lost during the compression process to remaster the sound back to its original form. We listened to several music files with and without crystallization enabled, and the "crystallized" playback did sound richer to our untrained ears. We also listened to a laser blaster sound file recorded from Jedi Knight, and the crystallization process was able to re-create the piercing highs of the laser blast lost during the compression process.

The real-time audio expansion and virtualization effects allow the X-Fi chip to simulate a surround-sound environment and place audio in the correct virtual speakers to give the listener extremely accurate sound locations. The X-Fi chip was able to process audio files to make us perceive sound coming from several different locations even though we only had a pair of stereo speakers for the entire demonstration. In one "helicopter" demo, we dragged an imaginary helicopter around our head, and we could hear the helicopter taking off, landing, and circulating around our heads with all of the sounds accurately positioned behind, in front of, to the left of, to the right of, and even above or below our position. Creative does warn that the expansion and virtualization features won't work as well with earbud type headphones since the X-Fi's sound output needs to bounce off the entire ear to simulate the sound locations.

We were really amazed by the sound we heard coming from a pair of basic stereo headphones, and we can't wait to hear what the X-Fi will be able to do with a full surround-sound speaker set. From what we understand, the X-Fi will be able to simulate more than a hundred speakers on a 5.1 speaker system.

The most impressive part of the new X-Fi sound package might be that the advanced sound-processing features will work with almost all of your media right out of the box. The 24-bit crystalizer will improve the sound of all of your compressed 16-bit audio. The system can also do a lot with stereo audio, but the sound card will need a 5.1 source for the advanced speaker expansion options--games that let you set the speaker output to "5.1" or greater will benefit the most from the X-Fi.

Creative will announce the full X-Fi Xtreme Fidelity sound card lineup later this summer.

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