Gamefest 2006: A bad time for audio?


I just got back from Microsoft‘s Gamefest show and I come away from it pretty disappointed, at least initially.

First, it didn’t help that flying in general has become a fiasco. I got stuck getting out of Philly then delayed into Chicago. Then there was a huge wait to check bags in Chicago and a delay getting out. Finally, I got stuck in Seattle on the way out for 5 hours and that resulted in my getting stranded in Denver.

Second, and more to the point, Microsoft shared their vision on the future of sound in gaming and, on initial view, it seemed like a rather bleak one. Everything was XBOX 360-this, XBOX 360 that.

More concerning is their path for how audio is handled. Just about everything is forced into being handled in software. Hardware will no longer be supported for processing of audio. Thus, any such solution from Creative Labs or others will be a complete waste of time unless someone writes an entirely new audio engine from the ground up. Why is everything done in software? The simple reason seems to be that on the 360, since it has 3 CPU’s and essentially 6 cores, it doesn’t matter if one core has to focus on audio. There’s enough juice to go around. On a PC this is a recipe for disaster…. unless…..

Also, everything is created for 5.1 systems even though 5.1 systems have their own issues and chief among them is that not everyone has 5.1 systems or always wants them (headphones). If you listen on headphones the result will be a new emulated sound environment that Microsoft appears to have plucked out of thin air. The sound will no longer be genuine. This needs attention.

However, I’m starting to wonder about Microsoft. Either they’re stupid or they know things we don’t know. I’d have to vote for the latter. I need to make some calls to see if a hunch of mine has any merit. More on this later.

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