Tech – for Everyone

Tech Tips and Tricks & Advice – written in plain English.

What Do The Dolby Numbers Mean?

Dolby 7.1 Must Be Newer Than 5.1, But Is It Better?

A reader wrote and asked me for some advice regarding a sound card.

Q: Paul — My son has been pestering me to buy “Audigy sound” for his computer. He is very much involved in some kind of online gaming world  and he says he needs this for better results. I have asked Capturehim to explain to me how this Audigy will make things better, but all I have been able to really grasp is that the item he wants is “Dolby 7.1”.

I am reluctant to purchase this additional item as only two Christmases ago Santa took special pains to make sure that my son’s computer could play all the latest games. I have checked, and his PC has Dolby 5.1.

Can you tell me why my son thinks he needs Dolby 7.1 to play today’s games?

A: First of all, a disclaimer: I am by no means an audiophile. I will do my best to provide a solid, computer geek answer (but I will also ask my more knowledgeable readers to assist and/or correct me) but I won’t dare get involved in parenting advice. I’ll try to be brief.

SBAudigy is a model name (a family of products) of Creative Labs—  a company practically synonymous with computer sound cards .. and it’s the company responsible for me becoming a tech, as they forced me to learn about IRQ’s and memory address spaces back in the early days.

Dolby is a audio format known for “noise” reduction, compression, and the ability to separate out discrete “channels” — which gives us the ability to create “surround sound” environments. It is this latter where the Dolby numbers come in.

The numbers represent the number of “channels” available. A “5.1” is a six channel ability and a 7.1 is an eight channel. The first number is ‘normal’ channels and the 1 is for a special, bass-heavy “sub-woofer” (designed to add psychological effect to thunder, and .. explosions).

The “channels” are assigned to an area — center, left front, right front, left rear, and right rear, and are intended to go to corresponding speakers. A “5.1” configuration is shown here.
surround5point1

In gaming, this can aid the player when audible clues are provided by the game designers.. for instance, stealthy footsteps may be sent to the left rear speaker, but not to any of the other speakers, and this could alert the player that an enemy is behind him (and to the left)… and it will probably be his only clue, before the enemy strikes.

A “7.1 configuration” allows the addition of two more speakers, as shown below.
7point1surround

What should be obvious now is that you need speakers (6, or 8) physically placed to take advantage of these “channels”. If all you have is two rinky-dink little PC speakers that came free with your system, or built into your monitor.. well, you really aren’t going to notice any difference between plain-old stereo, 5.1, or 7.1 .. so you need..
Gigaworks

.. as I have written and explained to Santa a few times now.

Okay, maybe you won’t need an ultra-deluxe get-up like the GigaWorks, but you will need a really high-quality set of headphones, or a multi-speaker + sub-woofer speaker set.. and you’ll need 7 normal + 1 sub-woofer to make an upgrade from 5.1 to 7.1 really pay off.

Perhaps, instead of a new sound card, you might consider, instead, a “gaming speaker” setup to take full advantage of the 5.1 you already have, like the Logitech G51 Surround set.

Today’s free link: for those who found my explanation of Dolby inadequate or confusing, click here for the Wikipedia page which describes “Hertz” and “bit rate” and “lossy” and junk like that much better than I did.

Copyright 2007-9 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved. post to jaanix

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March 11, 2009 Posted by | advice, computers, gadgets, hardware, how to | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Add Firewire 800 To Your PC– Fast Video Transfer

Adding new capability to your PC is called “upgrading”, and today I am going to tell you how easy it is to upgrade your machine to include Firewire capability.

Firewire “transfer technology” is faster than USB and can be a real benefit to those of you who own digital camcorders, or are thinking of transferring your VHS video tapes onto DVDs, or are otherwise working with digital video.

First of all, what is Firewire (aka 1394)? Firewire is, in essence, a wire (cable, actually). It looks and feels and acts very much like your quite familiar USB cabling— it is so similar looking that they changed the shape of the plug so you can tell them apart. The USB is rectangular, and the Firewire has an angular extension on one end.

The main difference between the two data transfer technologies is speed: the newer “2.0” standards (which you really should have by now) is 480 and 800 million bits per second, respectively. So, if you have large data blocks to transfer — such as video — from one device to another, Firewire 800 is the way to go.

Tip of the day:If your machine did not come with a Firewire port, or if it did but it is the older Firewire 400 type, upgrade your system by adding a PCI expansion card to your PC.
The photo above shows a two-port Firewire PCI card. These expansion cards come in a variety of flavors; some offer more ports, or “combo” ports like 2 USB + 2 Firewire. They are very affordable: the simple 2 port shown above can be found for $18.

Installing an expansion card is not difficult but if you’re not inclined to try it yourself, a Tech Support and/or Repair person (like myself) will not charge you much to put it in for you. It is a simple matter of inserting it into a white slot on the motherboard.
1) Load the device drivers: It may seem counter-intuitive to run the Install CD before the device is actually in the PC, but this is the usual method. Insert the CD that came with your card and follow the wizard. This will install the Plug-and-Play device drivers for your new device.
2) Prepare your PC: The next step is to completely power-down, and unplug your computer from the wall outlet. Now open your computer’s case; typically there’s two small screws holding your side panel in place. Lay your PC on its side so that the motherboard is down at the bottom, and you can see all the slots and components.
[Attention: Do not reach inside the case unless you are wearing an antistatic wristband, or until you have touched a bare metal section of the case’s frame. A very, very small dose of static electricity can ruin electrical components inside a computer.]

Find an open (white) PCI slot, and remove the corresponding metal tab from the back of the case. This will open up an outlet for the faceplate of the expansion card.
3) Install the card: Gently, but firmly, insert the card into the open slot. You want to use enough force to fully “seat” the card into the slot. 4) Validate your install: Plug your PC back into the electrical outlet and power up your machine. Windows will launch, and it will detect your new hardware. A small dialogue window will open down by your clock that tells you that Windows is installing your New Hardware. Unless there is some glitch, you are done. You can start using your new device.
* If Windows does NOT detect the new card, insert the Install CD and go through the wizard again. If this still fails to install your new card, it is likely that the card itself is not fully inserted into the slot — power-down and really push it in this time. Repeat step 4.
If this fails (and this is unlikely), read my troubleshooting article here.

Laptop owners: For those of you who want to add this capability to your notebook PCs, the steps are very similar — except you won’t be using a PCI expansion card. You will want to purchase a Firewire PCMCIA card, such as the one shown here.

Today’s free link: Teen Chat Decoder. From site: “This free Teen Chat Acronym Decoder lets you ‘Crack The Secret Code’ your teen uses online, in Chat Rooms, online chats, Instant Messages, & Text Messages. This is an awesome software for parents because it gives you an inside look into your teenagers online life.”

Copyright 2007-8 © Tech Paul. All rights reserved.jaanix post to jaanix

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September 3, 2008 Posted by | advice, computers, device drivers, digital Video, Firewire, gadgets, hardware, how to, PC, performance, tech | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment