Audio, Milestones, and so on

Baud Attitude passed 100,000 hits today, which is pretty good considering that 90% of the material here is interesting to, oh, me and the three or four RL friends who read this. 🙂

But that’s not really today’s topic.

Today I found an answer to a question that has been vexing me for some while.

That is to say: PCs generally have 5.1 surround capable audio these days; it seems like it’s built on to every $50 and up motherboard, and it also seems like 5.1 channel speaker systems are pretty common.

But: the layout of your average PC desk, or even my disturbing man-cave of a desk, means that all the speakers are in front of you, meaning that “positional” audio more or less goes out the window.  I spend a little too much time browsing flickr for pictures of PC setups, and I see an awful lot where the speakers are arranged in this elegant half-moon shape on the desk surrounding the monitor.

Today I did something about that, and then I made discoveries.

First: My desk is surrounded by InterMetro shelving from the Container Store, and it’s wonderful stuff.  I’m sure that it’s sold by lots of stores and that the Container Store is probably way pricey, but I haven’t found a better source and so I keep winding up back in their clutches whenever I want to expand.

I had a bit of an epiphany.  They sell rails that are designed to go between two posts, and then you’re supposed to hang hooks on them and so forth.  I like the hooks a lot, by the way; the shelves around me have a good dozen+ hooks, mostly holding cables, you know, so I don’t have to walk five feet to the closet when I need a USB cable.

But, these same rails, if you buy ones that are longer than the distance between two posts, stick out a fair ways, and you can hang speakers – specifically, surround speakers – off them, as follows:


The whole desk now looks something like this:


Note that they stick out just far enough that I should be walking in to them on a regular basis.  I need to find a solution to that.

Anyway, I played X-Blades for a couple of hours, and then put the recent CG Appleseed movie in, and played the opening sequence.

In both cases I enjoyed wonderful discrete-channel surround audio, and life was good.

Then I had to go fiddling with forces man was not meant to understand, that is to say, iTunes.

See, I’m given to understand that Battlestar Galactica, a show I stopped watching when it got really depressing – and, yes, the show is about 99% of humanity being wiped out by nuclear holocaust, so when I say it got really depressing, I mean REALLY depressing (for the record about 2 episodes into season 3), anyway, to mangle a sentence further, I am given to understand that it ended recently and that the ending was quite satisfying.

So I figured that, in an effort to not be totally spoiled, I should catch up on it, and I dropped $24.95 on iTunes to download Season 3.

And, yes, I bought the SD versions because, well, they’ve announced Blu-ray versions of the whole series coming this summer.  If I bought HD versions now, I would feel guilt about upgrading to Blu-ray; this way, I can justify the upgrade a little easier.


Now, I downloaded them on our Mac mini, which is hooked up to the TV in the front room, but it would be impolite to take over the front room TV solely for my own purposes, so I was going to copy them locally and play them on my desktop, which would have taken HOURS over the wireless network, and then I had ANOTHER epiphany.

I remembered that iTunes has a library sharing feature.

Seriously, for me, that counts as an epiphany.

Anyway, I set the Mac mini to share its iTunes library, I opened iTunes on my desktop and told it to look for libraries, and there were all the episodes of Battlestar Galactica that I’d just bought.

It was nuts, I tell you.

Moving on, I  selected one and tried to play it, and I got video, and I got, uh, some vague sound effects, and some really garbled speech.

And I was awfully confused.

On a whim, I told Windows to use the sound hardware on my motherboard, instead of the X-fi sound card I have installed, and, for some reason that worked; I could play back the episodes and they sounded fine.

This did Not Seem Right.

It turned out that it was a multipart problem.

The first part of the problem is that iTunes is buggy as hell when it comes to audio.  These episodes all have 2.0 and 5.1 channel audio tracks embedded, but iTunes will only play back the 2.0 channel audio.  Again, by the way, if you have an AppleTV, apparently the 5.1 channel sound works.  Just when Jobs was starting to get on my good side with the whole HD rentals thing, too.

The second part of the problem is that the Creative drivers, as installed by default, see a stereo sound source and try to add pseudo-surround effects, and this was what was killing the audio in the Battlestar Galactica episodes.

Go figure, huh?

After telling the Creative drivers to stop trying to outsmart iTunes, it worked just fine.

Total time spent trying to figure out the audio problems: About an hour.

Total time spent watching Battlestar Galactica: About 45 minutes.

Sense of satisfaction: Rather substantial.

So, again, life is good.

This entry was posted in gadgets, movies & tv, organization, PC Gaming. Bookmark the permalink.

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