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Hercules Game Theater XP
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Date: Dec 15, 2001
Section:Graphics/Sound
Author: HH Editor
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The Hercules Game Theater XP - Page 1

The Hercules Game Theater XP
Hercules is Breakin' Out!

By Jeff Bouton
May 22, 2001

 

Today, it seems that if you ask someone what kind of sound card they have installed in their system, more often than not, the answer is "...a Sound Blaster Live..."  Without a doubt, Creative has garnered a huge stake in the PC audio market, especially with the success of the Live series of sound cards.  But to think that they are the only makers of quality sound cards would be a big mistake. 

The Hercules Corporation has been making quality video card products since 1982.  Early on they pioneered video processes that helped shape the innovations that we see today.  In 1999, the Guillemot Corporation acquired Hercules, which added to their market strength, allowing them to add a new line of products to be sold under the well know Hercules brand name.  Along with their well known video products, Hercules now offers quality sound cards and digital imaging tools as well.


 

Tonight we'll be taking a look at their latest audio product, the Hercules Game Theater XP.  The Game Theater XP is a feature rich audio solution offering support for Microsoft DirectSound API, A3D 1.0, and Creative EAX extensions.  With the creation of a "Rack",  all of the audio cards connections are much more accessible, eliminating the need to reach around the back of your system.  The addition of an external unit also allows room for additional features that really help the consumer get the most out of their sound card.

Let us take a look at what the Game Theater XP has to offer...
 
Specifications / Features of the Hercules Game Theater XP
Packed With Features...

 

Data Transfer PCI 2.1 bus
Audio Processor (DSP) Crystal CS4630
Audio Converters · 18-bit ADC/20-bit DAC For high audio quality at sampling rates of up to 48kHz
Full Game and Audio Compatibility · Microsoft® DirectSound® 3D Hardware accelerator, EAX? 2.0, A3D? 1.0, I3DL2, Sensaura's MacroFX?, MultiDrive?, ZoomFX?, EnvironmentFX?, allow for interactive positioning on 2 or 4 speakers or headphones.
Wavetable Synthesizer · DSP accelerated synthesis engine allows for an unlimited number of voices (64-voice hardware)
·8MB General MIDI/GS? sample set
· DLS support - GM? (General MIDI)
· Yamaha Soft Synthesizer? S-YXG50?: 676 instrument sounds and 21 drum kits Effects: reverb and chorus XG-compatible
PCI Card Connectors &middor; DB44 connector to the PCI card
· 1/8
Front Connectors · 1/4
Rear Connectors · 1/8
Rack Dimensions · 4.3 x 21.6 x 15.5cm (1/2 U) (H: 1.7 W: 8.5 D: 6.1 inches)
· Cable between the PCI card and rack: 2m (78.74 inches)


The Hercules Game Theater XP comes with a PCI audio card, a rack, and a 6' DB44 connecting cable.  Included with the hardware is a CD that contains all of the necessary drivers as well as a decent selection of software to compliment the cards features.  The CD comes with such titles as Siren Jukebox, Music Match Jukebox, and Sensaura Virtual Ear to name a few.  In addition, a full version of Power DVD 3.0 is provided to give maximum DVD enjoyment.

The goodies don't stop with just one CD though.  A second disk is included with several Game Demos such as Rogue Spear and Midtown Madness.  In addition, there is also the Gameloft Package which contains a number of utilities to help online gamers.  Now that we've covered what goodies come with the Game Theater XP, what do you say we move on to the good stuff...shall we? 

 

Quality & Installation 

 

 
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The Hercules Game Theater XP - Page 2

The Hercules Game Theater XP
Hercules is Breakin' Out!

By Jeff Bouton
May 22, 2001


 

Quality
Not Your Usual Sound Card...

As soon as we opened the Game Theaters box, we new we were in for something different.  The innovative "Rack" design of the XP brings all of the audio cards ports and accessories to a more accessible area.  As an added bonus, the additional room gained by this design allowed the good people at Hercules to take advantage of this space, adding some extras not found on other Audio Products.

The front of the unit has the features most likely accessed by the average user.  The Game Theater XP has a headphone and microphone jack with individual volume and gain controls respectively.  There is a set of RCA inputs that can be used for external devices like CD players or other components.  On the right, two USB ports are provided as well as a standard Joystick port.  One of the things that really attracted me to the Game theater XP was the easy access to the Joystick port.  When I game, I use a Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback Pro Joystick.  Now anyone who owns one will tell you, this thing is kind of big.  With the rack design of the XP, it is easy unplug my joystick and store it away, saving valuable desk space.  There is one problem that I did encounter that I thought worth mentioning though.

While we were sampling several games using Digital Out as our main output, we experienced serious popping sounds from our speakers with our Sidewinder Force Feedback connected.  During game play, we found that the system would slow down severely as well, and the popping would be at its worst.  If we connected our speakers using the analog outputs, everything worked perfectly and the sound quality was excellent.  At this stage of the game we are unsure whether there is an incompatibility with older Force Feedback products or if the problem resides with our test system.  We are currently investigating this with Hercules and will update you with our findings.  In the meantime, If any of our readers have this unit and experienced this problem, please let me know!

The rear of the Game theater XP resembles the back of a stereo receiver rather than a sound card.  Hercules has provided front and rear channel connections in both RCA and 1/8th inch options.  Separate connections are available for a center channel and sub-woofer for you Surround Sound fanatics.  Two additional USB ports are mounted in the rear as well as Coaxial/Optical digital input/outputs plus I/O Midi Ports.

The Game Theater XP boasts an impressive amount of options and features rivaled only by the features of the Sound Blaster Live Platinum.  Let's step into the work shop and see how the installation and set up went....

Installation and Setup 
Like Wrestling a Large Snake...

The installation of the Game Theater XP was about as simple as it could be.  Once we had the audio card installed into a free PCI slot, we attached one end of the PCI cable to the card and the other to the Rack system.  Trying to route this cable was an experience though.  With all of the wires required to route the Game Theater XP's features to an external rack, the resulting cable is both thick and rigid.  That aside, I think it is an acceptable trade for a rack system with so many features.

The installation of the Game Theater XPs drivers went very well.  The documentation provided in the Users Manual was both thorough and accurate when it comes to the installation process.  We do want to mention that once we installed the drivers on our Windows ME system, we immediately went to the Hercules website and checked for updates.  Low-and-behold, Hercules had a newer set of drivers that included a snazzier interface that can be accessed from the taskbar. 

   

  

As you can see, the driver control panel offers a wide range of control over the Game Theater XP's features.  In the Main window, there is a simple utility that helps you easily balance your system by playing a drum rhythm through each speaker.  Individual volume controls are provided for easy adjustment of each speaker level.  The drivers also include a 10 band equalizer as well as such tweaks as Stereo Expansion and Echo Elimination.  Unfortunately,  the documentation in the owners manual falls a bit short when it comes to what settings are available with the XP's drivers.  We feel that some novice users may find some of these options unfamiliar and there is little resources available to clarify them.  There is a distinct lack of any "Help" file and we were unsuccessful in getting any information on their website either.  Fortunately, the majority of the features are easily accessed and self explanatory so this shouldn't hamper the novice from getting true enjoyment from this system. 

Performance, & Conclusion

 
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