Sound Blaster DigitalEdge CD. (Multmedia CD)(multimedia upgrade kit) (Hardware Review) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by David English
Why do so many people buy Creative Labs' multimedia upgrade kits? Because Creative Labs virtually invented the standard PC sound card.
Today, the Sound Blaster is the standard for DOS games. Almost every other sound card either claims to be Sound Blaster compatible or will soon be offering Sound Blaster compatibility. Technically, only cards from Creative Labs and Media Vision (which bought the compatibility rights in a court settlement) can claim 100-percent compatibility. With Windows, compatibility is less of an issue, as any card that meets the MPC standard should work with any Windows program that supports sound.
If you haven't already bought a multimedia PC or upgraded your PC with a multimedia upgrade kit, you should consider only MPC Level 2 upgrade kits. The Level 2 kits include a sound card with 16-bit sampling and a double-speed CD-ROM drive. The 16-bit sound card will simply improve the quality of your sound, but the doublespeed drive is absolutely necessary to handle today's more demanding CD-ROM titles. Just weeks after the MPC Marketing Council introduced the Level 2 specifications, Creative Labs announced its first Level 2 package, called the Sound Blaster DigitalEdge CD.
The DigitalEdge CD package includes Creative Labs' top-of-the-line sound card, the Sound Blaster 16 with Advanced Signal Processing (ASP). The ASP chip functions as a coprocessor and will allow you, in the future, to add QSound and other special audio features. In keeping with the Level 2 specs, the Sound Blaster 16 ASP offers 16-bit sampling, which gives you sound that's theoretically as good as an audio CD (theoretically, because interference from the motherboard and adjacent cards can degrade the sound). Along with the usual CD-ROM, joystick, MIDI, audio-in, and audio-out connectors, the Sound Blaster 16 ASP includes an add-in connector for the Wave Blaster, a General MIDI daughter-board that costs a very reasonable $249.
Also in keeping with the MPC Level 2 specs, the CD-ROM drive is a double-speed drive (300K-per-second throughput) with an access time of 350 ms (the specs require a rate of 400 ms or faster) and is multisession Photo CD compatible. Despite its speed, the CD-ROM drive doesn't require a caddy - you place the CD-ROM directly into the motorized tray, just as you would place an audio CD into a standard CD player. Another nice feature is the embedded cleaning brush, which removes the dust from the drive's lens each time you load a disc into the drive. On the downside, the DigitalEdge CD drive isn't a standard SCSI drive, unlike most other CD-ROM drives. That means your choices will be limited later if you decide to upgrade your CD-ROM drive or switch to a sound card from a company other than Creative Labs.
These days, just about every multimedia upgrade kit comes with a bundle of CD-ROM-based and disk-based applications. The DigitalEdge CD's bundle includes Microsoft Works for Windows, Microsoft Bookshelf, The Software Toolworks Multimedia Encyclopedia, Macromedia Action, Authorware Star, Aldus PhotoStyler SE Photo-CD CD access and imaging software, a microphone, and speakers. As far as bundles go, this one is above average. Microsoft Works is especially useful for someone just starting out, Bookshelf is a terrific CD-ROM reference, Action and Authorware are powerful multimedia presentation and authoring program and few upgrade kits include a microphone and speakers.
The audio utilities in the package are especially strong. The most interesting utility is Voice-Assist, a Windows-based speech recognition program that lets you use voice commands to launch and control just about any Windows application. Unlike the speech recognition program that ships with the Media Vision sound cards, VoiceAssist lets you add your own application-specific commands.
You also get SBTALKER for DOS and Monologue for Windows, two text-to-speech programs; Wave-Studio, a Windows-based application that lets you record, play, and edit 8-bit and 16-bit WAV files; Creative Soundo'LE, a Windows-based application that lets you record and play back WAV files in other applications using OLE (Object Linking and Embedding); Windows Mixer, an onscreen mixer that controls the levels of your audio sources; and much more.
Many factors go into choosing the best multimedia upgrade kit. If you're looking for an MPC Level 2 package at an excellent price, take a good look at the Sound Blaster DigitalEdge CD. The ability to upgrade the sound card to General MIDI, the caddy-less CD-ROM drive, and the strong audio utilities make it a terrific package.
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