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Reviewed By: Mike Goyette [04.12.01]
Manufactured by: Hercules
Suggested Price: $149.95

A New Alternative

Creative is no longer the only big kid on the block when it comes to high-end sound cards. Hercules has introduced a new sound card that could kick the Creative's SBLive! lineup of cards off a gamer's must have list. Hercules' new Game Theater XP (GTXP) has lined itself up to compete with Creative's complete inventory of Soundblaster Live! cards. Featuring DirectSound(r) 3D, EAX(tm) 2.0 and A3D(tm) 1.0 compatibility, an external rack with a ton of inputs and outputs and great sound quality the Game Theater XP could be the next king of the playground.


Now, before anybody gets the wrong idea, the GTXP was not sent to me, I actually went out and bought it and I sold my Sblive! Platinum 5.1 to get it! When that wonderful brown UPS trucked pulled into the parking lot at work, I ran to the shipping department to get the box and open the puppy up. As I opened the box, my eyes leapt to very impressive black & metallic blue metal breakout box that dominated the package. Reading the stats from Hercules' web page did not prepare me for the sheer number of inputs and outputs on this bad boy.

The breakout box connects to the sound card by a very heavy-duty DB44 cable that runs from the rear of the rack to the rear of the card. The cable itself is 2m long, which is about 6'6", and at least a half an inch thick. Integrated into the cable is a USB wire that connects to the computer's USB port. In addition to the connector for the breakout box, the rear of the card has an external 1/8" Aux Line-In jack. Inside the card has two standard MPC connectors for CD and an Aux2 Line-In jack. Although there are two internal connectors missing on the card that come standard on the SBLive, I am not sure they will be missed. Most notable is the lack of an S/PDIF input. If you require an internal digital input, you are out of luck. The other MIA is a TAD, or Telephone Answering Device, and I will be honest I am not even sure what it is for. The manual is printed in English, French and Spanish and each section is about 15 pages and is poor at best.

What Does it Come With?

Included in the package were the installation CD-Rom and a game bundle CD.

CD Contents:

  • Some demos (including Rogue Spear and Midtown Madness) 

  • Sensaura Virtual Ear (3D sound positioning configuration utility)

  • PowerDVD DVD player

  • MusicMatch Jukebox - MP3 encoding

  • Yamaha Soft Synthesizer S-YXG50

  • Sonic Foundry ACID Xpress and SIREN Jukebox press 

  • Koolkaraoké Lite software 

  • Magix playR jukebox

The test machine:

  • Abit KT7-Raid-a 

  • AMD 1.2Ghz Tbird

  • Matrox G400Max Dualhead

  • Windows ME

  • 768mb RAM


The Game Theater, as with most modern sound cards, utilizes a PCI 2.1 connector, for fast input and output. Installation could not have been easier, insert card, plug the cable into the card, breakout box and USB port, then turn on the computer. Windows ME found the card without any problems and driver installation went without a hitch. The driver that shipped with the card was somewhat lacking in the eye candy department, so I went to Hercules site to check for an update. Sure enough version 2.0 was ready to download. I completely removed the previous drivers, rebooted and installed the new ones. They were a big improvement. While at the Hercules site I also browsed through the FAQ's. 

The most noteworthy FAQ was this:
Q:"I have bad sound when using Windows ME"
A:"Windows ME has built-in drivers for the card called Crystal Sound Fusion. These drivers do not properly support the card and would limit its features and reduce the sound quality. In your Device Manager, make sure only Hercules Game Theater devices are listed. If not, you will need to manually update the Crystal drivers to the Win9x drivers supplied on the Volume 1 CD supplied with the card."
Even though I am running WinME I did not run into this problem, during installation I told WinMe where to find the drivers.

The biggest problem I had was finding a spot for the box. The box measures out at about 2"x9"x6", and while not huge it is big enough to give people with limited desk space problems. I tried standing it on edge but the monstrous cable kept tipping it over.

The updated drivers are considerably nicer than the originals.

From the install CD I loaded up PowerDVD Pro6, a very nice DVD program, and Sensaura's Virtual Ear, which creates audio placement profiles for different users. Virtual Ear had some problems, the skinned interface was not very happy; most of the buttons and text were either overlapping or not where they should have been. This was due to my use of Large fonts from the display properties. Fortunately, the interface isn't really needed as you can run the placement wizard from the taskbar. The wizard runs you through a series of questions, has you "position" the audio so that when listening through headphones you get the full surround sound feeling.

Tell me some more good stuff!

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