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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.
The test machine:
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:
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.
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