All that's missing is the popcorn.
In the beginning, there was a void of darkness and silence. Then one day, the
void got bored and erupted into a potpourri of cosmic dust, celestial debris
and most importantly…sound. And there was much rejoicing.
A few billion years later, man walks the earth wielding instruments of sound
and noise so loud and intrusive that the void now needs to wear earplugs. The
crew over at Hercules hasn't been helping matters much by releasing quality
board after quality board. However, the earlier cards all seem like prep work
for the main dish, an amazing, incredibly versatile piece of audio hardware.
The Game Theater XP is the Geforce 2 of sound cards, and everything is
about to get a hell of a lot louder.
Game Theater XP
The Game Theater is loaded from top to bottom with extras, stocked with
more features than a movie theater. The most obvious is the external rack. Sporting
a multitude of high-end connectors and ports, this device allows for serious
connectivity. You've got a 4 port (2 in front, 2 in back) USB hub for endless
plug and play peripheral madness. Digital cameras, nerdy flight sticks and game
pads can be attached in a snap.
You'll also find a standard gameport on the front of the rack. Coupled with
the USB hub, this allows a great number of options for multiplayer PC gaming
and should widen the eyes of any serious gamer.
For the inclined musician, the rack is a godsend. You've got connectors that
come in both coaxial and optical flavors for use with your digital audio devices
or DAT machines. There are MIDI device ports for synthesizers and enough connectors
for two sets of speakers: one 2-speaker set and a 4-way surround sound speaker
setup. It goes without saying that this easily qualifies as a full game/music
For a full list of features and specs, click here.
Installation is a breeze. I inserted the card into PCI slot number 2 on my
motherboard in an effort to not crowd the area around my video card. This allows
more airflow to run across your video card to help keep it cool.
Connecting the board to the rack is a cinch. Simply grab the included 6' snake
cord and insert the end without the USB connector to the port on the sound card.
Then take the other end and insert it into the "Computer" connector on the back
of the rack. Finally, install the drivers found on the first of two provided
In the Readme file it states that the drivers may have some incompatibility
issues on some AMD powered systems. Apparently, they were right. After installing
them I quickly noticed that tweaking the fabulously intricate and intuitive
equalizer was having no effect on the throng of diverse music I was playing.
Also, the surround speakers only played when using Hercules' nifty 'test' option.
I quickly surfed on over to the Hercules website, where I found new drivers
anxiously awaiting a DSL transfer to my happy hard drive.
Problem solved, though not without some flaws. Although the updated utilities
look flashier and more colorful, they just aren't as good as the originals.
With these new drivers there's no place to save your equalizer presets. This
really sucks, because now I need to reset the equalizer every time I power up
my computer. Grumble, grumble. Perhaps the next update will include some the
of lost features. AMD owners, consider yourself warned.
we're on the topic of software, let's talk about the bundle. Hercules has packaged
the Game Theater with a decent if standard crop. Many of these inclusions
we saw in Terractec's DMX Fire 1024. You get Musicmatch
Jukebox, which records and plays MP3s, Siren Jukebox Xpress for digital music
management and Yamaha XGStudio, which throws up a handy interface for your MIDI
files. For music lovers in general, this is a solid package.
However, I'm not a musician (unless you count two years of the violin in 4th
and 5th grade). I'm a gamer who's appreciation for good sound equals that of
most music pundits, and the game side of the software bundle is lacking, to
say the least. Hercules scoured the gaming world, but apparently someone was
asleep at the wheel. All they could come up with are demos of ancient games
like the first Midtown Madness,
Rogue Spear and a batch
of forgettables. I know they can do better than that. Bad Hercules! Wait until
Zeus hears about this paltry game bundle...
The main selling point for any sound card is also the most subjective feature
to cover. How does the darn thing sound? Hmmm...in a word? Supercalafragilisticexpealadocious!
The sound is incredibly clear. Bass tones are deep and solid, and everything
I tested (after the brief fight with the equalizer) - rock, reggae, blues, classic
R&B, jazz and even classical Chinese melodies - are magnificent to hear with
the Game Theater XP.
Compatibility for all the standards such as A3D 1.0, Microsoft's Direct Sound,
Sensaura MacroFX and Creative's Environmental audio: EAX 2.0 complete this already
Somehow, this puppy rings in at a surprisingly affordable $149.99. It might
be a little more than you would pay for a relatively high-end sound board, but
you're getting so much more. That's a great deal.
This piece of hardware is just stellar. The crisp clarity and tremendous connectivity
possibilities make it well worth the price of admission. If you can see past
the minor incompatibilities and the relatively weak bundle, you'll find a steal.