Cheaper than a night at the Opera.
Take a look at the current market of sound cards and you'll notice that most
of them have gone zany for a feature that many PC gamers never use: DVD decoding.
Soundblaster Live 5.1, Phillips Acoustic Edge, TurtleBeach
SantaCruz - all are cards that put a great deal of stock in their ability
to decode Dolby Digital audio for use with a 5.1 sound system. The problem is
that 5.1 systems aren't great for gaming, since 3D sound works best with a 4.1
speaker system. While all those other cards can certainty handle 4.1, many gamers
aren't too thrilled about shelling out extra dollars for expensive features
they'll almost never use.
But remember that many of these popular cards, such as the SantaCruz
and Hercules Game Theater XP, are based on
the popular Cirrus Logic Sensaura 3D sound chipset. As far as 4 speaker 3D sound
goes, there is little difference between cards that use this chipset.
Enter into this fray a mid-range solution for the budget gamer, the Hercules
Gamesurround Fortissimo II, a straightforward, 4 speaker compatible gaming
solution that won't bust your wallet.
Fortisssimo II Card
At the competitive price of $59.99, the Fortissimo II delivers almost
everything that an average gamer needs for 3D sound. Sensaura 3D sound actually
can produce all three of the most popular 3D sound algorithms, those being DirectSound
3D, Creative's EAX 1.0 and 2.0, and A3D 1.0. This makes for a card that can
handle virtually any game on the market (save for those few games that worked
best with A3D 2.0 or 3.0, which only the now-defunct Aureal Vortex 2 chipset
could handle). The sound quality is clear and strong, easily the equal of the
more expensive cards mentioned, even matching the venerable Aureal
SQ2500, one of the main standards for gaming sound.
Despite the good quality, the Fortissimo II doesn't come with any games
in its software bundle. Usually, soundcards come with a few games that show
off the power of the card to great effect. In the case of the SQ2500,
there were enough games included to more than justify the price tag even without
the excellent card.
The Fortissimo II bundle includes Game Commander 2 SE, Storm Hercules SE v.1.5,
MUSICMATCH Jukebox, Sonic Foundry Acid Xpress, SIREN Jukebox Xpress, Yamaha
S-YXG50 v3.1 with Yamaha XG Player 4.0, Eatsleepmusic.com Koolkaraoke Lite,
Hercules Media Station and Cyberlink PowerDVD 3.0.
That might sound like a lot, but most of the software is only mildly useful
if you like to tinker with or play sounds. Most can be replaced with a free
download of Winamp. Power DVD is a nice addition, though, as it's one of the
better software DVD players around with good video quality and very good audio.
Power DVD can decode and downmix a 5.1 track to 4.1, assuming you have a fast
Power DVD can also export a straight AC3 or DTS signal from the Fortissimo
II's included Optical SP/DIF port. Here we find a little can of worms, though.
Forgetting the 4.1 downmix (which is good, but not spectacular), the choice
to include Optical output on the Fortissimo II flies in the face of its
budget orientation. In order to use AC3 or DTs, you have to have an expensive
external decoder (which is sold separately) and a 5.1 or 6.1 speaker system.
However, the included Optical input port is useful for people with mini-disc
players looking to port music into their computer at optimum quality.
To make things a little worse, consider that if you have a 5.1 system on your
computer, then with the exception of the Cambridge Soundworks DTT2500
or DTT3500, you can't get 4 speaker gaming. At least with the other cards
that handle DVD decoding on board and therefore don't need an external decoder,
you can use the card to switch between true 5.1 and 4 speaker gaming. There
is no such option for the Fortissimo II.
So what we have is a strange conundrum. The Fortissimo II is meant
as a low cost alternative. Unfortunately, it seems one of the cost cuts was
any type of decent software bundle. And the savings are slightly negated by
the Optical cable requirement, but only if watching DVDs with true 5.1 is your
thing. Honestly the Fortissimo II is an easy recommendation for anyone
looking for a 4 speaker sound card with good quality and nothing else. For anyone
looking for more oomph, purchasing a Fortissimo II just doesn't make