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Soundblaster and Optical Output

PolloDiabloPolloDiablo Registered User regular
I'm trying to understand sound systems and whatnot. For such an important part of games, I know dick all about it. I'm going to pick up an Astro headset in the immediate future, but I see it only accepts a toslink input. I don't want to buy something and have no idea how to hook it up. So that's where this tale begins.

First, a terminology question. If I say toslink, optical, and spdif, are those all synonyms or what? I know exactly nothing about all this.

Ok. The sound system I have hooked up to my tv is hooked up via an optical connection. It works fine. I have a port that looks the same on the back of my computer, so I figured I'd try it out. Plugged it in, went to the sound devices on the control panel, switched it to spdif out. Nothing. Honestly, I'm not even sure what that port on my computer goes to, since the sound card is lower on the case. I'd have to open it up and look, maybe I'll do that in a minute, but I think it's connected to the motherboard, maybe? I don't know if it even outputs sound through there. I mean, I don't think I missed something obvious, like leaving the caps on the cord or something.

I've got a soundblaster x-fi card in there, and I'm not sure if stuff has to be physically plugged in to the card to work, or what.

So here are my questions:

1. Toslink, optical, spdif, are they the same thing?

2. What ports on a computer output sound? That sounds really dumb as I type it, but someone has to ask the dumb questions. Would a port not on the card itself work? If not, why are there ports not on the card? Or how do I make that port work and screw the card?

3. I heard soundblaster cards only do stereo via optical anyway. Is that true? I've read about a flexijack thing? What is that?

4. I've got a million control panels installed, and I don't understand any of them. Am I missing checking a box somewhere?

PolloDiablo on

Posts

  • TetraNitroCubaneTetraNitroCubane The Djinnerator At the bottom of a bottleRegistered User regular
    edited May 2011
    I can't address many of your concerns, sadly. I'm not an expert when it comes to audio concerns, and I'm pretty ill-informed when it comes to optical-audio-in/out matters.

    But one thing I CAN tell you is that a while ago I was trying to pipe optical audio into my Soundblaster X-Fi. If you're using the same Soundblaster card that I am, it does not support optical audio. In order to get optical audio capabilities out of that card, you need a special I/O module attachment that Creative no longer sells. I think that some other models of the X-Fi come with a front panel, where all your audio hookups are on the front face of your case. If that's the situation, there may be an optical hookup there.

    Otherwise, you're pretty much SOL unless you buy a new soundcard.

    TetraNitroCubane on
    VuIBhrs.png
  • PirusuPirusu Pierce Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    I'm trying to understand sound systems and whatnot. For such an important part of games, I know dick all about it. I'm going to pick up an Astro headset in the immediate future, but I see it only accepts a toslink input. I don't want to buy something and have no idea how to hook it up. So that's where this tale begins.

    First, a terminology question. If I say toslink, optical, and spdif, are those all synonyms or what? I know exactly nothing about all this.

    Ok. The sound system I have hooked up to my tv is hooked up via an optical connection. It works fine. I have a port that looks the same on the back of my computer, so I figured I'd try it out. Plugged it in, went to the sound devices on the control panel, switched it to spdif out. Nothing. Honestly, I'm not even sure what that port on my computer goes to, since the sound card is lower on the case. I'd have to open it up and look, maybe I'll do that in a minute, but I think it's connected to the motherboard, maybe? I don't know if it even outputs sound through there. I mean, I don't think I missed something obvious, like leaving the caps on the cord or something.

    I've got a soundblaster x-fi card in there, and I'm not sure if stuff has to be physically plugged in to the card to work, or what.

    So here are my questions:

    1. Toslink, optical, spdif, are they the same thing?

    2. What ports on a computer output sound? That sounds really dumb as I type it, but someone has to ask the dumb questions. Would a port not on the card itself work? If not, why are there ports not on the card? Or how do I make that port work and screw the card?

    3. I heard soundblaster cards only do stereo via optical anyway. Is that true? I've read about a flexijack thing? What is that?

    4. I've got a million control panels installed, and I don't understand any of them. Am I missing checking a box somewhere?

    If you're getting an Astro headset, are you also getting the mixamp? If so, the Mixamp will accept more than just optical TOSlink. It accepts standard two channel RCA, USB, optical TOSlink, and digital coax.

    1) While they aren't the same thing, they all refer to the same thing. For simplicity's sake, you can say they're all the same thing.

    For a longer definition, S/PDIF stands for Sony/Phillips Digital Interconnect Format, or Sony/Phillips Digital Interface. S/PDIF is basically the signal. The signal is transmitted over optical cables (what you would be using) or digital coaxial (which you may not be using). TOSlink (Toshiba Link) is a standardized connector for optical cables. So, it's the little nobby on the end.

    2) The ports that output sound on a motherboard are your standard colored speaker outputs (orange, black, green, etc) and the S/PDIF ports (Either TOSlink or Coaxial, TOSlink being an optical connection, and Coaxial being digital coax).

    3) "Optical Out supports stereo SPDIF out, multichannel out via Dolby Digital Live, and pass through of multichannel DVD sound" The thing is, if you're getting an Astro Mixamp, it will upmix the sound from the computer using Dolby Headphone. It also supports Dolby Digital technologies.

    4) It's been a while, but I would first try using the Creative control panel, then use the Windows one.

    Pirusu on
  • PolloDiabloPolloDiablo Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Otherwise, you're pretty much SOL unless you buy a new soundcard.

    Balls. Although it sounds like I might not need the card in this case anyway. I think. Maybe.


    Pirusu wrote: »
    If you're getting an Astro headset, are you also getting the mixamp? If so, the Mixamp will accept more than just optical TOSlink. It accepts standard two channel RCA, USB, optical TOSlink, and digital coax.

    1) While they aren't the same thing, they all refer to the same thing. For simplicity's sake, you can say they're all the same thing.

    2) The ports that output sound on a motherboard are your standard colored speaker outputs (orange, black, green, etc) and the S/PDIF ports (Either TOSlink or Coaxial, TOSlink being an optical connection, and Coaxial being digital coax).

    3) "Optical Out supports stereo SPDIF out, multichannel out via Dolby Digital Live, and pass through of multichannel DVD sound" The thing is, if you're getting an Astro Mixamp, it will upmix the sound from the computer using Dolby Headphone. It also supports Dolby Digital technologies.

    4) It's been a while, but I would first try using the Creative control panel, then use the Windows one.

    Yeah, I'll be getting the mixamp too, I think. It'll beat the price of a new sound card anyway.

    1. Thanks. That makes sense now.

    2. Is there any reason the motherboard spdif port wouldn't be actually outputting sound?

    3. Oh, ok. I guess it's a moot point anyway now since my current card lacks spdif out. The mixamp basically takes the place of a sound card anyway, if I'm understanding correctly?

    4. I'll double check them.

    Thanks a lot.

    PolloDiablo on
  • Dark ShroudDark Shroud Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Your last post seems like you have an idea of what you're doing now.

    I would recommend taking a look at HT Omega sound cards that have built in head phone amps.

    I have an older Soundblaster X-FI and used to sing it praise and had others buy them. We loved them for the first few years. Now we're done with Creative and are in the process of moving to HT Omega.

    Dark Shroud on
  • mcdermottmcdermott Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    3. Oh, ok. I guess it's a moot point anyway now since my current card lacks spdif out. The mixamp basically takes the place of a sound card anyway, if I'm understanding correctly?.

    No. The Mixamp doesn't replace your sound card, your sound card hooks up into it. To get your surround sound over the headset, you'll still need a surround sound source; either a Dolby Digital stream over the optical/coax SPDIF connection or a Dolby Pro Logic stream over the stereo analog connection.

    Pretty much no games will do the latter. So you need Dolby Digital.

    Which means you'll need Dolby Digital Live. There are several cards to choose from that support this...you've got a couple from ASUS, a couple from HT Omega, a few others, and several from Creative Labs.

    As for SB cards only doing stereo optical, this is true in some cases, not true in others. Like I said, you're looking for Dolby Digital Live; cards that support that can, in real-time, convert the 5.1 audio that would normally go to the analog outputs and create a Dolby Digital stream from them (which is piped out through the SPDIF connection). Cards that don't support it can only output either pre-recorded Dolby Digital audio (like from a DVD) or stereo.

    Any of the X-Fi Titanium cards will do it out of the box (I picked up an X-Fi Ti for like $60 on sale, looks like they run more like $80 now for an internal). Additionally, Creative sells the Dolby Live and DTS Connect Pack for like $5 which will add Dolby Digital capability to any of the listed cards. They have another version for Audigy cards. Basically, any moderately recent SB card with a digital output can generally have Dolby Digital Live added to it.

    mcdermott on
  • mcdermottmcdermott Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Your last post seems like you have an idea of what you're doing now.

    I would recommend taking a look at HT Omega sound cards that have built in head phone amps.

    If you're going to be hooking up over the SPDIF output, I'd avoid any card that has any kind of high-grade analog circuitry...because you won't be using it. The audio stream is being converted to Dolby Digital before it ever hits any of the fancy amplifier circuitry you're paying for. You basically want the cheapest DDL-capable card you can get that looks reliable.

    Also, if you go with a Sound Blaster and want to avoid their bloatware, you can download just the driver and just the DDL software from their website, and avoid all the "extra" bullshit.

    mcdermott on
  • mcdermottmcdermott Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Also, if you're a PC-only gamer the Mixamp is kind of a toss-up. It's only $50 over the price of just the headset, I'd generally argue that it's worth it (if for no other reason than having the volume knob and Game/Voice balance knob right on your physical desktop). But when you get down to it, most soundcards that will do Dolby Digital Live will also do either Dolby Headphone or something quite similar...the added value for a PC-only gamer from the Mixamp is somewhat limited.

    As soon as you're looking at hooking up a PS3 or Xbox, of course, it becomes a no-brainer must-have.

    And I'd still recommend it, because a $50 Dolby Headphone amp is a pretty decent deal...handy even for hooking up to the entertainment center and watching movies when wives/girlfriends/roommates are asleep.

    mcdermott on
  • mcdermottmcdermott Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Lastly, only ports currently selected to output sound will do so. So, in general, if you have the "regular" output on a Sound Blaster selected as your default output, you'll get nothing from the Optical...it's a separate output. Same on a motherboard. On my PC, I have like nine fucking outputs (motherboard optical, motherboard analog, Sound Blaster optical, SB analog, USB from the Mixamp, HDMI, and...something else, I'm sure). It's insane.

    So unless the optical is selected as your output, you won't hear anything.

    EXCEPT!

    If you are using a card with Dolby Digital Live, you actually won't select the optical output. You will enable Dolby Digital Live, and it will then create a Dolby Digital stream from your standard analog output...so you'll just choose the normal output (I think it's usually called like "X-Fi Speakers" or something), and it will come out over the optical. How's that for confusing?

    mcdermott on
  • PirusuPirusu Pierce Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Basically if you have any questions ask McDermott, because that's who I was waiting on to show up and school us all anyways. :P

    Pirusu on
  • mcdermottmcdermott Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    What can I say, I'm a total Astro whore. :P

    I actually just ordered another A40 system (with Mixamp), because I really wanted the Green BXR ones (so sexy).

    I'm probably gonna sell my current black system...probably. Then again, the idea of having two Mixamps, one for the living room and one on my desk, instead of moving them back and forth.........

    Especially since I dropped my A40 headset, so one of the sides is cracked and held with electrical tape...thus severely limiting what I could hope to get for it. :x


    On a side note, Astro Whore would be a great name for a funk album. Shit, it probably is the name of a funk album.


    EDIT: Oh man, sounds like Astro just got bought out by Skullcandy? I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing...

    mcdermott on
  • PolloDiabloPolloDiablo Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Sound seems so much more complicated than video. Let me try to work through this.

    The DDL thing is available for my sound card, but my sound card doesn't have an spdif port. There's one on the motherboard, but at this point I guess it's vestigial or something? Although it is labeled "Creative SB Xfi" on the control panel, so I'm not certain. I tried it earlier without DDL enabled, so it should have been outputting sound, right?

    Does the mixamp accept analog connections? If so, would I still need DDL? I'm hoping to not need a new sound card in this.

    I'm probably 80% a PC gamer, but I use consoles enough that it would come in handy to get the mixamp.

    Thanks for answering my questions. You're one of the guys that got me wanting the astros in the first place. I'm just not sure I'm smart enough to figure out how I'd hook it up.

    Interesting about Skullcandy. I always pictured their stuff as relatively low-quality, but maybe I was wrong.

    PolloDiablo on
  • mcdermottmcdermott Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Sound seems so much more complicated than video. Let me try to work through this.

    The DDL thing is available for my sound card, but my sound card doesn't have an spdif port. There's one on the motherboard, but at this point I guess it's vestigial or something? Although it is labeled "Creative SB Xfi" on the control panel, so I'm not certain. I tried it earlier without DDL enabled, so it should have been outputting sound, right?

    Well, without an SPDIF port you can't really use DDL. And the one on the motherboard is usable, but you'll only get stereo...no surround. Not in games.

    Can you link exactly which card you have? Just so I can be sure what I'm talking about.
    Does the mixamp accept analog connections? If so, would I still need DDL? I'm hoping to not need a new sound card in this.

    It'll take an analog connection (dual red/white RCA), no prob. But you won't get surround sound...just stereo. Unless your card does some kind of headphone surround...or if the game does (many do). Then you can just disable the surround processing on the Mixamp and use it as a regular amplifier (and still use it for Game/Voice balance for apps like Vent).

    I used the Mixamp without a proper sound card for like a year, it was still nice to have. But once I did get a card with proper Dolby Digital support, man it made a big difference. So maybe you can just wait a while to pick up a new sound card? Like I said, I got my X-Fi Titanium on sale for like sixty or sixty-five bucks. You can get the external one right now for sixty (but I prefer internal). Or if you can find a used Sound Blaster with SPDIF ports.
    I'm probably 80% a PC gamer, but I use consoles enough that it would come in handy to get the mixamp.

    Yeah, if you have consoles get the Mixamp. The $50 extra is beyond worth it.
    Thanks for answering my questions. You're one of the guys that got me wanting the astros in the first place. I'm just not sure I'm smart enough to figure out how I'd hook it up.

    Interesting about Skullcandy. I always pictured their stuff as relatively low-quality, but maybe I was wrong.

    Sounds now like it might not be a straight acquisition. Maybe some kind of partnership. We'll see, I guess.

    And yeah, from my experience Skullcandy is garbage.

    mcdermott on
  • PolloDiabloPolloDiablo Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Ok, thanks. I think I get the situation now.

    I think my card is the x-fi xtreme gamer.

    So it seems like my first step needs to be to upgrade my sound card. I'll take a look around, and probably check back here or in the build thread when I pick one out.

    PolloDiablo on
  • mcdermottmcdermott Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Ok, thanks. I think I get the situation now.

    I think my card is the x-fi xtreme gamer.

    So it seems like my first step needs to be to upgrade my sound card. I'll take a look around, and probably check back here or in the build thread when I pick one out.

    Oh, hey, apparently all you need with that card (if my google-fu is correct) is a TOSLink mini-plug adapter. A lot of things even come with those, you might have one laying around. Search around and find the best deal on one, of course. You might even be able to find something like that at Radio Shack (even more likely at Fry's).

    Get your hands on one of those to see if it even works for TOSLink, then if you get something out of TOSLink from your Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeGamer then supposedly that Dolby Digital pack I linked earlier will work for you.

    Total cost: less than $10.

    EDIT: Oh, and that adapter apparently plugs into your mic/line-in jack (the topmost one), which apparently also doubles as your optical out.

    EDIT: Also, I think if you enable the optical as your default device, and look straight on at the back panel, you should be able to see red light coming out of that jack. Maybe. Either way, it'll only cost you a couple bucks to be sure (by buying that adapter). Unless you can find one. Like I said, a lot of things (including optical cables) come with them.

    mcdermott on
  • mcdermottmcdermott Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Actually, you can probably tell right now. Just look at the card; notice how in this picture (from NewEgg, and you'll actually want the top-right picture from the thumbnails...the picture of the "top" of the board showing all components) if you zoom in on the topmost connector (upper left corner) it's labelled LIN/MIC_IN/OPT_OUT on the circuit board.

    If yours says that, you should be golden.

    EDIT:

    sbx-fi.png

    There's the part I'm talking about, since I don't think I was clear at all up there.

    EDIT: And even if that's not it, a lot of SB cards (Audigy and X-Fi) seem to have SPDIF_IO headers internally as well (the linked card does). Even when they don't offer any external SPDIF. The headers are often like eight pins, but two of those pins are the ones you need. Then just find a generic SPDIF bracket to throw in an empty PCI slot, and good to go...assuming your card supports the Dolby Digital pack, of course. Otherwise, just find a cheap used on on eBay that does support it, and good to go.

    mcdermott on
  • PolloDiabloPolloDiablo Registered User regular
    edited May 2011
    Oh, that might be perfect. It does say mic in/opt out on the board. I don't think I have one around here, but I'll grab an adapter and try it out tomorrow. Thanks a lot, you might have just saved me a bunch of cash.

    PolloDiablo on
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