Posted by Thomas
McGuire on August 30, 2001
Manufacturer: Hercules Product:
for the Game Theater XP here.
Labs were, once upon a time, the only real name in PC
Soundcards. If it wasn’t Creative Labs on the box, it
wasn’t really worth getting. A lot’s changed since then
though with the arrival & subsequent demise of Aureal,
then great new Soundcards appearing from Philips &
Cirrus Logic CS4630 based Soundcards too.
said, the one area where Creative hasn’t really got any
competition was in the area of connectivity thanks to the
Live! Drive range. At least they hadn’t until the Hercules
Game Theater XP arrived.
of the Game Theatre XP was semi-unique as compared with, say
installing well…. any other Soundcard you can think of,
with 1 or 2 exceptions. Simply insert the Game Theatre XP
into a free PCI slot & connect the DB44 cable from the
Game Theatre XP to the External rack. If you intend to use
the USB ports available on the External Rack then you also
must hook up the USB cable on the DB44 cable to a free USB
Port on your PC. The Soundcard itself appears rather bare as
the shot below reveals, with only 2 inputs available
(CD-Audio & Auxiliary 2 In), the SonicFury/Santa Cruz in
comparison offers CD-Audio, TAD, Auxiliary, S/PDIF In &
Wavetable header. The absence of these feels all the more
prominent given these Soundcards all use the CS4630 DSP.
External rack is where everything really goes on. In what
can be assumed to be Hercules attempt to outdo Creative’s
Live! Drive they’ve decided to go for a fully external
box, rather than something that neatly fits into a 5 1/4”
drive bay. This Soundcard is connected to the rack via a
DB44 expansion cable & every other Input/Output (Bar a
single Line Input jack on the Soundcard itself) is connected
to the rack itself – More on this later however.
Manual for the Game Theater XP was rather sparse, containing
how to install the Soundcard correctly in Windows Operating
Systems &… well that’s pretty much it really. Unlike
the Hercules Gamesurround Fortissimo 2 there is no manual
for Power DVD 3 contained either.
The main (well, only)
thing that separates the Game Theater XP from other CS4630
Soundcards is the rather large In/Output Rack that it’s
hooked up to. Here’s a shot of the front of the box;
From Left to Right the
front panel contains a 1/4" Headphone jack, 1/4"
Microphone jack (Both with volume control knobs & a
single 1/8” to 1/4" adapter comes bundled with the
Soundcard from those of you who need it), Left & Right
Line Input jacks, 2 USB ports & a Game port.
For testing out the
Front In/Outputs I tried connecting up a Microsoft
Sidewinder Gamepad to the Game port, an Epson Stylus Color
680 Printer to the USB port, a Philips headphones &
finally a Microphone to their respective jacks (Using the
included 1/8” to 1/4” adapter where appropriate). All
these devices run correctly & other than having to
change the Audio Output mode in the Game Theater’s control
panel applet (To change to Headphone output, or
enabling/disabling the Microphone) there wasn’t much
required to use these In/Outputs.
As you can guess this is
extremely convenient to use & once the Soundcard is
installed & the External rack is positioned you
shouldn’t need to have to reach around your case to mess
around with Soundcard connections at all – Everything you
need is on the Rack.
Now let’s take a look
at the back of the Rack.
Again, we’ll start
from the Left & go Right. In the upper left there are 2
1/8” mini-jacks for Front/Rear speakers, which will be
used for connecting to most PC Speaker systems available,
e.g. Cambridge Soundworks FPS 1000 or DTT 2500 (Both of
which I own). There are also 6 RCA outputs available for
connecting up to Speaker Systems with (up to) 6 Analog
Inputs available (Corresponding to Front Right, Front Left,
Rear Right, Rear Left, Subwoofer & Center). Next up
there are another 2 USB post available – totalling up to 4
USB ports on the Rack. The Computer connection refers
to the rather large cable that is connected from the Rack to
the Soundcard itself. Now we have Coaxial/Optical In/Outputs
for connecting to an AC-3/DTS decoder, Tape deck or perhaps
MiniDisc player (More on this later). Finally on the Right
there are MIDI DIN In/Output jacks.
more than anything else 2 things stand out about the Rear
In/Outputs. Those being 6 Analog RCA outputs &
Coaxial/Optical In/Outputs (Well, guess that’s 10 things J).
In comparison with other CS4630 Soundcards available the 6
Analog outputs are a new addition to the range, although in
an odd twist the Game Theater XP firmly remains a 4 Channel
Soundcard. This is something of an oddity given the pseudo
(Virtual) 5.1 Channel output available with the Santa
Cruz/SonicFury. As it happens 6 Speaker output is only
available with the bundled Power DVD (& other 6 Speaker
capable software DVD decoders). Hopefully in the future
Hercules/Sensaura will be able to add a true 6 Speaker
output mode, or in the interim Hercules may choose to enable
the Virtual 5.1 option available with the SonicFury/Santa