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Since I use the SCSI Plextor CD Combo and 1 hard drive, the Pioneer hooked to the open end of the primary ATA33 cable in slave mode. Iíve heard that if problems arise to make it a secondary master device instead. I encountered no such problems.

The BIOS booted, found the 104S easily and kept going right into Win98SE. Now, when clicking "My Computer" a whopping three CD-ROMís show up. Oh man, Iím gonna go nuts with all of this stuff. Letís see, CD 1 to play music, CD 2 to install or burn something, and CD 3 (the Pioneer) to watch my favorite wide screen movie. Drool.

In order to take full advantage of the SB Live! configuration, I hooked the audio cable to the DVDís analog outputs and into the aux input and panned the device to the rear center in the effects section of the mixer control. This will give an approximation of discreet surround sound without the aid of an outboard Dolby® decoder. Next, I ran (drove really) over to my closest BlockBuster to rent some media.

Real World Performance & General Impressions

I planted my rear in the chair and prepared myself for one of the most emotional technology rides since viewing MadOnionís 3Dmark2000. Up first was Warner Bros.í Iron Giant. I pushed the CD gently into the slot, about 1 in or so, and waited. I looked down to see it still protruding from the slot. Mmmm, I thoughtÖnot quite like car CD players that yank the media out of your hand. I pushed it farther in, about halfway so the center slot was slightly covered by the soft felt lining. OK, now I wondered who was the bigger idiot here: the designers or me. What do I need to do to get this DVD inside the drive? After briefly contemplating my navel, I "heave hoeíed" the media all the way and it finally sucked into the drive. Then I realized that I was indeed the bigger idiot. I pushed the eject button and ever so gently the DVD emergedóall the way past the center hole. This made the insertion ejection cycle very easy because instead of grabbing the media by the edges and risking shooting it across the room, Frisbee like, I could insert my grubby little finger into the center hole and get a good grip on it. Itís one thing to scratch a $1 CD-R and very much another to mess up a new $29 movie.

WinDVD2000 is a great package because it has nifty features like four 2-speaker modes, not counting 4,5 and 6 speaker modes. When the picture quality was compared to other DVD programs, such as the OEM Zoran player, WinDVD2K was dramatically better. Iron Giant was a fabulous test for surround effects as the standard date movies (chick flicks) donít lean towards big cracks and booms to take your mind off of what youíre really watching (your date!). In wide screen mode the picture quality was flawless at 1024x768x32-bit true color monitor resolution. Zero dropped frames, freezes, digital artifacts, or anti-aliasing jaggies.

Next, I viewed one of the greatest chick flicks everóMeet Joe Black. The outdoor scenes gave a moderately realistic impression of being outdoors. In this case, the DVD format showed its aging NTSC limitations. Since HDTV can be easily obtained (at least in my area) and broadcasts of its type can be viewed nightly. I have serious reservations as to the life span of any NTSC based gear. Be that as it may, flesh tones were very true, especially in 32-bit color. At one point, with all the lights off, I thought I was watching the big screen.

Not to forget the Live! Value sound card. The front channels are decoded from the IDE cable and the rear surround channels, as described above, are sent to the analog input via the DVD analog output. This eliminates the need for both an outboard video and sound decoder cards--saves you a few extra PCI slots too. I felt as though I was inside my own private albeit cramped personal theater. If you take the time to properly arrange your speakers, the result can be as good or better than the actual movie theater provided that you attain: (1) front speakers with tweeters, (2) at least 100 watts total system power, and (3) a kickiní subwoofer at least six inches in diameter.

I made note of the typical processor usage in software decoding and surround mode: 55%. Based on this figure, I could believe that a P2 350MHz processor would be the absolute minimum and even then, I would suggest nothing less than 450MHz. Toward the end of the two movies, the usage dropped to an average of 25%. This may be due to the drive itself rotating slower as the laser head reads the outer tracks.

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