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
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.