Creative Labs is poised to ship the first Mac product in its popular Sound Blaster line “soon, very soon,” a company representative told MacWEEK. Creative is finishing work on Sound Blaster Live! for Macintosh and preparing a large software bundle that he said will demonstrate all of the capabilities of the audio card on the Mac.
Creative announced plans to port the card to the Macintosh at Macworld Expo in January 1999. Since then, Creative has offered Macworld demonstrations of its Nomad II MG and Nomad Jukebox products, but Sound Blaster has still not shipped.
The company makes a wide range of PC audio boards, from bare-bones models in economy PCs to the Sound Blaster Platinum — a full-featured board for hardcore gamers and audiophiles. Creative’s Kurt Heiden said that Sound Blaster Live! for Macintosh will combine features from all of Creative’s PC sound boards. It will be closest to the Platinum model, he said — featuring a MIDI port, Mic in, Line in, digital out, speakers/headphones out and rear speakers out — but without the Platinum’s external controls faceplate. It will support two- and four-channel audio and promises to improve performance in games and other audio-intensive applications by offloading many audio effects, including 3-D effects, from the CPU.
“There is a stronger music market on the Mac, and we want to be responsible and support all of our music features” for Mac users, Heiden said. However, he added that there are technical challenges in getting the board to work with the Mac. For example, the software must account for both the Mac OS Sound Manager and the OMS (Open Music System) standard, which many third-party applications treat differently.
New technologies for Mac users
Creative’s card will introduce Mac users to four-channel audio and EAX (Environmental Effects) technology. Four-channel audio provides surround-sound in games, movies and applications, and games such as Deus Ex and Unreal Tournament already support four-channel audio on the Mac. However, the Mac cannot take advantage of the feature because the Mac OS is limited to supporting two-channel audio. When the Sound Blaster card ships, games will be able to use four-channel audio on the Mac, but because DVD movies rely on the Mac OS Sound Manager, Creative won’t be able to support surround-sound in DVD movies. Heiden said that Mac OS X will support multi-channel audio, but Creative is waiting for finalized Mac OS X Software Development Kits before announcing OS X compatibility.
EAX technology allows developers to simulate the effects that different environments have on audio, so you can make a weapon sound like it’s blasting in a carpeted room or an open cavern. Blizzard is considering an EAX patch for Diablo II that would provide for more-realistic audio effects in caves, wilderness and cathedrals.
Creative is also promoting a complementary audio standard called
OpenAL that allows developers to control the movement of sound in a 3D space. Loki Software is also backing OpenAL, but MacSoft, Mac Play and Aspyr have all expressed interest, Creative said.
A visit from The Man
During Steve Jobs’ Macworld Expo keynote, he showcased Creative’s Nomad 2 MP3 player as he presented the new iTunes software. Later that day, Heiden said, Jobs visited the Creative booth and told Heiden that the Nomad Jukebox would be much “cooler” with a FireWire port to speed music downloads. The Apple CEO left with a Jukebox to play with, Heiden said.
The board’s minimum requirements are Mac OS 8.6, a Power Mac 7200 or later and 64MB of RAM, but the preferred configuration is a Power Mac G3 or later with 128MB of RAM running Mac OS 9. It was available for pre-order at Macworld Expo for $99, but Creative has not announced final retail pricing.