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Since Windows Vista has dropped DirectX support for hardware accelerated sound, new games using EAX have become virtually nonexistent. So what are games using today? Is there another technology they're using?

I'm just wondering because I do care about the sound as a part of my gaming experience.

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closed as off topic by Wipqozn, Ashley Nunn, Fluttershy, murgatroid99, Mark Trapp Apr 10 '12 at 19:07

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Related question of mine in EAX sound effects and hardware acceleration of old games under Windows Vista and Windows 7 – galacticninja Sep 16 '11 at 9:30
Voting to close as off-topic. This question is really about hardware and game development, not gaming. At least part of it seems to fall under Why did they design it that way? as well. – Wipqozn Apr 10 '12 at 18:04
Voting to reopen. This question is about game-specific hardware/utility. EAX is used mainly for games. It asks what happened to EAX not "why did they design it [EAX] that way?" – galacticninja Oct 1 at 13:41
@galacticninja: Bit of a late revival, isn't it? In my eyes, if the question is "What happened to EAX?", it's probably covered by your SU question from '11. If it's "What should I buy if I care about sound in gaming?" it's probably a shopping question and off-topic, surely. There's been no real development in this sector since the question was originally closed. – Jeeva Oct 1 at 14:23
@galacticninja - I think the question has been answered pretty well already. I guess you could argue about whether or not it should be closed, but even if it's reopened I don't think it would change much. Also, I wonder what I should pay attention to [in this aspect] when selecting an external sound adapter is pretty much asking for a shopping recomendation. :P – Vilx- Oct 1 at 16:47

2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Perhaps you should look at Jeff Atwood's blog on sound cards from May 4th, 2011.

The default, built-in sound chips on most motherboards have evolved from "totally crap" to "surprisingly decent" in the last 5 years. But besides that, in this era of ubiquitous quad core CPUs nearing 4 GHz, it'd be difficult to make a plausible case that you need a discrete set of silicon to handle sound processing, even for the very fanciest of 3D sound algorithms and HRTFs.

If Jeff is considered to be an expert, the need for EAX support died when processing power became sufficent to no longer require external hardware.

From the Wikipedia artcile on EAX:

According to Creative's OpenAL 1.1 specification, EAX should be considered deprecated as a developer interface. New development should use OpenAL's EFX interface, which covers all the EAX functionality and is more tightly coupled with the overall OpenAL framework

From Creative's post explaining OpenAL and Windows Vista (and subsequently Windows 7):

With Microsoft's decision to remove the audio hardware layer in Windows Vista, legacy DirectSound 3D games will no longer use hardware 3D algorithms for audio spatialization. Instead they will have to rely upon the new Microsoft software mixer that is built into Windows Vista. This new software mixer will give the users basic audio support for their old Direct Sound games but since it has no hardware layer, all EAX® effects will be lost, and no individual per-voice processing can be performed using dedicated hardware processing.

Legacy EAX games will likely not perform correctly on Windows Vista and Windows 7. From this March 09, 2011 of the Auzentech X-Meridian 7.1 2G Sound Card:

We cannot fault any current sound card for lacking the ability to enable EAX in legacy games. EAX is no longer a standard used in PC game audio. If it works in a game, it is simply a bonus to the sound card buyer.

When EAX came out it was necessary for games to enable EAX for the game to utilize the hardware. Since DirectSound is no longer supported game developers should be using OpenAL, which enables hardware acceleration automatically (if supported by the device) or is otherwise handled through the software.

The list of OpenAL supported games is not extensive (in my opinion) but not all games require a highly emersive sound experience.

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It's actually what inspired this post. :) Because I don't think Jeff is an expert in sound algorithms in games. – Vilx- May 5 '11 at 22:22
I figured as much. – Jack B Nimble May 5 '11 at 22:22
Yes, that's another point about the OpenAL that I forgot to mention - developer's aren't very keen on using it. I was just thinking that maybe there's something better out there. Apparently not, and most people don't care much about the sound, so there's no point in spending effort in that direction. – Vilx- May 5 '11 at 22:44
I dramatically revised my answer, so hopefully it still answers your question. – Jack B Nimble May 5 '11 at 22:54
They should - but they aren't. Why? Is it really true that all effects can be calculated in software? Have we really reached the effective pinnacle of audio effect technology, after which each increment in quality comes with an unreasonable amount of effort? I find that hard to imagine. It might be, but intuitively it feels like sound should be similar to 3D graphics, where you can get closer and closer to realism, but never quite reach it, and improvement possibilities are limitless. – Vilx- May 6 '11 at 19:57

I concur with Jeff. Game audio processing is just math, whether it's plain old mixing or the fanciest of DSP or EAX effects. Given the virtual explosion in CPU power, it's difficult to see the advantages of having a dedicated DSP for audio. Software is not only powerful, but it also lets you choose from a huge variety of very cool audio effects, either that a game developer could write themselves, or license from the same companies that make professional audio plug-ins.

That said, it is very worthwhile to make sure your system has a good quality converter; that's often the best reason to update your sound card (particularly for laptops, which can be notoriously noisy systems).

So most games these days use software-based audio engines; the sophisticated games use APIs, which are paired with GUIs for the sound designer, such as FMOD, Wwise, XACT.

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The same arguments go against 3D accelerators as well - everything they do is just math, whether it's plain old alpha blending or the fanciest of pixel shaders. Given the virtual explosion in CPU power.... I think you see this doesn't hold up, right? – Vilx- Nov 15 '11 at 22:17
Depends. Most games today still don't use more than a couple CPUs and rarely even use the secondary CPU to its full potential. On the other hand sound processing is one of those things that's just perfect for multiple cores. – faB Dec 17 '11 at 20:32

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