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Reviewed: Hercules Game Theater XP
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: August 29th 2001
Page: 2

Installation of the Game Theater XP is a little harder than normal, but there's an upside in that it makes installing any device that would normally hook up to it easier as well.  The setup is twofold; first install the drivers from CD, then power down the computer. Swap out the old PCI sound card, then install the Game Theater card.  Instead of hooking up gamepad and speakers to the card, however, there's a special rack that attaches by cable to the card itself.  A smaller wire from the cable also goes to one of your PC's USB ports.

The rack is what makes the Game Theater XP a thing of beauty.  On the backside are two Midi ports, optical and RCA digital sound ports, two USB ports, and connections for either a Dolby Digital 5.1, 4-point RCA or 1/8" connected speakers, or two-point speakers.  The front has another two USB ports, the gameport easily accessible below them, stereo RCA line-in connectors, and microphone and headphone jacks that have their own separate volume/gain controls.  The cable itself for the rack is long enough to move up to 3' away from the card, letting the user set it on the desktop for even easier access.

The whole point of this is accessibility. Up until now, easy-access headphone and gameport connections were limited to certain OEM computers that had inferior hardware in other areas.  Audiophiles and hardcore gamers had to be very careful to be able to reach the back of the computer as easily as the front in order to tweak systems and change out joysticks.  Putting the rack on gets the important USB and gameport connections into reach, and the microphone and headphone volume controls likewise improve the usability.

Functionally, the Game Theater XP is just as good; the config menu, available from a nonintrusive system icon, allows for multiple settings including stereo expansion. The driver software supports EAX and A3D, so all 3D sound games work well.  The software also automatically switches to headphones when they're connected, which is perfect for home users that can't blast their speakers at all times. 

Like any product, there's a downside -- in this case, the bundle.  The setup includes Sensaura Virtual Ear, a program to "enhance" headphone sound, PowerDVD 3.0 with 4-point and 6-point Dolby Pro-Logic decoding for DVD surround sound playback, Music Match, Siren Jukebox Xpress, Magix Player Jukebox, Yamaha XG Studio, Kool Karaoke Lite, and Acid Xpress; a whole litany of sound and music "tools". Of the bundle, the only two that are worth the space are XG studio and if your video card/DVD drive didn't already have it, PowerDVD 3.0. 

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Added:  Wednesday, August 29, 2001
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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