What happened to EAX?

Games used to boast about supporting Creative’s Environmental Audio Extensions, circa 2000 games like Thief, Hitman and Mafia would have distinct support for EAX and the difference was certainly there.

The most recent time I saw EAX even mentioned in a PC game was in Bioshock and before that Battlefield 2 & Doom 3.

I seem to recall it wasn’t particularly impressive with Bioshock, enabling EAX actually disabled the 5.1; so you were left with reasonable (but dry) surround sounds, or stereo sound with appropriately simulated environmental audio processing. With Doom 3 EAX came in as a patch, that ID software were forced to implement;

The patent situation well and truly sucks.

We were prepared to use a two-pass algorithm that gave equivalent results at a speed hit, but we negotiated the deal with Creative so that we were able to use the zfail method without having to actually pay any cash. It was tempting to take a stand and say that our products were never going to use any advanced Creative/3dlabs products because of their position on patenting gaming software algorithms, but that would only have hurt the users.

John Carmack ”

In English, this meant you needed a soundcard that met a certain EAX version or standard, in order to use 5.1 and environmental effects.

Since then, I haven’t seen EAX advertised in PC games at all, for example the system specs for Modern Warfare 2 mention one only requires a Directx 9.0c compatible sound card, and I struggle to find one that isn’t, even the cheapest I could find supports DirectX.

So (as a gamer), what is my motivation for purchasing a high-end sound card? A recent title; “Dragon Age” doesn’t even mention a sound card in its minimum or recommended system specs. . – These “high-end” cards offer hardware processing of “EAX-HD 5.0”, which appears to be a more or less dead / abandoned technology.

So, other than an improved signal noise ratio (and presumably a better DAC / ADC); is there any point in these latest cards, for gamers? Am I likely to experience better sound quality? The latest ‘X-Fi’ cards offer all sorts of pseudo-enhancements for both your games as music.

The truth is, all they really provide are fake “surround sound” (CMSS-3D), and “improved clarity” (X-Fi Crystalizer). In reality, the former simply pushes different frequencies to your 5.1 setup from a stereo source to attempt to ‘guess’ a good 5.1 mix and the latter is simply a fancy term for an EQ setting that Creative think make your dud old mp3’s sound better.

As you have probably gathered, I’ve been unimpressed with the care given to the sound in PC games in recent years. The only exception to this was the excellent Dead Space.

The only features that really interest me in a sound card these days is being able to pass a 5.1 digital feed to a surround receiver, if it wasn’t for that I’m sure I’d be happy enough with my on-board sound card.