- VideologicPrice - £235 for Sirocco Crossfire Price - £250 for DigiTheatre Price - £150 for DigiTheatre Decoder
Videologic are currently redefining the face of multimedia. We already know of their PowerVR technology, which has met with mixed results, but many of you maybe unaware of their relatively new series of speaker systems.
They have attempted to cover, and I think very successfully met the demands of, each entry point in the market. For the hard core gaming elite they have the Sirroco Crossfire, and for the more movie mad users out there they have created the Digitheatre.
In this review I shall be looking at both products in their own separate contexts in order to help you make the decision of which set would be better for you...
First up we have the new Sirroco Crossfires. The original Videologic Sirroco speaker system comprised a 3 piece set of two satellite speakers and one sub woofer, as well as a truly monstrous amp that drives each of the speakers individually (in fact there are two amplification circuits for EACH speaker).
With the arrival of such 3D audio API's as A3D and EAX, it was clear that a two speaker set up would not be able to do them full justice. As a solution they came up with the innovative four speaker system that is the Crossfire.
They use the same amp, which is not a bad thing as it does provide a level of power and response only seen in traditionally much higher end systems, and instead of driving each part of the speaker individually (one amp circuit for the woofer and one for the tweeter) they now drive both parts of the speakers from one amplification circuit.
This may seem like a cop out, but in doing this they have reduced any extra cost and are able to provide four speaker sound with only minimal design changes.
In order to reflect this the speakers themselves are much smaller units, yet overall the volume level is similar to the original two speaker system. The subwoofer used is the same as in the standard Sirroco system though.
The speakers themselves, while deceptively smaller, don't have a significantly lower quality or volume output and still have a truly phenomenal frequency response range. Being as small as they are they don't have much of a bass response though, but that is the reason for the separate subwoofer. This also helps separate the multitude of frequencies in any given sound better across the speakers, allowing each one to perform at its best.
The amp, and specifically the inputs, are where the real 'gaming' implications exist. The amp itself has 3 separate input channels which are selectable from a nice big knob on the front. The primary input has four input channels - front left, front right, rear left and rear right.
When coupled with a soundcard that can output separate front/rear left/right outputs (such as the Vortex2 based Sonic Vortex2 from Videologic), each speaker outputs only the specific audio information sent to it, thereby providing true 3D positional audio effects.
With more and more games taking advantage of 3D audio technology, titles will sound increasingly more realistic and authentic when heard on the Crossfire system.
As a side note, there is also one other connector on the back of the amp which has a very special function, but I will come back to that later...
The Digitheatre is a product aimed squarely at the DVD-Video market. The basic premise behind Digitheatre is a system capable of reproducing the full 5.1 Dolby Digital (also known as AC-3, which is the compression type) signal that exists on DVD-Video discs.
It is unsurprising to find then that the system consists of five speakers, four for front/rear left and right, one centre channel, and a dedicated sub woofer. Also included is the 'black box' (more formally known as the DigiDecoder) that takes the AC-3 feed and converts it into the full 5.1 Dolby Digital sound stream.
The connectivity of the system is fairly impressive, and at first the new owner may be thoroughly confused. Not to worry, Videologic supply a very well written manual that explains the entire system and how to get the best out of it.
To go into a little detail, the output from the DVD decoder (whether it be from a dedicated SP/DIF or an optical output) is plugged into the DigDecoder. From there the signal is processed and fed out through five RCA style jacks which connect directly into the amp that is housed in the sub woofer unit. It is from these five separate signals that each speaker is driven in order to recreate the Dolby Digital effect.
The speakers themselves are of reasonable quality but do not compare to those found in the Sirroco speaker sets. They are good, especially for a system of this price, but they cannot fully compare to those used in the Crossfire system. The upshot is that an extra speaker can be added without significantly impacting on the price.
The amp used in the sub woofer is also of lower quality than the Crossfire amp, yet will still pump out thumping bass to really make those explosions feel real. It truly is a relative scale when comparing the two products as both are really very good in comparison to the current market offerings, and it seems almost terrible to have to describe either of them as being "not quite as good".
The final component is the DigiDecoder. This little black box is based around the latest Zoran DSP, which co-incidentally can be found in many higher end AC-3 decoders that are used in cinemas worldwide, and cost many times more than the cost of both speaker packages put together.
The decoder accepts co-axial style SP/DIF, TOSLINK optical and standard 2 channel RCA inputs, although the SP/DIF and TOSLINK inputs can not be run at the same time, as the system will only accept one digital input signal.
From these inputs the audio can be accepted as either a digital or analogue input (depending on the connectors used), and appropriate processing is performed.
There are a range of output modes including Dolby Pro-Logic (the analogue precursor to Dolby Digital), 4.1 surround, and even 2.1 surround (where the other channels are virtualised into the other speakers).
You can also adjust the volume and delay settings for each speaker, thereby customising your experience to your own tastes.
The DigiTheatre is another impressive system, and after spending many hours watching DVD movies I have found it hard to listen to the audio tracks on anything less that the DigiTheatre.
Both speaker sets are truly magnificent and deserve a great deal of praise.
There is however one interesting solution that I have kept back to surprise you... As I have stated, the Crossfire system is extremely good for listening to music and true 3D positional audio, and the DigiTheatre is suited for those who want to get the best out of their DVD's.
Wouldn't it be cool then to be able to create a hybrid system that took the best parts from each? I certainly think so .. as do Videologic.
Do you remember that I mentioned there was another input connector on the back of the Crossfire amp? What Videologic have cleverly done is to allow a user to utilise the four inputs on the Crossfire amp and correspond them to the four outputs of the DigiDecoder.
Now what about the fifth and the sub? Well thanks to the DigiDecoder the fifth (centre) channel can be virtualised, thereby creating 4.1 surround. Okay but that still doesn't explain the sub. The extra input on the Crossfire amp is a direct feed to the sub woofer, and can therefore provide the .1 required to create 4.1 surround.
This is certainly clever, and it is this way by design rather than accident, and to save you buying both sets in order to create this hybrid they also sell the DigiDecoder as a separate unit.
It seems that one could now have the best of both worlds, should your budget stretch to it. If not, then merely analyse what you listen to most on your computer.
If you would rather enjoy playing games in true 3D positional audio and listening to music on your PC then the Crossfire is more the product for you. If you tend to be more fanatical about your DVD movies, but still want a rich audio experience from everything else, then the DigiTheatre will be more suited to you.