Asus Xonar HDAV 1.3 review
Asus's Xonar HDAV 1.3 is a PCI-E x1 sound card with a built-in video processor.
It can combine the output from your graphics card with its own audio to make a single AV stream. It does this via a pair of HDMI 1.3 ports: one input and one output. It's particularly suitable if you're looking to build or upgrade a media centre PC.
This is the first card to fully support the latest lossless HD surround-sound formats. Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio are supported at their full bit rate, up to 24.5MBit/s. The only other devices that support these standards are ATI's HD 4870 and HD 4850 graphics cards, which can output audio using a DVI-to-HDMI adaptor. However, both cards are limited to a bandwidth of 6.1MBit/s.
As well as HDMI, there's a simple phono output, a shared coaxial and optical S/PDIF output, plus a 3.5mm mic or line in, which also doubles as an optical S/PDIF input. A Deluxe version of the card has a daughter board that adds a full set of 7.1 analogue outputs, but this costs an extra £45.
You connect your graphics card to the HDAV with the supplied DVI-to-HDMI cable. Asus's Splendid HD video-processing chip provides real-time colour adjustment, hardware upscaling for low-resolution content, and High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP). It's easy to tweak brightness, contrast and gamma to create different viewing experiences and improve the quality of video on a mediocre HD TV.
Audio quality is excellent. We were blown away by the clarity of music both through headphones and a decent set of speakers. The sound driver includes Dolby Digital Live and DTS Interactive processing. These are handy for converting PC game audio into something your surround-sound amplifier can understand. The HDAV uses software to emulate Creative's EAX 5.0 hardware processing for environmental sounds in games, producing an immersive gaming experience.
ArcSoft's excellent TotalMedia Theatre (What's New, Shopper 249) is included. This integrates with Vista's Media Center to play Blu-Ray movies.
If you've got, or are planning to buy, an HDMI-equipped surround-sound amplifier, then this card is the only way of sending full HD audio in digital format from your PC to the amp. An alternative is to buy TotalMedia Theatre, and then use a 192KHz-capable sound card to decode the HD audio and output it to either a PC surround-sound system, or an amplifier with a multi- channel input.
If you've got a compatible amplifier, this card lets you build a high-quality media centre. For everyone else, it's too expensive.