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Do We Really Need AMD TrueAudio

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AMD TrueAudio

25th September 2013

 

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[TPU] Do We Really Need AMD TrueAudio?

 

Agree with this interesting post.

 

The best solution is always discrete soundcard, ie my Xonar Phoebus, with superior SNR 118dB (note for audio buffs I know that Essence STX has even better SNR 124dB with interchangeable op amps to change the presentation) 192KHz/24-bit, 0.001% THD, EMI shielding, TPA6120A2 headphone amp @150/300/600ohms to drive my HD800 cans, to mention the main points and then you have your own preference of EQ to beef up the audio whether gaming or listening to 192KHz/24 FLAC.

 

Come the time I don't have enough PCIe slots, it's nice to have something decent to fall back on that is superior to motherboard onboard solutions and a cost-effective solution to the masses. Although this has improved somewhat the past 24 months with isolated circuitry on selected boards, Asus admitted that this is second-best for audio experience and best served through discrete soundcards to those that demand the ultimate experience. Yes they do sell sound cards too but they were stating the obvious to avoid confusion.

 

Once AMD NDA is lifted we'll know more but for now I can this being targeted towards hooking up your AMP (passthrough to TV) for 5.1/7.1 surround audio to get the most from it. There is no way a soundcard with a decent headphone amp (burr brown standard) will ever be beaten by this and is mostly the way most PC gamers play. Besides that, AMD have done quite a lot to try and improve gaming on PC such as using Mantel API (yes Nvidia can use it since its DX11 and will help lowend systems to consoles in future) and 3D DSP is onto something interesting as M$ DirectSound3D API was severely affected. My old 2005's Creative X-Fi Champion with XRAM with 128 hardware channels (this was OpenAL and the likes of Quake 4 used it which sounded amazing in the tech demos I sampled and the game), no longer used hardware audio in Windows 7 and was instead software emulated. This caused outrage at the time and was no better than onboard sound options or worse you had no audio at all plus no EAX which was Creative extension anyway and obsolete at this stage.

 

What's your thoughts on TrueAudio and PC audio as it currently stands ?

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Well for me, integrated sound card user, I'm interested in this. If it's any better than my current sound card, then why not give it a try. Only I need to learn more from the reviews first to make the final judgement. For now we are just talking about something that's only on paper. Let's see how it develops. Maybe NVIDIA will do a similar thing, which will push gaming audio quality a small step further?

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It would be strange if Nvidia didn't also have a compelling audio solution for the home but then they aren't really looking after the home market unlike AMD. Nvidia was late to the party with HDMI audio and it's up to AMD again to show the potential and lead the way, it doesn't hurt Nvidia to be a year behind and plan ahead to gauge the feedback on this. Audio is that good for most people that they simply won't care, some call these people sheeple - don't like that terminology but sums it up.

 

Edit: Raja Koduri said it's 290, 290x, and a R7 R7 260X that supports TrueAudio.

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AMD adding a DSP to their GPU is really just hype and if they wanted it to be useful it would be offered on all of the cards, not just the top end cards (where it will be used the least).  Where this has a market is in Home Theater PCs like what my Dad runs, not in a $600+ Gaming Video Card.  They act like PC audio has regressed, but every sound card I have purchased from Sound Blaster Live 5.1 to Audigy2 ZS Plat Pro to Prelude X-Fi to my Sound Blaster ZXR have all been an upgrade in the quality of sound reproduction (I'm running into an analog cables into an Onkyo Receiver SACD inputs to Polk Audio Monitor Series speakers).  The argument for putting a DSP on the GPU for latency issues made me laugh, are they serious?  They (including review sites) act like Sound Cards have not changed at all since Vista and X-Fi since TrueAudio was announced, this is obviously marketing and hopeful gamers.  I hope TrueAudio does improve audio for gamers who can't afford Sound Cards, but there is no way their tiny integrated DSP is going to offer higher fidelity sound than cards like the ZXR with quad core DSPs and Burr-Brown DACs onboard.  However TrueAudio is not really what AMD is going to push though, it is going to be their Mantle API which they have gone about in the opposite way that they should have. 

 

They are basically doing a rehash of what 3DFX did with their Glide API when they were fighting DirectX and many games did run better on Glide than DX or OpenGL.  However it splits the PC community up and makes the job harder for devs when you consider the very small amount of users who will have Mantle enabled GPUs vs. what is already being used from NVIDIA to Intel integrated to AMD's own current gen (and AMD's IGPUs). 

 

Does anyone remember when AMD through such a hissy fit at NVIDIA for using proprietary tech like PhysX to give an edge in gaming?  Now they are doing something 10x worse by not making this API open or at least able to be licensed.  If done correctly AMD could almost overthrow MS and DX, however by limiting it to their own specific generation of cards and trying to bank more on their console contracts, they directly hurt PC gamers and devs.  The stupid part is they would make much more money if they would license the API out for porting to CUDA and however Intel would use it (if they would).  AMD is sitting in the perfect spot to improve PC gaming tremendously by being the middle man between console games and PC games (porting), but they are squandering it by their greed.  NVIDIA allowed PhysX to run over CPU software emulation (at no cost), AMD is not even talking about that for Mantle in any manner so far.  Many review sites are kind of angry towards AMD for this, if this is truly what they decide to do with the API (http://www.polygon.com/2013/9/26/4773214/microsoft-and-sony-could-be-hostile-to-amds-mantle-api-carmack-says)

 

This article is also a great read on the debate and gives you the upside and the downside:

 

http://www.anandtech.com/show/7371/understanding-amds-mantle-a-lowlevel-graphics-api-for-gcn

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Well said Zoso and as they can fit TrueAudio on a R7 260X, 290/290X then what's stopping them doing that across the range?
If AMD really wanted to significantly improving audio for gamers they'd go well beyond normal specs - surely can't be better than a cheap £25 PCIe Asus Xonar DGX and mostly definitely not the widely-acclaimed £80 Asus Xonar D2X. And I agree SACD/DVD-Audio sounds truly amazing with incredible detail with the right DACs. I.e. I'm thinking the jump I made going from a standard muddy sounds of a Panasonic DMP-BD55 (I bought for the playback of DTS-HD Master Audio + Dolby TrueHD movies) to my current Oppo 95EU (via Onkyo TX-SR805) with 32bit DAC Sabre32, SNR of up to 135dB. I set my 5.1 speaker to use the two ES9018 DACs (four stacked DACs) on the dedicated stereo outputs for the front two speakers to take advantage of the superior audio on offer whilst in either music/movie config I still get the benefit of 5.1/stereo via analog cos I'm a bit of a purist. PureAudio compared to this sounds like DirectSource which has no post-processing and sounds very flat Vs the host of options on soundcards. I always listen to my music from the NAS for a jitter-free experience and why I bought the NAS even thought the SABRE32 DAC has jitter correction. If AMD are so concerned about sound quality I'd like to know what they did to improve Xbox One disc jitter correction and what we are getting above and beyond One.

 

AMD are well within their right to work as closely as they do with studios and can't blame them for helping to develop TressFX as a result of Lara Croft that Nvidia GPUs can use too. AMD and Nvidia should stop their rivalry in development of propitiatory technology. Variants of Ambient Occlusions (AMDs HDAO worked well in FC3 and Nvidia's latest HBAO+ in SS:Blacklist is nicely detailed), Anti-Aliasing (Nvidia's performance FXAA, TXAA is too blurry while MSAA is memory and performance intensive at x4/x8), and Mantle included unless they universally improve efficiency firstly then step up the graphics quality because it's the other way around currently and usually it doesn't help evolve games for those that decide to implement it. If a games performance is poor, CoH 2 and Rome 2 comes straight to mind, it's down to the engine being optimised correctly and can we really trust studios to do it justice or have been been expecting too much from them? If TrueAudio is implemented into a multiplayer title like Battlefield 4 (would fix some onboard audio-related crashes) with 'hundreds of channels' which obviously improves 3D audio positioning, this gives an unfair advantage and perhaps should remain to single player only, does this improve game audio quality (freq/bit), would this require dedicated RAM to quickly swap in/out otherwise does it use low-latency ASIO drivers that support all Windows OSs and Linux?

 

Unless I've missed some news Zoso: software PhysX emulation, whether by CPU (very inefficient+ misses some GPU-only effects and requires 4-cores) or GPU (isn't possible anymore unless you want to run 290x drivers from 2011) because Nvidia put a stopped that and modding around this restriction will result in being sued. If 8-cores became the normal then correctly coded PhysX would run really well. People buying a cheaper Nvidia GPU for PhysX (my £50 GT440 was enough for Medium PhysX) and staying with a AMD GPU of their choice may have had something to do with it. Nvidia has fixed the PhysX running on CPU for some setups once installed on 327.23 WHQLs, people were originally wondering why performance was so bad. Wishful thinking but if I could have PhysX again with a hybrid it would make my next purchase so much easier when I love Borderlands and Batman so much, I'd pop in a R290X and use 680 for PhysX.

 

Something needs to be done whereby MS that forces keen gamers that prefer to stick to their favourite OS, telling them through their partners to buy the next OS. Even for incremental updates to use mega textures on Hawaii GPUs on DX11.2 which requires Windows 8.1 is annoying. Mantle is just a cheap method of 'porting' consoles titles quickly to PC but even this has been limited to lower-tier GPUs, according to my earliest understanding of it's implementation. If AMD simplify this too much, what's going to be the difference in cheap console gaming and high-end PCs apart from those PCs still being there stuck on Win7 or moving onto Linux? Maybe Mantel (from Xbox One and confirmed for me since they don't want to talk about it) and TrueAudio are the start of sitting room PCs to rival/partner SteamOS for those minority of gamers wanting a compromise between good hardware and easier access to their games but without all the customisation. I think it's all about cutting down on choice so its easier for studious to work within a limit set of hardware configs.

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Considering this is the last leap in audio fidelity in games since 2003-2004, I would say this is good.

By itself, it doesn't mean much, but, dedicated hardware for sound, etc, etc, etc is what the future will be.

it will take a while, but probably in ~10 years or so fixed hardware will be needed to increase performance.

Ironic, yes?  We moved to programmable hardware to allow for better programming stuff, and will need to eventually move back (probably).


EDIT: TrueAudio uses dedicated hardware to do what it does.  That is why it is not on rebranded cards, although, I am surprised it was on Bonaire and not talked about.

EDIT2: it should also be pointed out, this, unlike many other attempts, it not done by itself, it also is being done on a gaming console (maybe 2, not sure), which means it will have quite a large install base from developers.

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I wasn't speaking about rebranded cards, just that it was only announced for their top of the line Hawaii cards with no mention of the lower models to follow.  I guess this is so people buying these cards won't know that a sub $100 card will have the same technology down the road.  Also what do you mean by "get back" to dedicated sound hardware?  Even onboard audio is dedicated hardware, much less quad core DSP like the Core3D architecture.

 

I will tell you one thing for sure, you won't be able to swap the op-amps on AMD's solution :D  One thing I noticed when I put my Auzentech Prelude up for sale, it only has one swappable op-amp, while the ZXR has 4... (talk about some cash (op-amps range from $30-$90+ each).  I'd have to upgrade my entire audio system to justify that purchase!

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This is the first effort to push it since 2005.

Considering the same tech (or extremely similar, like Intel 64 and AMD64 similar) in the Xbox One, and possible the PS4, I would say this matters.


Dedicated hardware != used dedicated hardware, I think, is more of what I meant.

This gives developers something VERY SPECIFIC to write for.

-Q

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TrueAudio is a good idea for very audio limited rigs, i.e. running an onboard sound solution.  However for someone running a good external DAC or sound card, the fingernail sized DSP is just another phrase to put on a box.

 

AMD adds a tiny DSP which you think is more of a dedicated piece of hardware for sound than all sound cards in production?  That makes almost no sense at all, except the fact this is an unreleased, never reviewed DSP made by a top GPU manufacturer.  Is AMD going to put a dedicated h600 Ohm headphone amp on the video card also?

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I can testify to that about the poor Creative drivers on the Creative Audigy Platinum (XP+Vista) and Creative X-Fi Champion (Vista+Win7) - bother requiring that long broad grey data cable and makes the inside of the case look terrible - very bloated software as he mentions and SNR wasn't very good with audible hissing requiring higher than normal volume too. 10+ years ago soundcards mattered, it took the load off the CPU and dramatically improved the audio with an array of input/outputs to playback my old 128kbps MP3s to hifi - this was before iPod was worth considering. Now people are consuming huge amounts of MP3s at a trade-off 256kbps 16/44.1 (red book standard of 1411kbps 16/44.1) that maybe people won't care about the quality of PureAudio. There is a history in regression of audio quality for portability that eventually comes back around depending on device support: Vinyl > cassette > CD > MP3 > SACD > DVD-A > FLAC 24/192 > not yet available but we'll soon have 24/192 music blurays due to the issue of people not owning SACD or DVD-A compatible devices. Article about audio quality with a sample.

Recent soundcards are great but I wonder if even with a good modern soundcard there will be corrupt audio or dropouts. A good example already is BioShock 2. The issue is around the games FMOD audio engine not being fixed in all of 3.5 years since release but still it played perfectly on my older X-Fi with 128-channels of lovely OpenAL 3D hardware accelerated audio via Alchemy. Back then you can drop back to Realtek onboard drivers but that in itself would cause other issues, I even recall having to play 2004s Painkiller with Realtek and it always worked but CPU usage was >21% higher and affected fps plus it was a very flat and unengaging experience.

If people have to faff on with TrueAudio like I did for EAX to work correctly, partially, or not at all then it will quickly lose appeal. Comes down to firstly the game fully supporting any new standard and the sound drivers being easy to work with and implement and being kept up to date (audio profiles?), then fix any niggles new titles may experience. What about older titles though, is there a compatibility mode that would work 100% without emulation or is AMD forgetting all about that. A lot of people including TPU btarunr have already dismissed it. I await the full reviews of 260X, 290, 290X.

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What makes AMD’s solution stand out however is the way it is implemented. First TrueAudio takes effectively no CPU resources to run, it is set up by the CPU and then does all the heavy lifting in hardware. Traditional PC games are made to run on a wide variety of CPUs with similarly wide varieties of GPU and sound hardware resources available. Sound processing gets the leftover cycles, if any, from the rest of the game. If you dedicate resources to sound you run the risk of dropping frames, do the opposite and you get lousy or inconsistent audio. With a dedicated audio DSP like in TrueAudio a game dev can get hundreds of 3D positional streams for effectively zero CPU overhead.

 

The idea is simple, the Tensilica HiFi-EP DSP cores bring something to all future...

Sure you can do that kind of work with the CPU or GPU, or buy an add-in card, but it has never been ubiquitous or had guaranteed specs. 

 

Why does this matter? Depending on who you ask somewhere between 80-95% of non-mobile games sales are console based. This means that almost all games are developed for a console and then ported to the PC if gamers are lucky. Development is gated by console capabilities, even if the PC has 10x or more the performance it is not economically viable to take advantage of that in most cases. Devs just port console crap and hopefully pick a little low hanging fruit if there is leftover development budget slop.

More to the point there is usually one console per generation that is the primary development target for cross-platform games, it is the XBox 360 at the moment. This means every other platform gets a port and usually the short end of the stick. How short is a matter of projected volumes, and since the PS3 has software unit sales that are a decent multiple the PC’s, it gets much more development money, time, and love. This is a major factor in why current PC games are derivative, dull, and generally not worth the money.

For the next generation of consoles, word has it that the PS4 is the development target in most cases and the XBO gets the short end of the porting stick. If both consoles have a similar DSP audio capabilities and the PC doesn’t, the PC is set for some rather miserable sound. 3D positional audio? Common on next generation consoles, PCs are unlikely to be worth the effort to port it even if you could guarantee that the performance would be there. It will sell all of zero more units too and the publishers are quite aware of this.

But what if the PCs had a similar DSP audio block? What if it was very similar to the DSP block in the development console of choice? What if that also meant the same GCN shader architecture as both the XBox One and Playstation 4, and backed by the exact same CPU core too? Instead of having a painful port to the PC, if the PC has and AMD GPU or APU with TrueAudio the code should be a trivial to move. Better yet that PC is almost exactly what you use for development in on the CPU, GPU, and audio fronts. What more could you ask for?

-Q

/10char

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