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The Sixth Annual Interactive Music Conference
brainstorming graphic

Group Report: Improve PC Audio

Participants: A.K.A. "The Mojo Risers" Dan Bogard; SigmaTel
Charlie Boswell; AMD Brent Chartrand; Intel
David Crowell; SigmaTel Mike D'Amore; Kensei Consulting
Todd Hager; Dolby Laboratories Scott Kasin; AMD

Jim Rippie; Sonic Network

David Roach; SigmaTel
  Facilitator: Aaron Higgins; MixMeister Technology

PC Audio isn't dead - it just smells funny

Mission: Improve PC audio

New opportunities exist as consumers are increasingly using PC for audio throughout the home. However this is causing more audio challenges for OEMs. Reliability, upsell strategies and user experiences must be improved and new consumer electronics (CE) standards must be accommodated. There are specific issues that can be addressed by members of BBQ to improve PC audio for both OEMs and consumers.

The industry cannot tolerate the audio problem support calls and is proceeding to take radical measures to control this exposure. This has the potential to limit upgradability and improvements in the audio subsystem. We hope to avoid this situation by providing a better path for audio on the platform.

To accommodate new CE connectivity and compatibility, the proposed solution is a new audio bus. This can be incorporated in core-logic or exist as a discrete controller. This bus can be utilized by an industry standard riser that advances PC audio, addresses the OEM's upsell need, and gives the user a better audio experience.

Compatibility and connectivity with the CE world

PCs don't exist in isolation and must be able to share data with CE devices. For the PC to succeed in the living room, it must provide audio features equivalent to popular consumer electronics gear and be able to play any optical content.

No practical support for CE related specs

  • SACD
  • 24 bit 192kHZ
  • DVD-A

Problem Owner: OS Vendors, Core Logic vendors, Consortiums

Multichannel output has no way of getting to the speakers

Connector schemes don't follow the familiar consumer implementations. How do you connect the rear surround speakers? Multichannel audio has limited ways to reach the speakers.

Problem Owner: OS Vendors, Speaker Manufacturers

High degree of difficulty in connecting portable devices

USB doesn't solve all the problems.

  • Cost

Problem Owner: OS Vendors, Device Manufacturers

Business Constraints

PCI cards do not provide a performance benefit over integrated audio but are perceived as the "right way"

Problem Owner: Us

Upgrading the audio has run out of streamRisers Have Not Provided Viable Audio Upgrade Strategies

  • Riser card formats are not solving the PCI upgrade problem
  • Risers upsell strategies for audio have not been accepted by the OEM.
  • Riser upgrades are not available to the end userNo upsell opportunity for the OEM

Problem Owner: Riser standards groups

  • No reasonable upgrade opportunity for the end user

Problem Owner: Audio up sell vendors, Riser standards groups

  • Pricing constraints limit innovation and excitement

Problem Owner: Tier 1 OEMs, Audio Solution Vendors, Greenspan

  • The support costs are attracting significantly more attention

Problem Owner: Greenspan, Tier 1 OEMs, OS Vendors

Music Where and When you Want it

Even audio professionals have a hard time deciphering the multiple audio paths, both soft and hard, and the numerous control points, all of which interact in often unintuitive ways. This has lead to a "The PC is hard to use" mentality.

  • User cannot understand the audio flow
  • Multiplicity and mutability of volume control panels

Problem Owner: OS Vendor, Audio Solution Provider, Audio Application Vendor

  • Need to boot machine laptop to play a CD

Problem Owner: Audio Solution Provider, Industry Standards Group

Audio transports are becoming fractured

The advent of new busses carrying audio content such as USB, 1394, Bluetooth, Ethernet, etc., has led to an environment where it is difficult to configure and use the various audio peripherals that may be attached or available to the PC.

  • Synchronization issues between different transports
  • The latency is too high, unknown, and poorly defined.

Problem Owner: Audio Solution Provider, OS Vendor, Communications Solutions Provider (e.g. speakerphone), Audio Standards Group

Digital Rights Management issues constrain user's ability to play music they purchased

Digital Rights Management imposes policies on PC Audio playback and record that can prohibit a user from accessing legally obtained content. This can make the PC an undesirable audio platform

Problem Owner: Recording Industry, OS Vendors, Audio Solutions Providers, Tier 1 OEMs

  • DRM as currently defined breaks existing S/P-DIF connections

Problem Owner: Recording Industry, OS Vendors, Audio Solutions Providers, Tier 1 OEMs

  • No way to export interactive multichannel audio over same cable as DVD audio

Problem Owner: Core Logic Vendor, Industry Standards Group, OS Vendors


There are many new opportunities in the PC audio space that have come onto the roadmap recently.

  • Portable PC is being looked at as living room on the road
  • Copying CDs is a huge new activity driving PC Audio awareness
  • PC is gateway to portable music devices
  • PC as media server

What we chose to tackle

Out of the many problems enumerated above, we chose to focus on two primary problems, which we felt that the group could influence and potentially solve. These issues are:

  • Supporting DVD-A in the box without compromise
  • Recommendations for Risers

Riser Recommendations

  • DVD-A
  • Competing with CE
  • Continuing upgrade path

How to solve DVD-A inside the box:

To be able to provide a good DVD-A solution inside the box, it is necessary to provide a new bus in the PC. It was decided to name the bus the "IncuBus" in the absence of anything better to call it at the time.

Design Criteria for new bus

Functional Criteria

  • Fully isochronous
    • Just plain required.
  • Audio only
    • Adding other functionality (modem) greatly complicates things
  • Up to 8 inputs and 8 output streams
    • Have the capability to handle multiple independent audio activities
  • Must have bandwidth to handle 192kHz, 32 bits
    • Handle today's and tomorrow's audio formats
  • No encryption in codec - for cost reasons
    • Encryption dependent on rights management issues
  • Flexible control mechanism
    • Flexible, extensible, but well defined and behaved
  • Plug and Play
    • A must for use in PCs
  • Hot plug and docking support
    • Suitability for desktop, mobile, palmtop, embedded, etc.
  • Must have interrupt mechanism and GPIO capability
    • Docking, PnP, power management

Electrical Criteria

  • Clock source driven by controller
    • Simplifies electricals
  • Subsystem needs to work as master and slave to allow for multiple 8x8 modules
    • Allows extendibility for pro-sumer
  • Bi-directional communications
    • Necessary to support PnP
  • Needs to work with current silicon technology
    • Necessary for acceptance in PC world

Next Steps

  • Have a conference call on or around December 1st
  • Goal: form a working group
  • Bring in other parties (attendees)
  • Commitment to share results with employers in trip report
  • The proposed bus will require a new riser standard, which must be industry wide

section 6

next section

select a section:
1. Introduction  2. Speakers  3. Executive Summary  
4. Networked Audio Devices Interoperability Standard
5. Towards Interactive XMF  
6. Improve PC Audio 
7. Game Audio Network Guild
8. A Compelling Music-Making System for the Living-Room Console
9. Schedule & Sponsors