Asus Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim PCI Soundcard Page: 1
Introduction
 
ASUS LogoAsus are really gunning for the HD market at the moment. I took a quick look at their newest slim and light external Blu Ray reader not long ago and now I have the opportunity to look at the Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim.
 
Like it's bigger brother, the HDAV 1.3, the card provides High Definition support. The HDAV slim has the added bonus of being able not only to convert the Dolby True HD or DTS-HD Master Audio into non-downsampled linear PCM, but also to bitstream both high definition formats as well. This means that couple the HDAV 1.3 Slim with a compatible AV receiver or pre-Amp and the card will send totally un-tainted Blu Ray HD audio for the Amp to decode.
 
Whilst this may sound pretty boring to those not into their High Definition, this is quite something for all the AV enthusiasts. These are the people who have been waiting for a PC sound card to put into their theatre PC. One that does HD Audio 'properly'.
 
Let's look at what Asus have to say about it:
 
Without Xonar HDAV Series, Blu-ray audio DOWNGRADE to DVD quality on PC!!
PCs have limitations when you play back Blu-ray discs, as they can only bitstream DVD quality audio formats (48kHz sample rate) due to the lack of content protection and HDMI1.3 interface!

True blu-ray sensation from your PC Complete Audio + Video BD experience!!
With world exclusive blu-ray bitstreaming innovation, Xonar HDAV1.3 Slim provides true next generation Blu-ray audio with sample rates of up to 192/96kHz.

Cinematic Video experience – 24p support
Most Hollywood movies capture video at 24 frames per second. With HDAV1.3 Slim supporting 24p video via HDMI, users will be able to bring cinema-like visuals out of their HTPCs and fully experience movies like they were produced in studios.

Powerful bundle – ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre
Best Performance on HD Content Playback
Full supports playback of all three Blu-ray disc video formats: High Definition MPEG-2, AVC, and VC1's well as all kinds of other High Definition (HD) content: WMV HD, Quicktime HD, DivX HD, and H.264 HD.
HDCP Support
Full support for High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP)

Ready for your HTPC – right out of the box
Low-profile bracket bundledNo need to buy extra bracket to fit chassis of different size
 
 
Specifications
 
Without much ado, let's take a look at the specifications of this High Def card.
 
Audio Performance

Sample Rate Conversion Quality:
Almost lossless, high-fidelity floating-point filters, with:
-140dB THD+N (typical value for 44.1K->48KHz, 24bit)
145dB Dynamic Range (typical value for 44.1K->48KHz, 24bit)

Bus Compatibility

HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface):

-Compliant with HDMI v1.3a industrial standard
-HDCP 1.2 compatible
-DVI 1.0 compatible
PCI:
PCI v2.2 or above bus compatible

Main Chipset Audio Processor:
ASUS AV200 High-Definition Sound Processor (Max. 192KHz/24bit)

Video Specification Video Resolution:
-DTV Resolution: 480i, 576i, 480p, 576p, 720p, 1080i up to 1080p
-PC Resolution: graphics, Sgraphics, XGA, SXGA, UXGA

Color Depth and Range:
-Color depth: supports higher 24, 30, 36, 48-bit/per pixel color depths (RGB or YCbCr)
-Color range: supports broader xvYCC color space standard

Sample Rate and Resolution Analog Playback Sample Rate and Resolution:
44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @ 16/24bit
S/PDIF Digital Output:
Dolby Digital, DTS, WMA-Pro
ASIO 2.0 Driver Support:
44.1K/48K/96K/192KHz @ 16/24bit
I/O Ports Other line-level analog input (for CD-IN/TV Tuner):
CD-In, Aux-In (4-pin header on the card)
Digital S/PDIF Output:
Coaxial and High-bandwidth Optical Combo Connector
Supports 192KHz/24bit
Digital S/PDIF Input:
Coaxial and High-bandwidth Optical Combo Connector
Supports 192KHz/24bit
HDMI Input/Outut:
HDMI1.3 - In/Out Type A *1
Front-Panel Header:
Supports analog audio playback / recording up to 109dB SNR
Driver Features Operation System:
Windows Vista/XP(32/64bit)/MCE2005

Dolby® Technologies:

Dolby® Digital Live:

Dolby Digital Live encodes any audio signal on PC in real-time to Dolby Digital (AC3) 5.1 surround sounds to your home theater environment through one single S/PDIF connection

Dolby® Headphone:

Dolby Headphone technology allows users to listen to music, watch movies, or play games with the dramatic 5.1-channel surround or realistic 3D spacious effects through any set of stereo headphones

Dolby® Virtual Speaker:

Dolby Virtual Speaker technology simulates a highly realistic 5.1-speaker surround sound listening environment from as few as two speakers.

Dolby® Pro-Logic IIx:

Dolby Pro-Logic II is the well-known technology to process any native stereo or 5.1-channel audio into a 6.1- or 7.1- channel output, creating a seamless, natural surround sound field.

DTS® Technologies:

DTS® Connect contains DTS Interactive Encoder and DTS Neo:PC technologies. DTS Interactive encodes any sound on PC
to “DTS 5.1 Surround” high bitrate digital stream to your home theater through S/PDIF connection. DTS Neo:PC can convert stereo audio into 5.1 or 7.1-channel high-fidelity surround sounds.
Smart Volume Normalizer™:
Normalizes the volume of all audio sources into a constant level and also enhances your 3D sound listening range and advantages in gaming
Xear 3D™ Virtual Speaker Shifter:
Virtual 7.1 speaker positioning and shifting to adjust the optimum soundfield for your speaker placement
Magic Voice™:
Modifies and disguises the sound tone of your voice for VOIP and online chat applications
Karaoke Functions:
Music Key-Shifting and Microphone Echo effects
FlexBass™:
Professional Bass Management/Enhancement system for small or large speakers
Other Effects:
10-band Equalier/27 Environment Effects
3D Sound Engines/APIs:
Vista: DirectSound3D® GX 2.5, DirectSound® HW, DirectSound SW, A3D®1.0, OpenAL generic modes, 128 3D sounds processing capability

XP: DirectSound2.5 SW, A3D®1.0, OpenAL generic modes, 128 3D sounds processing capability

Bundled Software Utility

ArcSoft Total Media Player:
Supports playback of all three Blu-ray disc video formats: High Definition MPEG-2, AVC, and VC1's well as all kinds of other High Definition (HD) content: WMV HD, Quicktime HD, DivX HD, and H.264 HD

Accessories 1 x S/PDIF optical adaptors
1 x DVI-to-HDMI cable
1 x Low-profile Bracket
1 x HDMI to HDMI Cable
 
With a specification that looks great for Blu Ray audio, but lacks some things you'd expect from a 'normal' sound card, it's a bit of a mixed bag here. Let's see what the card looks like before we go any further...


Asus Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim PCI Soundcard Page: 2
Packaging
 
The packaging adorning the HDAV 1.3 Slim looks professional and interesting without being garish. A large picture of the card is present along with a bright blue label detailing the DTS and Dolby technologies included for the card.
 
hdav 1.3 box  hdav 1.3 rear box
 
I've said it before and I'll say it again, Asus have done a great job with the package inside of the box. Cardboard protects the delicate card inside the package and a compartment below the card houses the cables and bundle included.
 
box inside
 
A decent package even when sitting on a retail shelf, the card is sure to stand out and will give you all the information you need when deciding whether to purchase the card.
 
 
Package
 
Asus have provided the basics needed to use the HDAV 1.3 Slim, let's see what we have:
 
hdav slim bundle  hdav slim bundle 2
 
• DVI-D to HDMI cable
• Half height PCI back-plate
• Back-plate screws
• Digital Toslink to S/PDIF adaptor
• HDMI cable (0.5 Metre)
• Quick Start Guide
• Driver Disc
• ArcSoft Total Media Theatre
 
Everything is there to get you going, including an HDMI cable, albeit a very short HDMI cable.
 
 
Appearance
 
The Asus HDAV 1.3 slim is a non-descript looking card when compared to it's big brother. With no EMI shielding (which is of debatable value anyway) and a half height form factor, the HDAV 1.3 Slim doesn't boast much in the way of DACs or high end power handling either.
 
hdav 1.3 slim front  asus hdav slim rear
 
hdav slim close  hdav close up
 
The card features Asus's AV200 that we've seen on other digital cards from Asus. This chip features full HDCP 1.2 support and can output fully uncompressed HD Audio at 24.5 Mb/sec, currently the HDAV 1.3 Slim is the only card on the market that can do this.
 
HDMI/SP-DIF
 
Armed only with digital connections on-board, the HDAV 1.3 Slim will need a set of speakers with a digital in, be it coaxial, optical or HDMI. This means you will need an external decoder to decode the digtial output of the card. The HDAV 1.3 Slim outputs either digital PCM, Dolby Digital, DTS, DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby True HD.
 
Now let's see what we're testing this compact card with.


Asus Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim PCI Soundcard Page: 3
Testing Methodology
 
To test the Asus HDAV 1.3 Slim I will be using the following methodology.
 
Tests

Gaming tests (FPS)

Subjective Listening:

Blu Ray Playback (Region B UK Discs)
DVD Playback
Music (digital out only)
 
Unfortunately due to the lack of analogue out, I could not perform the usual RightMark benchmarks. Any other 'real world' benchmarks regarding sound are so dependent on other factors I felt that it was not reliable to include them.
 
 
Test Setup
 
I feel it is very important to get the test setup correct when testing items such as a High Definition capable sound card. As such, the following setup will be used:
 
PC Setup
Intel Q6600 @ 3.3GHz
Abit IP35 Pro
8GB OCZ ReaperX PC6400 @ 1000MHz
MSI 8800 GTX
Lite-On SATA DVDRW (model LH-20A1S)
Seagate 7200.10 250GB HDD
Coolermaster Real Power Pro 1000w PSU
Asus HDAV 1.3 Slim
Belkin AV Home Cinema Surge Protector - 7 Socket
Dell 2407 WFP (QED QUNEX HDMI/DVI-P Cable 3MTR)

AV Setup
Yamaha DSP-AX863SE AV Amplifier
Mordaunt Short 906i Floorstanders (Bi-Amped, silver coated oxygen free copper)
Mordaunt Short 905i Centre Speaker (Bi-wired, silver coated oxygen free copper)
Mordaunt Short 905i Bipole Rears (300 strand oxygen free copper)
BK Electronics XLS200 DF (Mark Grant Canare LV775 10MTR)
Panasonic Viera TH-42PZ80B Plasma
Sennheiser HD555 Headphones

Additional Cabling
2 x Tacima CS929 6 Way Mains Conditioner
Chord Company Silver Plus HDMI Cable (1.5MTR)
QED Performance HDMI-P Cable (1MTR)
 
This setup will enable full 1080p signal to be passed to the plasma TV and a high def audio signal to be bitstreamed for processing by the AV Amplifier for maximum quality. It will also ensure that I get high quality sound from all of the the sources used in the PC.
 
 
Software
 
The usual Asus driver software is supplied with the HDAV 1.3 Slim, but with the HDMI twist on it. As such, I will point you in the direction of a previous review for a more in-detail look at the features. The differences with the HDAV 1.3 Slim is the HDMI features.
 
HDAV softwarre
 
Here you select the channels , the PCM format and and HDMI format. For HD audio you need 8 channels, 192 KHz PCM and 7.1 out. Note that if you have this enabled and play stereo music, the stereo music will only output in 2 channel format, as it should do.
 
The Asus software is easy to use, responsive and fairly intuitive and I much prefer using it to the terrible X-Fi Creative software.
 
 
ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre
 
ArcSoft TotalMedia is also provided by Asus. This software enabled you to playback Blu Ray discs, including choosing the way you want to output the audio.
 
It's worth noting that Asus do not supply a version of the software that works properly with Vista SP2 in the box currently, but I believe will provide an update (to TotalMedia Theatre 3), and update the software included in the bundle at a later date.
 
After receiving the latest update from Asus, I managed to select the correct audio output that would give me HD Audio:
 
ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre
 
TotalMedia Theatre (3) is a nice bit of software and I had no issues using it with the sound card once Asus provided the update for me. It's good to hear Asus will provide users with an update and hopefully if you decide that the HDAV 1.3 Slim is for you, they will have updated the copy on the disc.


Asus Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim PCI Soundcard Page: 4
Gaming
 
I tested a wide range of games to see how the card coped with each game. FPS graphs below are from a small selection. Note that when EAX advanced options could be turned on, they were.
 
Note all 'Headphone' results on the graphs means that I set output on the card to be 2 channel in the drivers and in-game.
 
 
Unreal Tournament 3
 
An Unreal Engine 3 game as it is a fast, frantic and furious multi player mash-up experience. Using advanced DirectX 9.0c features, the Unreal Engine looks fantastic and has a lot of explosions all around to give that feeling of depth. PhysX was not enabled in-game.
 
Settings: 1920 x 1200, Very high settings. The UT3 Benchmark was used for all cards.
 
 
Kicking around with some of the other Asus cards, the performance is middle of the road here.
 
 
Again around the speed of the STX, the Asus HDAV 1.3 Slim doesn't vary much from the median here.
 
 
Quake 4
 
Quake 4 is a game built on the Doom 3 engine. This uses many DX 9.0c features based on OpenGL game. Once again I did three benchmark runs on Quake 4 on each card and took the average of all my readings from these. The Quake4Bench demo was used to benchmark all cards.
 
Settings were: 1920 x 1200, Ultra settings. 16 x AF, 4 x AA. Multi-CPU enabled.
 
 
Not wishing to disturb the pattern, the HDAV 1.3 slim happily sits neither top nor bottom of our results.
 
 
And again the card gets a middle of the road result.
 
 
Gaming sound
 
The gaming sound on the HDAV slim was decent enough and I didn't come accross anything difficult in particular whilst testing a variety of games. The FPS results show that the card doesn't degrade gaming performance particularly so there's not much to worry about here.
 
Having said that, the HDAV 1.3 Slim doesn't do the superb job that X-Fi based cards do, so if you're looking for a gaming card then I'd look that way, rather than at the HDAV 1.3 Slim.


Asus Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim PCI Soundcard Page: 5
Sound Quality
 
Music
To test the performance of the Asus HDAV 1.3 Slim I played a large variety of music from my eclectic collection, including playing CD's and extracting high quality FLAC recording  from several CD's. I have tried to cover a large range of music genre's to ensure I tested all aspects of the sound coming from the card. Note I also listened to normal MP3's and AAC compressed tracks to ensure I portrayed a 'real world' situation.

Note that being a totally digital card, I could only output music through a digital out into my Yamaha DSP-AX863SE. I did listen on headphones connected to the AV Receiver as well to ensure I wasn't missing out testing, however.
 
It is worth noting that this means that all listening with the HDAV Slim was performed using the awesome Burr-Brown 192kHz/24-bit DACs that reside in my Yamaha DSP863SE, rather than any onboard DACs on the card itself.

Example tracks used:

• Sultans of Swing - Dire Straits
• Adele - Chasing Pavements
• Bloc Party - Luno
• Bob Marley - Three Little Birds
• Chemical brothers - Block Rockin' Beats
• Damien Rice - Cannonball
• Foo Fighters - Skin and Bones
• Fugees - Killing Me Softly
• Goldfrapp - A&E
• Jamariqui - Virtual Insanity
• Jeff Buckley - Hallelujah
• Led Zepellin - Black Dog
• N.E.R.D. - Lapdance
• Pendulum - Slam
• Prodigy - Omen
• Robert Miles - Children
• Roni Size - Brown Paper Bag
• Snoop dog - Beautiful
• Paul Gilbert - Radiator
• Paulo Nutini - New Shoes
• Orbital - Halcyon & On & On
• Melody Gardot - Les Etoiles
• Richard Wagner - Ride of the Valkyries
 
 
Blu Ray
 
One of the main tests to be performed on the Asus HDAV 1.3 Slim was the playback of Blu Rays. To do this, I ensured that I listened to all Blu Rays below using:
 
• Either the DTS-HD Master Audio or the Dolby True HD bitstreamed audio
• The 192KHz Linear PCM sound (converted by the HDAV 1.3 Slim)
• The 'core' DTS or Dolby Digital audio stream on the Blu Ray disc.
 
The Blu Rays used were:
 
• Monsters Inc (DTS-HD MA)
• Quantum of Solace (DTS-HD MA)
• Twilight (True HD)
• The Dark Knight (True HD)
• The Matrix - (DTS-HD MA)
• Foo Fighters - Live at Wembley Stadium (LPCM, DD)
 
 
DVD

I listened to the following UK DVD's using Cyberlink PowerDVD. I listened in both headphone and surround mode. DVD's used:

• The Matrix (DTS)
• Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Dolby Digital)
• The Bourne Identity (DTS and Dolby Digital)
• Bowers & Wilkins - A Sound Experience
 

Sound Quality - Music (Digital Sound)

Digital Sound from the Asus HDAV 1.3 Slim was good quality and clear throughout all my listening. Using 192KHz PCM for music, the card output a plain un-fussy sound that had a good amount of detail in it. I've found PC sound cards can be a little lacking in bass detail using digital out but the HDAV 1.3 Slim didn't seem to suffer too much from this.
 
It's worth noting that the music quality from the card didn't have that something extra that was present in the Essence STX in bundles, and there to an slightly lesser extent in the Auzentech X-Fi Forte. Whilst the Burr Brown DACs in my Yamaha AV Receiver did make the sound full and detailed, the previously mentioned cards made music just that little bit more pleasant to listen to.

three little birds  lune  Slam  Sultans of Swing  Lapdance

 
Sound Quality - DVD's

MATRIX  LORD OF THE RINGS  BOURNE IDENTITY

With the Asus HDAV 1.3 Slim passing Dolby Digital or DTS sound straight into the Amp using ArcSoft TotalMedia Theatre, DVD is a good test of the card.
 
Sound quality on DVD was excellent. The card passed through the surround sound to the Amp perfectly and positioning was spot on. Explosions were big, shards of glass went flying around me and voices were clear.
 
 
Sound Quality - Blu Rays
 
monsters inc QoS twilightthe dark knight matrix foos
 
Now for the important bit and what you (most likely) have been waiting for.
 
Did the Asus HDAV 1.3 Slim pass High Definition audio, unaltered, to my High definition ready Av Receiver?
 
DTS-HD Master Audio  True HD
 
If you'd care to look at the two images above, top left corner, you'll see that the Amp was receiving proper unadulterated HD Audio. I even got a spare set of speakers hooked up to prove that 7.1 was present, where available on the discs and had no issues at all.
 
HD Audio is all it is cracked up to be with gorgeous sound positioning, spectacular back-pounding explosions and precise positional audio that really immerses you in the film 'experience'. Owning two stand-alone Blu Ray players and a PS3 I know how it should sound and am 100% confident that the Asus HDAV 1.3 Slim is doing nothing to the sound. Whilst that doesn't sound hugely impressive, it is exactly what the doctor ordered and exactly what the card is designed to do.
 
As such, the HDAV 1.3 slim gets top marks in the film part of this review, surpassing everything we have reviewed before.
 
 
Video Quality
 
The Asus HDAV 1.3 Slim also passes the HD picture to your monitor or TV via HDMI. It does this by taking the HDCP enabled picture from your graphics card via DVI-D, adding the audio and outputting all through an HDCP-enabled HDMI port.
 
To briefly test picture quality I simply compared the picture directly from the DVI-D port of my graphics card to the picture from the HDAV 1.3 Slim. I then input this into both the Panasonic TH-42PZ80B Plasma TV and my Dell 2407WFP LCD Monitor.
 
The picture signal was exactly the same when compared between the sources and screens, which is excellent. It is worth noting that it does take some of what can only be described as 'fiddling' to get the picture right from my graphics card onto the TV, but I got there in the end and it was worth it.
 
Fiddly
 
At this point I want to try and describe what I mean above by 'fiddly'. Getting music from the HDAV 1.3 Slim requires that the HDMI output from your graphics card is on. This means that for users like me who like to have the TV as a secondary source, your AV receiver must be on and the output enabled in the Nvidia (or ATI) control panels for the sound card to output audio.
 
Whilst this would not be an issue for a dedicated HTPC sound card, it does mean that if you wanted to listen to some music without a TV on, you'd have to set the sound playing, then switch off your TV, leaving your Amp on.
 
 
On a related note, being a purely digital card means that you MUST have a sound processor of some sort. This will not be an issue for those who are in the market for this card to use as an HTPC, but please note this if you are thinking of buying it in a more casual capacity.
 
 
Sound and Picture Quality Summary
 
The sound quality on the Asus HDAV 1.3 Slim really is very good. Music is detailed and clear with good depth, if lacking a little something added by the DACs of some previously reviewed cards.
 
Movie sound quality is fantastic and no matter what format you pass the sound into an external source, it is very good. Picture quality is also excellent and matches the source it is being taken from so no quarels there.


Asus Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim PCI Soundcard Page: 6
Conclusion
 
HDAVThe Asus HDAV 1.3 Slim has been an eagerly awaited sound card in the world of Audio-visual enthusiasts. Having one sound card that can process your HD Audio and your HD video and output over one HDMI connection is a true step forward for PC sound cards. Asus were almost there with the HDAV 1.3 Deluxe, but not quite.
 
The card has it's foibles, one of which is the fact that using a set of headphones means plugging a pair into your AV Receiver/ surround sound/speaker system's receiver. It also means that the most sensible way to get a microphone working on your HTPC is going to be via USB.
 
Those aside, Audio quality is above the rest in terms of the 'movie experience'. With HD audio bitstreaming and processing onboard, the HDAV 1.3 Slim is currently in a league of it's own. Music is also a pleasent experience and especially so if you have a high quality AV Receiver/Pre-Power combo combined with some top-notch speakers.
 
Again it's worth underlining that you won't get the best of the Asus HDAV 1.3 Slim unless you do have at least an entry level High Definition Amp or High Defition-Ready all-in-one.
 
Those facts aside, Asus deserve credit where it's due and an 'Innovation Award' goes to the HDAV 1.3 Slim for it's HD Audio performance, as well as a hearty OC3D 'Recommended' Award.
 
The Good
 
+ Fantastic high Def sound
+ Decent enough value for money
+ Good Music capability
+ Decent Form Factor
+ Decent bundle
 
The Mediocre
 
* PCI Interface a little out of date?
* A little fiddly
* Not the best gaming card out there
 
The Bad
 
- No analogue out
 
innovation recommended 
 
Thanks to Asus for supplying the review sample.
 
Going High-Def? Let us know here.