Feature: 'Next-Gen Audio Square-Off: PlayStation 3 vs. Xbox 360'

Next-gen's about more than graphics -- in this discussion on the audio capabilities of Microsoft and Sony's respective consoles, leaders from both camps talk about the m
Next-gen's about more than graphics -- in this discussion on the audio capabilities of Microsoft and Sony's respective consoles, leaders from both camps talk about the most interesting audio features their systems offer and how developers are using that technology. Brian Schmidt, head of the Xbox audio team and one of the mind's behind the Xbox 360's overall audio system architecture, believes that one of the system's most important features that developers are taking advantage of is XMA, its compressed audio format: "Every game uses it, and it's the primary audio format for the Xbox 360. It lets you store between eight and 10 times as much audio into memory. That makes a HUGE difference what a sound designer can deliver. I also found Halo 3's use of the Waves technologies very cool, and we're excited to have partnered with them. Actually, one of the 'most interesting features' that has been used is just the fact that, aside from XMA, we've moved to an easily programmable software audio architecture. I've seen some games do some amazing things because they could just write some C code, either for DSP effects, 3D or entire audio engines. It really has unleashed a lot of creativity in my opinion." Naughty Dog audio programmer Jonathan Lanier countered with five different advantages that the studios saw with the PlayStation 3 while working on audio reproduction for Uncharted: Drake's Fortune: "First, the fact that the PS3 has HDMI 8-channel PCM outputs means that we could play all our audio in 5.1/7.1 on an HDMI system with no recompression, which sounds completely awesome. Second, for those without HDMI who must use bitstream audio, we had the ability to support DTS, which is very high fidelity. Third, we are guaranteed that each PS3 has a hard drive, so we could dynamically cache important sounds and streams to the hard drive to guarantee full performance, even without requiring an installation. Fourth, the Blu-ray disc storage was immense, which meant that we did not have to reduce the sampling rate of our streaming audio or overcompress it, and we never ran out of space even given the massive amount of dialog in Uncharted (in multiple languages, no less). Fifth, the power of the Cell meant that we had a lot of power to do as much audio codec and DSP as we needed to. Since all audio is synthesized in software on the PS3 with the Cell processor, there's really no limit to what can be done." You can read the full feature on next-generation audio experiences and architectures, which includes more insight from Schmidt and Lanier, along with interviews with SCEA audio director Gene Semel and Halo 3 composer Marty O'Donnell.

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