Microsoft Enters PC Audio Market

Software giant Microsoft Corporation has entered the audio market with a satellite-and-subwoofer speaker system for use with personal computers. The Digital Sound System 80 made its debut at this year's Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3), held May 28-30 in Atlanta's World Congress Center. The system was designed in conjunction with Philips Electronics NV of the Netherlands, one of the world's largest electronics companies.

"Digital Sound System 80 will bring PC users sound more like the audio quality they've come to expect from high-end home audio systems," stated an MS press release. The 80W, three-piece PC audio system includes two satellite speakers and a subwoofer with built-in digital amplifiers. The system accepts both digital and analog inputs, and works with the Universal Serial Bus (USB)-compatible Windows 98 operating system, non-USB systems, and non-PC entertainment systems. D/A conversion takes place inside the amplifier modules rather than within the computer, thereby maintaining the best signal-to-noise ratio.

"Sound is an increasingly important part of the PC experience---and often the most overlooked,'' said Richard Brudvik-Lindner, product manager for Digital Sound System 80 at Microsoft. "With multimedia developers using positional sounds and other audio effects to add drama and realism to games, music, and simulations, good speakers become increasingly important to enjoying everyday computing.''

Microsoft---which until recently claimed to have no interest in manufacturing hardware---is "applying its experience . . . to help create a new category: high-quality, high-fidelity digital PC sound," according to the press release. "Microsoft combines its expertise with Philips Electronics, a recognized leader in digital audio and USB technology, to design its best-in-class PC audio system . . . maximum bass response and a smooth, rich sound, whether using an analog or a digital signal. Full digital audio is possible in PCs for the first time, thanks to USB, a two-way communications link that lets users connect devices to PCs without reconfiguring any software."

The system uses USB to carry not only audio control signals, but the audio signal itself. Audio can be customized using a software-based 10-band programmable graphic equalizer, which allows listeners to create and save personalized sound profiles. Microsoft Digital Sound System 80 is said to "simulate a home-theater-like sense of audio immersion with standard stereo sound sources, such as an audio CD or game soundtrack, and it uses Microsoft Surround Sound to decode true surround sound in games and CD-ROMs that feature it." Users will need a PC running the MS-DOS operating system version 5.0 or higher, or the Microsoft Windows 3.x or higher operating system, and a Sound Blaster-compatible audio board with a MIDI-enabled game port. Microsoft Digital Sound System 80 is scheduled to be available in fall 1998 with an estimated retail price of $259.95.