Subject: General Tech | November 3, 2015 - 09:22 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: sound blaster 16, Sound Blaster, pc gaming, Creative, audio, ad lib
About two weeks ago, we highlighted a video by “The 8-Bit Guy” about the earliest computer audio implementations. It focused on the engineering side, how a series of channels, made up of square waves, triangles waves, noise, and occasionally PCM recordings, could be mixed to generate sound.
This video discusses a similar era from a slightly different perspective. Beep is a documentary video and book series that started on Kickstarter. This segment is an interview with Rich Heimlich, the person behind the company Top Star. They did third-party QA for video game companies. He was approached by Martin Prevel, a professor at Université Laval in Quebec, who had the idea of an add-in sound card. It used the Yamaha YM3812 sound chip, which you might remember from The 8-Bit Guy's video.
The interview delves into the more business aspects of the industry, though. For example, one of Ad Lib's biggest issues was that PCs did not have a lot of room for expansion. It was difficult to convince the consumer to give up a whole ISA add-in slot for audio. Heimlich remembers a strong consumer backlash against dedicated audio that they needed to overcome. Gamers needed to choose between sound, clock, storage, and so forth. Beyond that, the PC, with software like LOTUS 123, brought hardware that wasn't just considered “a toy” into the home. It brought a huge wave of hardware in, but it wasn't considered a serious gaming platform until titles like Myst came out for them.
At some point, Creative noticed this whole situation. They contacted Rich Heimlich and showed them the “Killer” (later “Sound Blaster”) card. The switch in power from Ad Lib to Creative was interesting, which Heimlich says had nothing to do with the digital audio feature, since that was not even used until two years after Creative surpassed Ad Lib in market share. He attributes it to the initial problem, which is a lack of add-in card real estate. The Sound Blaster had a GamePort, which let users justify filling that socket with both audio and a joystick port, which would be two sockets with Ad Lib's solution. It was also cheaper than the Ad Lib.
The interview goes on to discuss the Ad Lib vs Creative war to their next-generation product, Ad Lib Gold vs Sound Blaster 16. He alleges that, since Creative had better connections within Yamaha, they kept Ad Lib's card out of certification until Sound Blaster 16 was in the market. It then continues to talk about reverse-engineering “Sound Blaster-compatible” and so forth. It then continues for a while, even talking about OS/2 at the end of it.
It is definitely worth a view.