Posted Wed Jul 2, 2014 at 11:43 PM PDT by Brian Hoss
Top of the line Turtle Beach models getting DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound.
At this year's E3, there was one thing abundantly clear, gaming headsets are no longer an afterthought. Flashback four years ago, and I was surprised to find a AAA game developer that was using uniform aftermarket headsets in their playtesting. At the time, the idea that all of their multiplayer gameplay tuning was done with a popular aftermarket headset and not the bundled 360 headset (or mix of random developer chosen headsets) was initially surprising, but it was hard to argue with the experience. Fast forward to this year's E3 and nearly every hands-on demo had a quality headset ($100+). This was most obvious at LAN-like multiplayer set-ups, but Ubisoft even used headsets for audiences in their theater demonstrations.
With so many headsets on display and in use, there were quite a few headset manufacturers with displays at the show. For the end user who ultimately is driving the demand for headsets, and who holds no regard for the mono earpiece included with PS4, this means options, and this means features.
Where mobile earbuds and headphones have trended heavily into a vast sea of Apple earbuds, Beats Audio, and Bose clones, gaming headsets are being packed with emerging technologies and cutting edge features driven by a choosy user base.
Turtle Beach is a leader in the field, and in 2014 the company will introduce three products from their line-up meant to ensure that the company remains at the forefront.
The three products include a wireless PS4 focused headset, the Elite 800, (check out the Elite 800 review here) a wireless Xbox One focused headset, the Ear Force Stealth 500X, and awired PC headset, the Ear Force Z60 (check out the Z60 review here). Naturally, these products have a feature set a mile long, but where they are unique in the field is in that they carry native DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound capabilities. A fourth product, not expected until next year, is the Elite Tournament Audio Controller, which will see DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound become a mainstay for tournament play.
Up to now, headset surround technology, which is as important in competitive gaming as it is anywhere, has been limited in console gaming to only Dolby playback. This proved to be an issue last year, pre-'Titanfall,' when Dolby Digital Surround was not available at launch on the Xbox One. Fortunately, that issue, much like the delayed Xbox One headset adapter issue, has been addressed. Yet, as I emphasized in the opening, players want options.
While there are dozens of console gaming headsets on the market and in the pipeline, (Turtle Beach alone already has five Xbox One focused models), it's taken until this year for a proper DTS option to become available. The upside is that through the use of DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound and via a design collaboration between DTS and Turtle Beach, these new Turtle Beach headsets are poised to offer a new level of headset gaming surround sound.
DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound
DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound is one of DTS' more interesting technologies. It's a technology meant to be a step forward from conventional surround to stereo headphone solutions, and it's designed to scale with the user's equipment. DTS has derived the technology from time spent studying surround sound in various theater and living room applications, and replicating that sound in a headphone form. The tech is meant to be useful with any set of earphones, but the audible payoff, a 3D sound field, is better reached by using headphones designed and tuned with DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound in mind.
From David Lowey, Turtle Beach,
A big advantage with DTS Headphone:X is what our audio engineers can do with speaker angles to create a very immersive, realistic soundscape for gaming.
Most surround sound mixes put the center channel about 8 feet in front of the listener perceptually, which is the default for TV and Film because the dialogue is coming from the screen. With a first person shooter and many other game genres, much of the center channel audio comes from the player's character. The sound of their feet in the snow, their own voice, their inbound radio, gunshots, the sound of spent cartridges being ejected from the gun, etc. With DTS Headphone:X we pull the center channel in towards the players' midsection. And for the first time we can adjust the height of audio, so we tilt the center channel up. Then we take the rear channels, move them up, and then angle them down because in a first-person shooter you spend a lot of your time crouching or prone.
Because the DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound tech is too new to be a native part of the new consoles, these first generation DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound headsets utilize Dolby transcoding within the consoles. (The wired Z60 has its own USB DAC.) That transcoded signal is then transcoded again into DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound through an intermediary like the Turtle Beach headset base receiver, Elite Tournament Audio Controller (due out in 2015), or the Z60's DAC. (Future models will work off of DTS from the beginning). DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound is the default way in which the headsets reproduce sound, and it's a core feature likely to spread to much of the Turtle Beach product line.
And while gaming is emphasized, the surround pay-off extends to other areas. The headsets also have a mix of surround sound and preset modes designed by Turtle Beach and DTS for both different audio mediums, like music and movies, as well as different kinds of games.
Our presets for music address a common problem with many surround sound mixes -- when applied to music it often does not sound natural because it places the listener on the stage, surrounded by the instruments. Our sound engineers considered how to address this and decided the best place for the listener was in the fifth row.
Should the user be watching 'The Dark Knight' on Blu-ray, which is encoded in Dolby TrueHD 5.1, the Turtle Beach receiver can still derive a surround signal to send wirelessly to the headset.
No matter the source, once the multichannel audio is decompressed we can then run it through the DTS algorithms.
Now the discerning reader may have noted that though DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound is too new to be a native part of the PS4 and Xbox One, (and as confirmed by DTS would be a resource -intensive to try to add to the systems via software), the dedicated DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound circuitry expected in future Turtle Beach headsets would seem like an ideal addition for future A/V receivers and sound bars. After all, the tech is designed to work with all headphones, and users could then choose to opt for DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound models to pair with their AVRs. But as I stated in the opening, Turtle Beach is on the cutting edge, and already has the tech working wirelessly.
The HDMI Question
While Turtle Beach console headsets are currently tied into using optical pass-through, the company is still looking for ways to jump to HDMI, but without introducing hand-shaking issues or a prohibitive price point. Meanwhile, a product like the Turtle Beach Elite 800, as detailed below, is packed with the company's latest features. DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound is just the one of the many features in these three new headsets.
Lots of Notable Features
The two console headsets and the Elite Tournament Audio Controller have auxiliary phone connections, for both taking calls while still using the headset for gaming or for just pairing with a mobile device on its own. The Ear Force Stealth 500X and the Ear Force Z60 can adjust chat volume on the fly to keep in step with variable volume game audio. They also have detachable mics and utilize a time-tested form factor, certain to hold up under an array of usage conditions.
Ear Force Z60
The Ear Force Z60 has its own USB DAC, which makes it easy to hook up to any PC. It also features 60mm drivers, which are pretty impressive statwise considering the $119.95 price. The Ear Force Z60 can adjust chat volume on the fly to keep in step with variable volume game audio. It also has a detachable mic and utilizes a time-tested form factor, certain to hold up under an array of usage conditions.
The Ear Force Stealth 500X
The Ear Force Stealth 500X retains almost all of the features of the Z60, but drops the USB DAC and the 60mm drivers (it has wireless friendly 50mm drivers) in favor of a wireless experience, and checks in at $229.95. The 500X can be hooked up to a phone using a cable, but when it comes to the Xbox One, the headset completely eschews the controller. The wireless receiver uses USB for chat audio and optical (pass through) for game audio, allowing the user to be wire free. It has more sophisticated DTS presets as well. Like the Z60, it's a combination of new DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound and the most refined current Turtle Beach headset features.
The Elite Tournament Audio Controller
The Elite Tournament Audio Controller is a new version of the XP Seven Tournament Audio Controller that was used all over E3. Among its many TAC features, the Elite Tournament Audio Controller adds DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound to the PS4, PS3, 360 , PC and Macs while also outputting a separate audio set just for streaming or recording.
Finally, the Elite 800, while sharing some key features with the other two headsets, is loaded with everything but the kitchen sink. It has a form factor that's sleeker than what we're used to seeing from Turtle Beach. The clean look extends to the buttons and to the combination charging cradle and wireless receiver. It also extends to the dual invisible mics located in the ear pieces.
Beyond the Dynamic Chat Boost, which can keep chat volume above in-game sounds like explosions, the headset's active noise cancellation means not one but two kinds of noise cancellation.
The first is what people most associate with noise cancellation, blocking out persistent external sounds so the listener does not hear them. The second way we implement noise cancellation is in the microphone, making sure those external sounds -- for example a vacuum cleaner in the next room -- don't get transmitted through the microphone over chat.
The Elite 800 hosts DTS Surround sound modes (like the 500X) and genre-specific presets (like the Z60), but it also supports custom presets. Turtle Beach can design a new game-specific preset which the user then swaps into the Elite 800 using a companion app.
In addition the main wireless PS4 and PS3 support, the Elite 800 can be cabled to a phone, tablet or Vita, but Turtle Beach has also added Bluetooth capabilities. The thinking being that audio, gaming, entertainment, calls, etc. on a Vita, tablet, or phone should be done using Bluetooth. This amalgam of tech represents the Turtle Beach Elite and is priced at $299.95.
The Turtle Beach Elite 800 and Ear Force Stealth 500X are due in the fall, while the Ear Force Z60 is coming in early September. We'll have more on these products and on DTS Headphone:X 7.1 surround sound when we've had more hands-on time. I for one can't wait to get beyond the demos and clock some serious everyday usage.
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