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Saturday, May 16, 2009
Exploring VoIP Equipment
[ZOMBiE CyGiG] ranted at 7:09 PM --- Post#6795994884116291921

Lan Gaming

Though my years of gaming, I find that multiplayer games are best played with people that you know.

1. Playing with many players online that you dun know
2. Playing with only one player online that you know, the rest may be bots.

In the above two situations. I find myself enjoying 2 much more than 1. Of course, the best situation is where you get a group of friends you know and start a LAN party. But how often do you get a chance to organise one?

LAN Shop sounds like a good idea, but more than often I find their PC,IO devices, range of games, environment and cost not up to standard to deliver a smooth and shiok game play. I used to play at LAN shop in Bedok, all their P3 can handle is CD 1.6 and WC3. The cost is only 90c per hour, so I dun have much to complain. For a few more dollars, you get better specs in other shop. Despite that, many of them still faces problems like faulty speakers/headset, spoilt mouse missing keys, buggy installation and management of games and OS, high price etc. Most of them dun offer good mouse and keyboard too. Occasionally, gangs of ah beng will come in and disturb people.

So I fall back to hosting games at home, and get my friends to connect to me either thru a VPN or a password protected MMO server. And one of the most important thing, as we aint next to each other, is communication. I think i enojoy scolding and cursing my friend during the game more than anything else, maybe second to chitchatting during low key times in game.

Exploring VoIP Equipment

I tested out several VoIP equipment configuration.

I do not like to use my speakers for my friend's voice during VoIP and gaming because most of the time their voice will be drowned or mixed up with the game's sound.

I do not like to use headphones for game sound as I find it fatiguing and hot after several hours of gaming, also it becomes a troublesome when it comes to switching sources and storage. I tested on ESW9, RX700, KSC75, PX100 as well as iem TripleFi and PL30.

Brief: Configure a set of VoIP equipment that would allow smooth communication during gaming.

- Able to filter out most of sound coming from my speakers
- Able to hear my friend well even when my game sound is loud
- Overall voice quality must be acceptable, audiophile quality is not required though
- Easy to manage, maintain and store
- Able to stop public broadcasting just in case your mom steps into your room and your friend is cursing
- Cost around $50 or less

Config 1: Cheapo headset
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An old headset i bought from SLS for $2-$4. It has a straight forward usage, I hook the green plug to my front audio out (independent from the back panel audio out for my speakers) and the red to my mic in. Its not very comfortable so i added a foamie to the earphone, which drastically improve comfort. It hooks well onto my ear. The wires gets tangled to my chair's armrest most of the time.

Config 2: Bluetooth headset
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A bluetooth dongle for PC and a Nokia bluetooth headset. My dongle came without any drivers. And getting one for PC is quite a pain. I tried Toshiba's bluetooth stack and when i use Skype, the audio became only noise and static. I have to get BlueSoleil software for the audio to get working, which added quite some features that I dun use, as well as an additional application to load during startup. And it turn out that the sound quality was still pretty bad, audible with lots of drop outs and noises. Im surprised as I used the same headset for my Nokia phone and the sound quality was much better. Probably changing a dongle would help. The dongle cost me around $10 from Challenger and the headset ~$40.

Config 3: Stand Mic + Mini Speakers headset
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The first pic shows a $15 mic i ordered from dealextreme. It has some raving reviews saying its records voice much better than other VoIP headset, thus i decided to give it a try.

The second pic shows a pair of Phillips SPA3250. Its a portable speaker system. The speakers can run passively, or, u can make use of the amplifier (bottom pic) given to drive it. The amplifier takes either 4xAAA batteries or USB power.

They cost as much as it looks. The speakers costed me $39 and mic $15, making it a whopping $54. That dun include the $2.60 mic foam.

The microphone is indeed sensitive. With "Microphone Boost" enabled, it can capture all nuances of sound from my room. Sounds good? NO!!! It means it will also capture the noise from my personal fan and PC fan, as well as the sound from my speaker. All these are to be avoided during a VoIP session. The foam dun help much. The mic is much better without boost, but then I would need to be shouting for the other party to hear me clearly as this mic would be placed far away (as compared to the headset) from me.

Note that this set of speakers is connected to my independent front audio out, meaning to say its produce only sound of my friend's voice, while my main speakers produce the game sound. The speakers works, but setting it up is another trouble altogether. My desk is miserably cluttered, and my USB ports are mostly used up. I could buy a USB wall adapter but its going to be another $15 for a good one. Soon, I realised that the other part's voice is still not quite loud enough. And more importantly, it got mixed up together with the game's sound.

Believe it or not, end of the day, I kept all my equipment and chose the cheapo headset.

The bluetooth headset's audio quality is simply no good. Not to mention u got to send it for frequent charge and re-charge. Probably a headset and dongle that supports Bluetooth Advanced Audio would improve the SQ, but I doubt it will be cheap.

The Mic+Speaker combo proves to have much more cons than pros. The mic seems to be omni directional and its sensitivity captured all the undesired ambient sound. The speakers, even at its loudest volume, dun seem to be loud enough to maintain audibility under complex game music. The noises/mic-ed in game sound from the my friend's mic mixed up with my game's sound and become a form of distraction. Not to mention its pretty expensive and add in a few more connection point to my cluttered system. The good part is it makes a good VoIP system when u aint gaming. U can be lying on your bed or somewhere else in your room while talking to your friend, as the mic will pick your voice up form every corner of the room and with no other sound source, the speakers will provide adequate volume.

And our winner, the cheapo headset, seems to tackle the cons of the other two config. First of all, it has a unsensitive mic, meaning it will not pick up much ambient sound. Being unidirectional, and placed just next to your mouth, it will record your voice with no problem. It dun have awesome recording quality, but not far from stand mic (it actually isnt as good as it was reviewed) for voice, and its way better than the bluetooth headset. And having the earphone right next to your eardrums means you will be able to hear your friend loud and clear. Since it dun have a good seal and the earphone is mono sided, game sound from my speakers can still reach me. I can differentiate sound from my game and noise/voice from my friend very well becos the speakers would have a much wider sound stage than the earphone. Its like listening to bookshelves speakers VS listening to IEM, even if they are on par in SQ, u can tell which is which right away due to the difference in distance and area the sound drivers are placed.

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