The Sweet Sound of Windows Vista


There has been a lot of talk lately about sound in Windows Vista.


Recently Robert Scoble talked with Steve Ball, Group Program Manager for the Windows Audio/Video Excellence Team regarding plans to hard-code the start-up sound played just before the OS is ready for the user to log on to their PC.  To elaborate: right before the log on screen appears in Windows Vista, an animation of the new Windows “orb” appears with a non-customizable start-up sound.  The idea behind this is that it will help the PC user know that their sound is working correctly, its current volume setting, and that the PC is prepped for music and video playback upon log-in.  The Xbox 360 does the same thing when it boots up — a hard-coded start-up sound.  Steve explains the idea in more detail at the above post.


Also:  Amir Majidimehr, a digital media expert and MS Corporate Vice President, explains audio processing in Windows Vista at the AV Science forum and details some cool changes coming in the Windows Vista sound stack.


Lastly, I should point you to this fantastic new whitepaper on the audio subsystem advances made in Windows Vista — it really does a excellent job of elaborating on many of the changes and new features that Amir mentions in his forum post.


Windows Vista is starting to sound better and better …


Comments (28)

  1. Anonymous says:

    There has been a lot of discussions around the net on the non-customizable and non-removable Windows Vista startup sound. Robert Scoble has a post that explains why the Vista team decided to design it…

  2. Mondsplitter says:

    I don’t know if I like this. I can remeber times when I forgot to regulate the sound intensity down after watching a DVD on my notebook on train-rides (with headset) – I always had to put it full intensity to understand what the actors were saying.

    You could proably guess my shock when I connected my notebook to the speakers at home – my ears nearly started to bleed.

    Otherwise I like the idea of a hard-coded start-up sound. But then please give us the possibility to deactivate all sounds on start-up or automatically adjust the volume  level to a toleralbe level (let the user decide what this level might be) – just as some car radio do.

  3. Jason Cox says:

    I’ve had the same issue with my laptop, and not having a scroll wheel to change the sound before the Desktop loads can be quite a headache.

    I’m looking forward to the new sounds though, from what I’ve hear already with some of the sounds in the newest build it’s gonna be awesome!

  4. DaWolf says:

    The idea of an uncustomizable sound at startup is very bad. The idea of anything being uncustomizable is very bad. People have different tastes and I believe many people will find this startup sound annoying as many people find the current Windows startup sound very annoying. At least in the XP world, we have the option to not have that sound play at startup and this functionality should continue in Vista. Please, please, please reconsider. Thanks.

  5. SteveBall says:

    Mondsplitter : "I don’t know if I like this. I can remeber times when I forgot to regulate the sound intensity down after watching a DVD on my notebook on train-rides (with headset) – I always had to put it full intensity to understand what the actors were saying.   You could proably guess my shock when I connected my notebook to the speakers at home – my ears nearly started to bleed."

    Hey Mondsplitter – there will be no bleeding ears for Windows Vista users.  For starters, all of the new system sounds, including the new Pearl Animation ‘Windows Vista Sound’ that plays on cold boot are all leveled to be ‘comfortable’ compared to standard DVD playback.  

    They will seem ‘quiet’ compared to Redbook mastering standards and compared to the XP sounds.  This is intentional, and you can already get a flavor for this in the beta builds if you listen to the new LUA sound or the logon and logoff sounds.  

    The timbres (orchestrations, the ‘sound’ of the new sounds) is also much more subtle than the ‘literal’ XP sound set was.    

    But you’ll see for yourselves soon — at RTM!

    * * *

  6. SteveBall says:

    DaWolf: "The idea of an uncustomizable sound at startup is very bad. The idea of anything being uncustomizable is very bad."

    Hey DaWolf – I’m not sure anyone who has designed a product would agree with this opinion.  For a designer, there are certain elements that are inherently tied to the identity of the product — in Windows Vista, there are not many of these, but there are a few essential elements that are not meant to be ‘customized’ by the end user.  

    The Windows Vista brand elements (which this sound is a part of) is included in this list of essential elements that are not intended to be customized.  

    While this may be a controversial idea for power users who are used to the idea that every pixel, every element in the OS is meant for customization, this is a core value that is important to the design and marketing teams.

    I also believe the hype and fear about the supposed intrusiveness of this sound and alleged inability to ‘control’ this sound, while perhaps understandable given current  experiences with XP, is unnecessary.

    This idea itself has certainly touched an emotional nerve for a number of people in the beta newsgroups, in Scoble’s comments, and even internally at Microsoft.

    The jury is still out on a final decision, however, I’ve now collected a compelling set of scenarios that I’ll be presenting to the Windows Vista leadership team to consider for an RTM compromise.  

    * * *

  7. Jonas says:

    For me this has nothing to do with being a power user or not, and everything to do with being able to avoid disturbing other people.  When I’m at a lecture, at a conference or in any other public place, I want to be able to start my laptop without annoying anyone else. If I forgot to completely turn off sound last time I used it (listening to music at home or watching a movie) I’ll simply have to avoid the computer until I can get to a suitable location where I can turn it on, listen to the sound, log in, mute the sound (using the software-only controls), put the computer to sleep again and finally walk back…

  8. SteveBall says:

    Jonas:  "…being able to avoid disturbing other people."

    This is a valid and important concern, Jonas.    However, you may be misunderstanding how subtle this new sound and default level will be based upon XP.

    Also, like your cellphone ringing sound, you are still in 100% control of the volume and mute state of your machine.  

    If you forget to turn off your ringer on your cellphone, same situation.  

    My own belief is that most users will adapt (and have already adapted in mobile situations) and keep their volume set to "low" or mute until they have something to listen to.    

    This is really not that hard to do today, even with loud and annoying XP sounds.

    However, it is not ideal for those who wish for 100% customization or for those who NEVER wish to hear a UI sound.  

    But the RTM experience is also very very far from the "unmutable" rumors that have been spreading in the blogs and press.

    I just posted a number of responses to questions in the Longhorn beta newsgroups.   The climax of my latest post:

    "It may simply be the ‘best’ compromise to give everyone the potential to have a 100% silent boot without thinking or interacting in advance.    

    And, for the record this (reg key for RTM) is going to be my personal recommendation."

    * * *

  9. war59312 says:

    NOOOOO!

    I hate the darn startup sound. Pisses me off. I have all sounds disabled, included startup sound so there should be none. Playing one anyways is just, wrong!!!

    Please dont do this!

  10. hswear3 says:

    First of all I want to express my appreciation to Steve Ball (Product Manager of WAVE – Windows Audio Video Excellence) for being the good guy here.

    Not only did Steve take the time away from his enormous efforts getting Vista to RTM, he took the time to personally interact with the community. And he kept his cool and _listened_ while some of us (myself included) closed our minds.

    Thanks Steve.

    Now this part is for those of you are _really_ bothered by the old XP Startup sound in builds 5742 and 5536. I’ve listed the steps necessary to remove this sound from these builds on my blog:

    http://vistahacks.wordpress.com

    This information will probably NOT work for RC1. And the directions assume a certain level of technical expertise in NTFS permissions. They also require that you download and install a utility program. You will be modifying a SYSTEM file.

    "AS-IS." No warranty expressed or implied. And not for the timid.

    Herbert

  11. someone says:

    To Microsoft and Steve Ball, please reconsider this issue or better, simply ask the community, the users:

    Please understand that this isn’t just about customizability, it’s about using computers in places like hospitals, libraries, onboard flights, when someone’s sleeping, or simply for privacy without distraction. Again, I’m requesting that you please reconsider, or ask the users.

    At least a registry value, so only power users would be able to change it. PLEASE.

  12. someone says:

    By the way, is playback of WMA supported by the kernel in Vista like WAV audio?

  13. SteveBall says:

    Someone: "By the way, is playback of WMA supported by the kernel in Vista like WAV audio?"

    System sounds in Windows Vista are (like XP) only PCM WAV files.  We considered moving to WMA files for system sounds and realized the benefit was small (relative to the cost: decompression, more kernel changes, test hit.)

    In the end, the perceived user benefit of moving to WMA (and/or MP3) formats is neglibible.    

    It also turns out that using 16-bit, 44.1kHz, stereo WAV files enables better system perf than compressed (or lower bit rate) system sounds because we don’t have to do SRC and/or decompress data every time we play, say, a new mail sound.  

    * * *  

  14. Lone Shepherd says:

    ————-

    My own belief is that most users will adapt (and have already adapted in mobile situations) and keep their volume set to "low" or mute until they have something to listen to.

    ————-

    That’s absurd.  The continuing goal of computing is to adapt to the user, not the other way around.

    If I don’t want to hear a startup sound, I should be able to disable it.  I shouldn’t have to mute the system sound.

    I don’t need a hard-coded startup sound to know if my sound is working correctly or what the sound level is.  I can load up a video or mp3 and find that out, and then adjust as needed.

    I understand you want to have the boot sound seperate from the sound themes, but it needs to be optional.  Put a checkbox on the boot properties dialog, or something.

  15. DCMonkey says:

    It is my understanding that the sound in question only plays when coming up from an actual reboot (that’s the only time I’ve ever seen the orb animation) and will not play if you just wake from sleep mode. If that’s the case I don’t think it will be a big deal if my experience with Beta 2 hold true. I rarely booted Beta 2 and instead put it to sleep every night. With the sleep button so prominently located on the start menu I think this will be the way most people "shut down" with Vista. I know it will be for me.

    That same goes for my Mac Mini, which also has a hard coded boot sound.

  16. SEALen says:

    I don’t care if you can customize the sound at startup only that you can turn it off. This is cos I work as a tester in a QA department. We reboot our computers many times during the day in the lab and having to hear that sound over and over again (not only from the computers you are using but your colueges computers too) will probably drive us compleatly nuts. Making us having to check for some third party hacks that will disable it (oh you can be sure that there will be these hacks if you make it a mandatory sound even if it’s in the core).

    This will be bad for everyone since having to rely on third party hacks is not a good idea but what can you do when there is no other way from going insane.

  17. angrykeyboarder says:

    There has been lots of talk about this and none of it positive.  I hope you folks come to your senses before Vista goes gold.

    That is of course, unless you like alienating users.

    And you think Vista is sounding better?  Well not if you own the immensely popular SoundBlaster Audigy 2 card (it’s been around for a number of years now).  You get ZILCH sound from Vista (at least in pre-RC1 that is).

  18. SteveBall says:

    angrykeyboarder: "And you think Vista is sounding better?  Well not if you own the immensely popular SoundBlaster Audigy 2 card (it’s been around for a number of years now).  You get ZILCH sound from Vista (at least in pre-RC1 that is)."

    * * *

    Hey angrykeyboarder – some have asked why this allegedly simple task of providing a way to disable the cold-boot sound is low priority for us.  You have actually hit a  nail on the head with this comment about your Audigy driver issues.

    Fixing Hardware and application compatibility issues are the most important issues to fix as we push to RTM.  

    FYI, your Audigy issue is not strictly a Windows Vista problem.  

    Creative Labs is still working on their Windows Vista drivers (and will be until RTM.)  We do not ship their drivers in box, although their Windows Vista beta drivers are available here:

    http://us.creative.com/support/downloads/

    http://us.creative.com/support/downloads/download.asp?MainCategory=1&sOSName=Windows+Vista+32-bit&region=1&Product_Name=Audigy+2&Product_ID=149&modelnumber=&driverlang=1033&OS=26&drivertype=0&x=26&y=9

    * * *

    Why are these audio driver issues so complicated?

    There are currently unique PnP IDs (device serial numbers that let us tell which device is which) for over 19,000 audio devices that work with Windows today – and there are often multiple custom drivers that work for each PnP ID.  

    Many of these devices with "unique" IDs are wired differently to the various input an output jacks on your PC – this means, in some cases, Windows has no idea how your motherboard or device is wired unless you have exactly the driver that was customized and shipped with the hardware when you bought it.  

    Translation: getting your XP audio drivers to work on a CLEAN install of Windows Vista is not easy because you may have to go find the original custom driver from the OEM who wired and shipped your motherboard, or go the the manufacturer of your hardware to get their Windows Vista (beta) drivers.  

    This is a known pain-point for Windows Vista beta testers, and it is one reason we’re moving to a class driver model for audio devices.  

    It is also one reason why we do not generally recommend ‘clean installs’ for Windows Vista.  If you clean install, many custom applets or drivers may be lost and some custom functionality that was built-in by your OEM may not work as it did on XP.  

    If you do an ‘upgrade’ from XP to Windows Vista, your drivers should migrate and just work.  

    If you ‘upgrade’ and your drivers do not work, this is a bug to report back to MS and/or back to the manufacturer of your hardware.  

    Also, in some cases, you also have to update your BIOS to make your audio devices work with Windows Vista.  

    The BIOS story is an even longer and more complex, which I’m happy to share if anyone wishes to go deeper.

    * * *

  19. streaky says:

    I love the idea of home room correction, remains to be seen how good it is in reality, but conceptually, I like it.

    Presume all this stuff is in RC1? 😀

  20. jll544 says:

    Speaking of Vista sound, where did Sound Device Roles go?  In the betas I could send different audio types to different outputs, but this seems to be missing from RC1?

  21. SteveBall says:

    jll544: " Speaking of Vista sound, where did Sound Device Roles go?  In the betas I could send different audio types to different outputs, but this seems to be missing from RC1? "

    * * *

    Good question, JLL544:  you are the first person (that I’ve heard from) who has really noticed this change.  This is, in itself, a measure of the ‘readiness’ of this feature.

    The short version is that we scaled back the ‘Audio Roles’ feature just before RC1 after studying feedback from B2.

    The primary feedback: roles may be useful for some, but they also cause confusing, non-trivial interactions with the Desktop Volume control.  

    We scaled back to an implementation in RC1 that is exactly parallel to what exists in XP for audio device defaults: there is a single default device that is user-controlled.

    This single default device is what is shown in the Desktop Volume control.  

    To illustrate:

    If you assigned your 5.1 speakers as your ‘Entertainment’ role and your laptop speakers as your ‘Console’ role, what should happen when you hit your ‘mute’ button (via HID or remote control?)

    In the previous design, the mute would only be routed to your Console device — and yet, it may be the music stream that you intended to mute.  How do we let users know what is going on here with these multi-device scenarios?  

    I hope we can bring this back in our next release with a better, integrated, multi-device Volume Control story.

    Hope this helps provide some context.

    * * *

  22. phostenix says:

    I’m actually excited about the changes in Vista, although I think the transistion will be somewhat painful.

    Include me in the group that would like the option to disable a startup sound. I use my laptop in many places where I need a silent startup.

    Steve,

    It appears from what I’m reading that apps like Adobe Premier & drivers for things like Matrox capture cards will all need to be re-written for Vista. Is that an accurate assesment?

  23. SteveBall says:

    phostenix:  "It appears from what I’m reading that apps like Adobe Premier & drivers for things like Matrox capture cards will all need to be re-written for Vista. Is that an accurate assesment? "

    Quick answer: no.  

    There are actually two questions here:

    1. Adobe Premier (and all apps) – it is our mission to provide complete XP app comapt for Windows Vista.  If your app installed and worked on XP, our mission is that it will also work on Windows Vista.   That said, part of why it is so hard to ship an OS like Windows Vista is that this goal of 100% app compat is very very hard to achieve when driver models, APIs, security models, app models, shell, and UI have all changed (for the better) since XP.

    2. Same is true for XP hardware compat.    Regarding Matrox Capture cards – I have no idea.   Some drivers do not (easily) migrate to Windows Vista, for numerous reasons.  I have no idea which specific Matrox drivers will migrate and work or not, but I know the PM who knows for sure and can easily fwd specific questions if you have them.  

    Howver, there is one guarantee: if you do a clean install, all of your custom XP drivers that your OEM shipped with your original system will disappear and you will have to fall back on the CDs that shipped with your hardware or go searching (with crossed fingers) for the original drivers on your HW vendors web site.    

    If you do an ‘upgrade’ most of your drivers should migrate — and some may not due to driver bugs, security issues, or our bugs in Windows Vista.  Our goal is to eliminate the latter asap and get Windows Vista out the door.

    Next time someone asks why it is so hard to get Windows Vista out the door quickly, just remember this simple phrase:  "App and Device compat for 500M diverse machine configs."

    Also, for those of you who have been digesting the 360+ comments over on Scoble, or enjoying the 780+ over on slashdot (Captina Kumbaya!) I’ll have a significant update on this issue later this week or early next.

    * * *

       

  24. phostenix says:

    Steve,

    Specifically, the new Matrox RT.X2 capture cards.

    Since these machines I build are new builds, clean installs are all I do. I watched a channel 9 video about the changes to how device drivers are implemented in Vista. It sounded like a whole new world. Can you give a short answer as to how backward compatibility is being done?