Surround sound is an important part of DVD movies and the uptake of full surround sound in computer games is increasing. Most soundcards and even integrated sound systems on a motherboard have support for 5.1 surround sound audio, and yet many systems are used with 2.1 speaker systems or with stereo headphones.
A form of faked surround sound is available for stereo playback such as Dolby Digital, which subtly modulates and manipulates the stereo output to mimic the effects of multiple speakers. While this can work reasonably well, nothing actually beats having sound effects coming at your ears from disparate speakers.
Unlike normal headphones, the HitVideoLab headphones actually come with multiple speakers. Each cup features four speakers -- front, rear, centre and a subwoofer -- which make up a full head-worn 5.1 surround sound speaker setup. The subwoofer speaker can vibrate heavily to give more of a physical bass feedback, though we found it was best suited to just pumping out the proper low-frequencies.
The system is more than headphones though, as there's a powered amplifier for routing the audio signals and adjusting volume. This secondary box contains analog 3.5mm stereo ports for the six channels, plus an additional six channel auxiliary input. If there's a drawback with the connectors it's that there is no provision for digital audio input, which means you need a soundcard or DVD player with analog channel outputs. Still, the headphones come with plenty of cables and RCA-to-3.5mm jack adaptors to make it compatible with most hardware.
We tested the card on a PC equipped with a Creative Labs Audigy 2 Platinum Pro ZS sound card. The audio quality is good, and the surround sound itself once calibrated is not bad. The centre channel is a little too loud, and the rear channel doesn't distinctly come from your rear but from just behind your ears, but it does a good job. Thankfully the headphones also come with an in-line volume control, with separate volume controls for each of the front, rear, centre and subwoofer speakers, so you can tweak them to suit.