CES provides a great platform to showcase changes in the gaming hardware market, and Mad Catz did just that with their new Tritton Katana HD 7.1 Gaming Headset. The Katana is the first gaming headset to use HDMI for sound, offering a massive increase in the amount of uncompressed audio that can be channeled into your ears.
After speaking with Mad Catz Global PR and Communications Director (and Popzara favorite) Alex Verrey and listening to a demo on the headset, I’m looking forward to the ways this seemingly minor modification can have major impact on the way we hear our games and more.
We’re all familiar with HDMI cables and the ways they send both audio and video signals from our consoles to our displays, but the Katana HD 7.1 is the first headset to utilize HDMI for audio instead of a traditional headphone or optical port. “The problem with digital optical is that it’s compressed audio, it taps out at around 5.1 surround sound,” Verrey said. “When you feed that compressed audio into the transmitter base, the transmitter has to decode that, then send it to the headset which has to decode it again…inevitably you’re going to lose some clarity.”
To work around that restriction, the Katana HD 7.1 utilizes an HDMI pass-through; one HDMI cable goes into the box and one goes back out to your display, meaning you’ll use no additional ports for the headset, but get fully uncompressed sound. By accessing LPCM sound data, the Katana can utilize audio data 80 times the size of what could come through an optical cable, and could be used with any device that uses HDMI, not just gaming consoles.
The Katana HD 7.1 also takes advantage of DTS Headphone-X technology, a surround sound innovation that lets you hear when things are behind you, above you, or below you in addition to the typical surround sound experience. Though other headphones are using DTS headphone X, combining the DTS Headphone-X with the uncompressed audio of the Katana creates a cleaner, more spatially-accurate sound. DTS-X, along with its competitor, Dolby Atmos, will be used in many new movies, music, and more to create more immersive surround sound experiences.
With multiple companies entering into the gaming headset space, many of them professional audio brands such as Audio-Technica and Sennheiser, I asked Alex how he felt Triton would be able to stand out from its competitors. “There are a lot of other great gaming headsets out there, but traditionally you find that gamers trust a brand that’s been doing gaming headsets because they’ve been tuned specifically for the needs of the gamer…we’ve been doing this a very long time.” The Katana features individual sound settings for games, movies, and music, which helps when you want to hear explosions one moment, and the footsteps of an oncoming enemy the next. “We understand what makes games sound good in a way that perhaps some of the more traditional audio companies do not; their headsets may sound fantastic with movies or music; we like to believe our headsets sound fantastic with any media you put into them, but they’re specifically tuned towards gaming audio.”
The Katana HD 7.1 is, first and foremost a gaming headset, and comes with the features you’d expect of a high-end model: removable boom mic, a unidirectional mic, so other players just hear you and not the people around you, and 50mm drivers in the earcups, a now-standard size that offers rumbling bass and good range for treble. Still, none of those features matter if the headset doesn’t sound good, so I put the headset on and listened to a couple clips from the DTS Demo Disc, a series of movie clips specifically designed to showcase 7.1 surround sound technology.
The actual headset sounded crisp and clean, and as I watched enemies circling around the protagonist in the short film, I could hear water dripping in the corners of the room, growls from beasts in the darkness, and the squelch of blood and flesh as the hero tended to his wounds. Not only could I hear the sounds around me, but I could also tell when they were above, behind, or below, taking full advantage of the DTS: Headphone-X technology.
It wasn’t as apparently to me how much clearer the sound was until I used another Mad Catz headset they debuted at the show that utilized a traditional headphone jack; comparatively, sound from regular headphones sounded crunchier and muddled. Given, the DTS Demo Disc is made to have ultra-crisp, HD sound, while the game I played with traditional stereo headphones wouldn’t have incorporated that, but there’s a lot of potential in the technology that backs up the tech.
At an MSRP of $249.99, the Mad Catz Tritton Katana HD 7.1 could prove a strong rival to both Astro Gaming and Turtle Beach higher-end headsets. Until games start utilizing 3D audio technology and encoding, technology like DTS: Headphone X feels like more of a future-proofing decision for gamers, but the advantage of using HDMI was pretty apparent from the beginning. Tritton’s opened new doors in gaming audio with their latest Tritton sets and I’m looking forward to seeing where those doors lead in the future.