Even without Appleis soon to be released iTV home entertainment product, your Mac can serve as the center of your home theater system. And with Griffinis FireWave, you can add true Surround Sound so you can experience movies in all of their audio glory.
The FireWave is a Dolby Digital and Dolby Pro Logic II breakout box that connects to your Mac via FireWire. It includes 3.5mm line out ports for left/right channels, center and subwoofer, and left/right surround channels, as well as two FireWire 400 ports. Since it uses actual Dolby Digital processors, you get true Surround Sound from your movies, and not some simulated surround audio knock-off.
The FireWave ships with a FireWire cable and installer CD.
It supports Appleis DVD Player, QuickTime, iTunes, and any other application that can produce Surround Sound. And thanks to that extra FireWire port, I can load my iPod or use my iSight camera without disconnecting my speakers.
The FireWave is really compact - small enough to set on top of a Mac mini. And itis bus powered, so you donit have to worry about losing another power port in your home theater outlet strip.
Before the FireWave can do its magic, you need to install Griffinis FireWave application. Although the unit works without the software installed, youill need it when you want to simulate Surround Sound with two-channel stereo recordings.
I found that I used Appleis Audio MIDI Setup application that installs with Mac OS X more often than the Sound Preference Pane or the FireWave application to control the FireWaveis settings. It gave me far more control over the device than anything else, and since it comes from Apple, I didnit have to worry about hacks that could potentially mess up my sound in other applications. The downside is that I ended up having to use Audio MIDI Setup and the FireWave application to fully configure the device since the surround simulation settings are in Griffinis application.
Using the FireWave was stunningly simple: It just plugs in and works. I did use Audio MIDI Setup to tell my Mac that I was using a 5.1 surround sound speaker setup, and I also had to change a setting in DVD Playeris preferences so it knew to output surround audio to the FireWave. That was it.
The FireWaveis colors match the iMac and Mac mini.
The first time I tried to use the FireWave, I could output test signals to each speaker, but I lost audio every time I played a DVD movie disc. I emailed Griffinis tech support, and they suggested I try a different FireWire cable. Their advice was spot on. Turns out my test unit shipped with a bad cable.
Griffinis tech support turned out to be knowledgeable, responsive and friendly. Iill assume everyone else will get the same treatment, too, since I didnit let on that I was asking about a review product.
The Bottom Line
Griffinis FireWave can turn most any Mac into a full-on home entertainment audio system. One feature that previously prevented me from using a Mac real movie playback device was a glaring lack of Surround Sound support. Thanks to the FireWave, now Iill have to find room next to the TV for my PowerBook.