The Asus Xonar HDAV 1.3 Slim is the half-height version of the excellent Xonar HDAV 1.3 Deluxe, although it has shed the video processing capabilities of that card, as well as roughly half the price. Perhaps more important is that Asus Xonar HDAV cards are still the only sound cards that can send full HD audio in digital format from your PC to an HDMI-capable surround-sound amplifier.
The card is built around Asus’ AV200 High-Definition Sound Processor and has full support for the HDCP 1.2 and Protected Audio Path (PAP) copy protection standards for HD video and audio. This means it can output Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio at their full bit rates – up to 24.5Mb/sec. Unlike almost every sound card on the market, the HDAV Slim can output the full audio content of an HD movie without any compression or compromises.
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The HDAV Slim comes on a full-height backplate, but it’s easy to replace with the supplied low-profile backplate, although you’ll need a very small posidrive screwdriver to do so. As this is a half-height card, it has only three ports. The HDMI input allows you to connect the output from your graphics card to the HDAV Slim using the provided DVI-to-HDMI or HDMI leads.
Meanwhile, the HDMI output connects the card to your HDTV or AV receiver. This means that the HDAV Slim can combine the output from your graphics card with its own audio to make a single AV stream. As well as the HDMI ports, there’s an optical/coaxial S/PDIF in/out port.
Unlike the full-height HDAV Deluxe, the HDAV Slim has no analogue outputs at all – not even a 3.5mm headphone port. This makes for a card that’s both smaller and less expensive than its bigger sibling, but is also more limited – if you want to output audio to analogue speakers, you should look elsewhere.
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The absence of any analogue stages in its audio output means that the HDAV Slim has remarkably little effect on the overall sound quality. In fact, that’s the whole point. What you get is full, uncompressed, unadulterated high-definition audio, exactly as it’s encoded on the source (for example, a Blu-ray disc); your output sound quality is determined by the speakers and amplification equipment to which you connect the card.
Obviously, you won’t get the full benefit of HD audio if you just connect the card’s HDMI output to a TV and use its built-in stereo speakers. At the very least, you’ll need a decent set of surround-sound speakers with an S/PDIF input, such as Logitech’s Z-5500 Digital. The HDAV Slim’s performance will be even better if you connect it to a high-quality AV receiver with a set of home cinema 5.1 or 7.1 speakers.