Ad Lib, Inc.
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|Fate||Bankrupt, assets bought by Binnenalster, later resold to Softworld.|
|Founded||Quebec, Canada (1987)|
|Products||Audio, Computer-related products|
Ad Lib, Inc. was a Canadian manufacturer of sound cards and other computer equipment founded by Martin Prevel, a former professor of music and vice-dean of the music department at the Université Laval. The company's best known product, the AdLib Music Synthesizer Card (ALMSC), or simply the AdLib as it was called, was the first add-on sound card (on IBM compatibles) to achieve widespread game-developer acceptance, becoming the first de facto standard for audio reproduction.
Today the AdLib's functionality can be recreated with emulators such as AdPlug and VDMSound (the latter is now deprecated but its source code has been incorporated into DOSBox). Emulating the AdLib Gold 1000 proves more of a challenge due to the surround sound module and the 2x oversampling effect.
After development work on the ALMSC (Ad Lib Music Synthesizer Card) had concluded, Prevel struggled to engage the development community with his company's new product. For example, when he handed out development kits at trade shows, with the hopes of having them reach development staff at software companies, the attendees simply used the handouts as personal entertainment, or discarded them outright. Needless to say, the Adlib hardware was not reaching its intended audience, developers with the PC gaming industry.
Subsequently, Prevel engaged the assistance of Top Star Computer Services, Inc. (also known as TSCS), a New Jersey company that provided quality assurance services to game developers. Top Star's President, Rich Heimlich was sufficiently impressed by a product demonstration in Quebec in 1987 to endorse the product to his top customers. Sierra On-Line's King's Quest IV became the first game-title to support the AdLib. The game's high audio-production values, including a hired professional composer, riding on an already popular game-franchise, catapulted the AdLib card into mainstream media coverage. Soon, all game developers embraced the Adlib, hoping to give their software a competitive edge.
On the retail-channel side, most retail stores chains and wholesale distributor were selling AdLib sound cards by 1990.
AdLib Music Synthesizer Card (1987)
The AdLib used Yamaha's YM3812 sound chip which produces sound via FM synthesis. The AdLib card consisted of a YM3812 chip with off-the-shelf external glue logic to plug into a standard PC-compatible ISA 8-bit slot.
PC software generated multitimbral music and sound effects through the AdLib card, although the acoustic quality was distinctly synthesized. Digital audio (PCM) was not supported, a key feature supported by later competition, particularly the Creative Labs Sound Blaster. It was possible to output PCM sound through the AdLib card with software by modulating the playback volume at an audio rate, as was done for example in the MicroProse game F-15 Strike Eagle II, and the multi-channel music editor Sound Club for MS-DOS.
The engineers who developed sound cards and software libraries for Ad Lib worked at Lyrtech. A notable sound designer who worked for AdLib was Henri Chalifour, he designed all of the sound demos and was instrumental on showing what AdLib's products could do; including scoring the music for the AdLib commercial.
There are two separate revisions of the original AdLib sound card. The original design from 1987 provided mono output via a 1/4 Jack aimed for composers and musicians, while the second design from 1990 used a 3.5mm miniature mono output, that was quickly becoming the new standard in the computer and gaming industry.
AdLib did release a MicroChannel version of their original sound card, the AdLib MCA, which used an MCA P82C611 interface IC. Notable updates for this MCA version was the use of a volume wheel, as the original potentiometer made the card too thick for the MCA standard.
AdLib Gold 1000 (1992)
Ad Lib planned a wholly new proprietary standard before releasing the 12-bit stereo soundcard called the AdLib Gold. The Gold 1000 used a later generation Yamaha YMF262 (OPL3) and 12-bit digital PCM capability while retaining backward compatibility with OPL2 through the OPL3 chip (albeit, OPL3 responds slightly differently to YM3812/OPL2 commands and does not sound 100% exactly alike). The onboard Yamaha YMZ263-F also performs 2x oversampling, which would affect the OPL3 output slightly. A surround sound module was developed as an optional attachment that allowed a chorus-surround effect to be enabled for OPL3 outputs; however, only a few games supported it. One unique aspect is that it could be initialized for certain sounds, and did not affect the 'entire' output by default. Other optional attachments such as SCSI support and Modem support were in development as well.
There is evidence of anti-competitive behavior by Creative in the failure of this card. Yamaha made parts for both Creative and AdLib with Creative being Yamaha's biggest customer at the time. AdLib's Yamaha-created chip continually failed to pass testing while Creative's Yamaha chip passed. This enabled Creative to come to market first, shortly after which AdLib's chip passed testing but it was too late for it to sustain itself.
Despite AdLib's efforts, the Gold 1000 failed to capture the market and the company eventually went bankrupt through cheaper alternatives such as the Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16. AdLib designed the Gold 1000 mainly in-house, as such, the Gold 1000's layout has a lot of discrete circuitry and many surface mount components in a grid array. Creative Labs was able to integrate their soundcards more tightly to reduce cost.
When the Gold 1000 was finally released, the Sound Blaster series was entrenched as the de facto PC sound card standard, and priced significantly cheaper than the Adlib Gold; however the Sound Blaster 16 suffered from a noisier output, cheaper components and did not contain the unique 2x oversampling effect. Few PC game developers supported the Gold directly (however 'AdLib Gold' support still found its way into a small number of mainstream games such as Descent, Rayman, Dune and Police Quest 3), and fewer gamers bought it.
The AdLib Gold 1000 was planned for IBM's MicroChannel Architecture bus, named AdLib Gold MC2000. However, AdLib went bankrupt before the card could be produced. No known prototypes have been confirmed.
The success of the AdLib Music Card soon attracted competitors. Not long after its introduction, Creative Labs introduced the competing Sound Blaster card. The Sound Blaster was fully compatible with AdLib's hardware, meaning it would play any past, present, and future game written for AdLib's own card. But it also added two key features absent from the Adlib: a PCM audio channel, and a game port. PCM audio could record and play digital-audio recordings, which included dialogue, sound effects, and short musical performances. Although the PCM audio-fidelity was scarcely better than AM radio, it allowed game developers to include realistic sound-effects and speech that could not be reproduced by the Yamaha's FM synthesis, and proved very popular among game developers. Finally, the Sound Blaster's inclusion of a game-port made it a single-card gaming system. With a superior product and better marketing, the Sound Blaster quickly overshadowed AdLib as the de facto standard in PC-gaming audio. AdLib's slow response, the AdLib Gold, did not sell well enough to sustain the company.
In 1992, Ad Lib filed for bankruptcy while the Sound Blaster family continued to dominate the PC gaming industry. That same year, Binnenalster GmbH purchased the assets of Ad Lib from the Government of Quebec, who had acquired them to prevent Creative Labs from buying them. The company was renamed AdLib Multimedia and relaunched the AdLib Gold soundcard and many other products. Binnenalster sold AdLib Multimedia to Softworld Taiwan in 1994.
- 1987 - AdLib Card - First mass market PC soundcard for computers released using FM synthesis (YM3812 chip by Yamaha)
- 1988 - Sierra Entertainment's King's Quest IV, the first PC game to support AdLib
- 1992 - AdLib Gold released.
- 1992 - Ad Lib filed for bankruptcy on May 1.
- Bob Johnstone (March 1994, Wired)
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