AdLib

AdLib

:"This page is about the (now defunct) sound card company named Ad Lib — not to be mistaken with the software company Adlib Software [http://www.adlibsoftware.com/] or Adlib Information systems [http://www.adlibsoft.com] . See ad lib for information on the Latin phrase."

Ad Lib, Inc. was a manufacturer of sound cards and other computer equipment based out of Quebec City, Canada. AdLib was also the shortened name of its main and best-known product, the "AdLib Music Synthesizer Card" ("ALMSC"). Through wide developer acceptance and sound quality, the AdLib became the first de facto standard for add-on sound cards on IBM PCs and compatibles.

Today the AdLib functionality can be recreated with emulators such as DOSBox.

Marketing

Ad Lib was founded by Martin Prevel, formerly a professor of music and vice-dean of the music department at the Université Laval. Prevel spent more than a year trying to convince the IBM PC development community to support his new product but, lacking experience in the industry, he found it difficult to reach the right people. He went to several computer shows handing out development kits that included the AdLib card, along with several utilities meant to utilize the card, development tools, and technical information.

The problem was that these materials were being given out to attendees of the various computer shows. The attendees generally consisted of marketing, sales and press personnel. Instead of taking the developer kits back to their companies, most of these contacts simply took them home to use as personal entertainment or discarded them outright.

Prevel then spoke to a company in southern New Jersey that provided quality assurance services to a wide array of game developers by the name of Top Star Computer Services, Inc., (also known as TSCS). Prevel spoke with Top Star's President, Rich Heimlich, about his product and the difficulties he was encountering in getting the product into the hands of the right people. Prevel believed that if Top Star saw merit in the product, Rich could make the key introductions to the right people within the industry needed to garner the necessary support.

In the winter of 1987/1988, Rich flew up to Quebec to get a demonstration of the product and shared Prevel's enthusiasm. Upon returning home, Rich contacted his top customers to convey his belief in the viability of this new product, and that helped start the ball rolling. Within weeks, a few of these developers started coding support for the card. Sierra On-Line was the first game developer to add AdLib sound support onto their popular games (King's Quest series, etc). Game support was key in opening the retail channel to Ad Lib. In 1990-91, most retail stores chains and wholesale distributor were selling AdLib sound cards.

pecifications

The AdLib used the YM3812 sound chip from Yamaha, which produces sound via FM synthesis. The AdLib card was essentially a YM3812 chip with off-the-shelf external glue logic to plug into a standard PC-compatible ISA 8-bit slot. With the AdLib card, PC software could generate multitimbral music and sound effects, although the acoustic quality was distinctly synthesized.

The engineers who actually developed sound cards and development interfaces for Ad Lib was Lyrtech ( [http://www.lyrtech.com] ). This company is still developing solutions for the audio industry today as they specialize into DSP solutions.

Competition

Since the AdLib soundcard contained purely off-the shelf IC components, it was easily copied by competitors. The most notable competitor, and ultimate heir to the PC soundcard industry, was Creative Labs. Ad Lib believed, at the time, that they were insulated from this type of competition due to having procured an exclusivity deal with Yamaha's US chip division for the YM3812. However, Creative Labs went about covertly purchasing these chips from various sources throughout the rest of the world. Sound Blaster gained control over the market due to several key factors. The Sound Blaster v1.0 extended the feature set of the AdLib soundcard with the addition of a game port which could connect to either a joystick or MIDI controller box and the addition of a single voice digital effects (PCM) channel. The Sound Blaster provided these additional features at the same price (then $239 US).

It is commonly, yet mistakenly, believed that the addition of the PCM channel was instrumental in the Sound Blaster's ultimate rise to dominance. This is simply not true. PCM audio support did not play a major role in the early battle between Ad Lib and Creative Labs. PCM audio did not gain serious developer support until 1991, and then, grew slowly. The bigger issue at that point in time was the inclusion of the game port. This feature solved a major problem for gamers of the day. Stand-alone game ports often cost as much as $50 and took up an additional PC expansion slot. Many of the PC machines of the day included only a few slots. Thus when making the purchasing decision a consumer had the choice of an AdLib card or a Sound Blaster with built-in game port, full compatibility and future potential for PCM audio all for the same price. Once the issue of compatibility became moot there was no longer a reason to buy the AdLib card.

By the time Ad Lib realized their mistake it was too late. They couldn't turn around and offer PCM audio that was compatible with the Sound Blaster (which used a proprietary digital signal processor) and their own efforts would prove to be impacted by declining market share. Creative Labs also understood the market better than Ad Lib and was able to generate more push behind their products.

AdLib Gold

Ad Lib was slow to respond to the competition. Instead of copying the updated 8-bit Sound Blaster specification, or releasing an equivalent 8-bit refresh part, they chose to spend time and money developing a wholly new proprietary 12-bit stereo soundcard called the AdLib Gold. The Gold card introduced a later generation Yamaha YMF262 (OPL3) and 12/bit digital PCM capability while retaining backward compatibility with the original AdLib.

As the established brand name in the sound card business, Ad Lib management was confident they could afford to do this. The effort, however, was doomed from the start. Ad Lib was not a technology company and lacked the in-house skills required to design the Gold card. The design task was turned over to Ad Lib's component supplier, Yamaha. It's important to note that by the time of this deal Yamaha's biggest customer for music-based technology was not Ad Lib but Creative Labs. This conflict of interest played a significant part in the countless delays and problems that surfaced during the Gold's development process.

Even with its new Gold card, Ad Lib remained in the position of being unable to compete effectively. While a handful of PC games supported the Gold, sales of the Ad Lib's new card were flat. Not only was the original Sound Blaster card significantly cheaper, it was already the de-facto standard of sound cards in the PC gaming industry. The market was simply not ready for a stereo sound card in the Gold's price range.

Bankruptcy

In 1992, Ad Lib filed for bankruptcy. The Creative Labs Sound Blaster family went on to dominate the PC gaming industry for the remainder of the 1990s.

In 1992, a conglomerate from Germany, Binnenalster GmbH, purchased the assets of Ad Lib from the Government of Quebec, who had acquired it to prevent Creative Labs from buying it. The company was renamed Adlib Multimedia and launched the Adlib Gold soundcard and many other products.

The German conglomerate sold Adlib Multimedia to a company in Taiwan (unknown) in 1994.

Timeline

* 1987 - AdLib Card - First high volume soundcard for computers released using FM synthesis (YM3812 chip by Yamaha)
* 1988 - First game released with AdLib support.
* 1992 - AdLib Gold released.
* 1992 - Ad Lib filed for bankruptcy on May 1st.

References

* Bob Johnstone (Mar. 1994). [http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/2.03/waveguides.html Wave of the Future] . Wired.

External links

* [http://adlib.superfighter.com/ AdLib Music Archive]
* [http://adplug.sourceforge.net/ Adplug - AdLib sound player library]
* [http://www.oplx.com/ OPLx]
* [http://www.soundshock.se/ Soundshock, an English language discussion forum dedicated exclusively to FM Synthesis]


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