A Powerful Message. And a Loud One.
In terms of hardware, the Live! Platinum 5.1 is a fairly nice piece of equipment. Support for four speakers, a gameport, microphone etc. make it fairly standard as far as Lives go. What makes the Platinum better than the others is that it includes the features of the X-Gamer and the MP3+, as well as it's own additions for the musician that likely is in few of us.
The Live! Drive IR that comes with the Platinum 5.1 is certainly better than the plain old Live! Drive with the original Platinum. For those of us who are not musicians (ever hear me sing?) the long list of additional inputs is fairly useless to us. There are a few useful features, though. I play around with MOD tracking a bit (ok, it's music, but I never said I was good), so the RFC (MIDI) inputs in the front of the system make it rather convenient to plug my keyboard (the musical kind) in and store a few sound samples. As a hobbyist game developer, the extra microphone port in the front makes for a nice location to plug those bulky "high-def" microphones in. It's also nice for your voice activation software's headset, which takes a considerable amount of desk space when not in use (unless you can hang it on your joystick.) A frontal optical in and optical out make it extremely nice to record to digital devices or sound monitors (digital theater system), and the in is useful for those future DVD-Audio players if you don't feel like grabbing an internal one, and digital musical equipment. The frontal headphones jack (universal connection adapter included) with auto-mute when plugged in (can be disabled in AudioHQ software), separate (physical) volume controls for the front mic and phones also make it a nice addition.
EAX, a staple of high-end sound cards, provides exceptional environmental sounds, and enhances games beyond imagination. It's truly amazing to know if someone is in front of, behind, or aside you. The sound quality is also extremely clear, as is to be expected. The software ability to change envronmental sounds is also nice. Of course, what you're really paying that extra money for is the Dolby Digital AC3 decoder on board, and the optical connectors.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises to me with the Live! Platinum 5.1 was the remote control. I thought it to be rather pointless to have a remote control to a computer you have your nose pressed about six inches from the glass of the monitor. Sure, it would be nice if playing CDs from afar, but my computer isn't my main audio system, so it didn't seem all that promising. Then I found the one thing that made it become one of my favorite features of my new computer. How many times have you been in the middle of a game, and realized the volume was too high or too low? Then you alt+tab out of Windows to change the volume only to find that your game doesn't like multitasking all that much. How about pausing a game that keeps playing music, but it's a big pain to manually turn off two sets of speakers (or even one)? The remote control with the Platinum 5.1 does just that, volume controls with TV-style on-screen display, muting, eax settings, all sorts of sound card and CD player controls. I've grown rather attached to it, myself.
Finally, it comes with a decent mix of software. There's not too much intrigue with Creative's utilities, which range from useless, gaudy, to necessary (try a sound card without a mixer.) Cubasis VST, Steinberg's "lite" version of Cubase VST, is an extremely intricate midi, wave editing, and cd mastering software, and is arguably the best program of its sort out there. The game bundle, of course, is excellent. MDK2 (Bioware/Interplay), Deus Ex (Ion Storm/Eidos), Thief II: Metal Age (Looking Glass/Eidos), and Unreal Tournament (Epic/GT/Infogrames), all top-selling games within the past year, are included with the card, most of them seem to support EAX or other Live! features in one way or another, and several of them support hardware T&L for those GeForce graphics card owners.