The budget-minded headset has great compatibility and sound that rivals its more expensive counterparts, but unfortunately fails to live up to Plantronics' namesake with a middling microphone.
Plantronics is a brand that's synonymous with quality headsets used in office environments. Office environments are synonymous with 40 hour work weeks and stuffy atmospheres. It's no surprise then that Plantronics would want to escape the office and take a long holiday, going on a Summer tour of major LAN parties with a refreshed lineup of gaming headsets. It was at their Quakecon showing that I snagged a GameCom 780 USB headset for review, and now a month later you get to see my in-depth thoughts on it. Read on to see how the the sound quality stacks up against the competition, and how the Dolby 7.1 surround fares in a whopping 39 compatibility tests across different game engines.
Plantronics' GameCom 780 marks an incredible about-face from their past headset design. While the previous GameCom 777 had the heft and inflexible bulk of a ginormous Chevy Tahoe SUV, the flashy and slimmed down 780 might as well be an economy-class Scion xB by comparison. The new design is still plenty boxy to give Plantronics an iconic look, but you no longer need to consult a physician about neck braces before wearing one.
All of the excess plastic that made up the headband's arms is now gone, swapped out for a pair of tough wire-frame rails on which the earcups can glide for size adjustment. The cans still have limited mobility and are only able to pivot up and down by a few degrees when worn, but they now have the ability to swivel backwards to almost lay flat on a table or stuff away in a backpack.
The unwieldy control pod has also been nixed, replaced by a convenient volume rocker and microphone switch on the back edge of the left earcup. Likewise, the front edge of the same earcup has a button for toggling Dolby surround that glows blue when activated.
Perhaps the boldest change made by Plantronics to their new headset is the elimination of the 3.5mm mini-jacks and optional Dolby dongle, making it so the headset can only ever connect via USB. Not that this matters if you only intend to use the headset with a PC or happen to write for a USB-focused website, but it does mean you won't be able to jam out with the 780 and your MP3 player on an airplane.
All in all these changes mean that Plantronics could shave a few bucks off the cost of materials, but it also means their new headset is one of the lightest and least intrusive ones I've used recently, ranking just below the Razer Megalodon's level of comfort. The cloth-lined foam earpads are very soft and feature significantly less clamping than Corsair's Vengeance 1500, but they do build up some heat in extended use and allow a bit more ambient sound to pass through at mid-low volume. For LAN gamers, however, the ambient sound is a major plus since it's important to hear the cries of anguish from your friends across the table.
If anything, my only major grievances with the GameCom 780's appearance are its BLEEDING RED USB cable and exposed cords that sit between the earcups and headband. I'm also not a fan of how short the USB cable is, coming in at only 6 feet such that I can't wrap it around the back of my desk and monitor. Still, these complaints quickly fade when I remind myself that this headset costs $40 to 50 less than comparable offerings from the likes of Logitech and Razer. That's enough dosh to pick out a new mouse or video game, or even go up a tier if you're picking out a new video card. Not bad, Plantronics.
Drivers and Configuration
A driver disc is included with the headset, but if you can spare 25MB of bandwidth I recommend that you just download the latest drivers (currently R2) since they have a few stability fixes over the first release. You can grab the latest release here. The drivers themselves are for a C-Media CM6302 codec, the same high-quality chip found in Corsair's Vengeance 2000. Rather than using C-Media's typical software for user configuration, Plantronics has developed their own branded frontend to feature only the absolute essential feature you'd need drivers for in the first place: toggling Dolby. The gaming/movie and music options that you see below simply determine which mode Pro Logic IIx uses for upmixing content; movie mode makes better use of the center channel for vocals, whereas music mode is more evenly spaced out.
Installing the drivers also introduces an audible tone whenever the volume is adjusted on the headset itself, accompanied for a half second by a spinning-circle mouse cursor. *Cough* There's not much else to write about here. A graphic equalizer for tweaking bass levels and such would have been a nice addition, as would a built-in way to toggle the Windows speaker config or even adjust the virtual surround levels similar to what Logitech offers with their later headset drivers. I can't figure why Plantronics went Playskool with their interface; the PC gaming community is naturally inclined to tweak settings - graphics details, button configs, macros - so why not give us control of our audio as well?
Despite their oversimplification of the software, I will hand it to Plantronics' development team for stability since I've not encountered any major bugs throughout my month of testing. Moreover, I'm incredibly thankful that they learned from past mistakes and left the speaker count as configurable in Microsoft's Sound control panel. Here we can set the virtual speaker layout to stereo, quadraphonic, 5.1 side, or 7.1. This is a dramatic improvement over the GameCom 777's stereo-only configuration, since it means that most games will detect your headset's capabilities and output directional surround that actually works!