The 896 is a 96kHz capable eight channel interface that actually has more than eight output channels. It also sports AES in/out, ADAT in/out, and master stereo out on XLR connectors. The eight analog inputs are on the dual purpose XLR-1/4" jacks, and the corresponding analog outputs are on XLR connectors. The rear panel also has word clock in/out, an ADAT Sync in port, and two firewire jacks.
The two firewire jacks allow multiple 896's to be chained together on one firewire port. According to Jim Cooper, up to four 896's can be chained. Other configurations are also possible, for example, two 896's and two firewire hard drives. Apparently, firewire simply can't handle the bandwidth of more than four of these kinds of devices.
Also on the back panel are eight three position switches, each corresponding to an input channel. The positions are "mic", "line", and "fixed". The fixed setting disables any attentuation being possible from the front volume controls.
Each channel has 48v phantom power, switchable per channel from the front of the unit, plus volume pots per channel. There is about 40 dB or gain possible. Also on the front are separate monitor and main volume controls, plus a headphone jack. There is also 10 segment metering for each input and output channel.
Nick and I heard a surround mix of a movie trailer played from an Apple Titanium laptop, with video playback as well. A firewire video camera chained to the 896 firewire port handled the video playback, while the audio was routed through the same firewire port as well. It sounded great and it was impressive to see the laptop handle a surround mix and streaming video playback at the same time. Seems like it could be a very nice mobile recording rig.
The 896 can exist alongside MOTU's PCI-342 card, used in their non-firewire interfaces. However, and this is a big however, they cannot be used at the same time. The user has to choose between their 308, 2408, 24i, 1296, etc., OR the 896 on the same machine. You can switch back and forth freely, but they each have separate drivers that need to be selected only one at a time.
MOTU estimates the 896 will be available in February.