Questions about HTPC and setting up surround sound

Discussion in 'HTPC' started by dcyloo, Jun 13, 2015.

  1. dcyloo

    dcyloo Member

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    I'm currently using an all-in-one Samsung Blu Ray Home Theatre unit and it's served its purpose pretty well over the last 5 or so years but the Blu Ray laser appears to have gotten a bit dirty and Samsung has stopped supporting the unit and releasing firmware updates for the unit.

    I've also recently updated my broadband which expands my options in being able to utilise NetFlix as a potential option for entertainment. All in all, I'm considering that a HTPC might deliver me better versatility in being able to stream media, connect to the file share for movie play or if the right pieces of kit and software is installed, have it be able to also do TV recording as well.

    The thing that is most pressing on me but also an answer eluding from me at present is how to get the sound out of the HTPC. My current setup has the rear 2 speakers driven by a wireless receiver unit so I don't have a wire wound to the back of the couch. I know this may not be possible so I'd accept feeding a pair of wires around the side of the room and tuck it into the corner of the carpet and skirting board if need be. Ultimately, I'd like to be able to have a 5.1 surround sound setup with 4 tower style speaker units which are controlled directly out of the HTPC. Would this mean I'd need to ensure that whatever I get has to have a decent sound card? What hardware would I need to allow me to integrate the 5.1 surround sound speaker systems without having to get an external receiver to drive the speakers?

    As an overview, I'm considering hardware like the following:
    Fractal Design Node 202 case
    A Mini-ITX board (ASRock FM2A88X-ITX+ maybe?)
    i3 CPU (which would be suitable? HD5500 onboard graphics or something Iris 6100 capable? or will I need a dedicated video card?)
    Blu Ray drive
    SSD boot drive
    A quiet 5400RPM HDD possible for the TV recording capabilities
    4GB RAM (or is 8GB more suitable?)
    A low profile TV tuner card
    For control, perhaps one of those Logitech Wireless HTPC style keyboard with the onboard touchpad for mouse controls

    If I'm looking to cheap it out initially and save a handful of dollars at the start, I'd can the TV recording facility and so not bother with the TV tuner card or HDD. Those can come later.

    Am I along the right path here? What things am I missing?
     
  2. broccoli

    broccoli Member

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    You don't need much to "do" movies off a pc, so the purpose-built integrated boards will give you what you need.

    I'm not cluey on audio (tbh, I don't much care, if I can hear it and it sounds good to me, I'm happy) so if the knowledgeable tell you I'm wrong, I won't argue about it, I probably am.

    Logitech does 5.1 speakers for pcs. You just plug them into the computer and out comes the sound. The sound you get would/might depend on the sound card. You could always start with onboard and get an add-on card if you found it lacking. I've never felt that about my pcs (I have about tvs and have rushed to the shop to plug in external speakers/get an amp).

    Alternatively, you can get your tv to output the sound same as you've got now and you can set your computer to just pass through the sound to the tv. I have an amp/speaker combo thing and a set of tv speakers (panasonic) (EDIT - 2 different tvs). They both do pretty much the same thing, but the amp has lots of plugs for other stuff to output through it as well.

    As for controlling it from the pc - you don't really need to. My amp has an automatic hdmi controlling thing. You turn on the tv, the amp comes on. You turn up the volume, the sound comes up (on the amp) There are not a lot of audio settings in the pc to fiddle with anyway.

    With a universal remote, you can set other connected stuff to turn on how you need it to.

    If you want really flash audio, I think you're looking at getting an amp setup. You can still easily control it.
     
  3. Sledge

    Sledge Member

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    As long as your HTPC has HDMI then you should be ok...
    Does the samsung AIO unit have HDMI input?
    If so, see what formats it supports.
    Bonus if it supports the HD audio formats.. if not, then hopefully DTS and DD should be ok..

    This would be the cheapest option.. otherwise start upgrading :)
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2015
  4. Copie

    Copie Member

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    Forget that hardware, too big and noisy.

    Look at an i3 intel NUC, combine it with 4gb ram, 120gb m2 ssd and a 1tb 5400rpm drive.

    As for Bluray, either look at an Oppo BPD-103 (which also gives you netflix capability) or external. Same with the tv tuner, usb external unit.

    It will have a very small footprint (its a 4x4 square) uses almost no power, is dead silent, and being they have visa mounts, you can mount it on the back of the tv and you wont see it at all.

    You can then use a good frontend such as Kodi combined with its iphone/android app to control the HTPC.

    As for sound, it depends on your reciever, the easiest way is via HDMI passthrough, which the NUC supports 7.1 DTS-HDMA/Atmos via passthrough.

    If you want to upgrade your audio (which you should since the samsung 5.1 systems are crap) look into a Yamaha AV reciever + speaker kit, you can control the AV via the yamaha app idevice/andriod and with ARC it will turn other devices on/off with it.

    Its a simple robust system with a high WAF, i mean my mother has a similar setup and she can use it without problem, which means a fair bit.
     
  5. broccoli

    broccoli Member

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    HDMI passthrough and ARC, that's it, copie. That's what I've got, and what makes the whole thing just sort itself out.... I don't have an expensive tv or amp/speakers (mine's onkyo, but similar to the yamaha "deals"). As long as it's got the latest hdmi standard and ARC on your tv, you can easily control it with one controller.
     
  6. Copie

    Copie Member

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    Its not ARC sorry, its HDMI-CEC, thats what controls the on/off and remote functions.

    ARC is audio return channel.
     
  7. broccoli

    broccoli Member

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    Yes, ARC means you don't have to have separate wires for the audio, it'll work through the hdmi cable. I think it's hdmi 1.4 that has all the necessaries. Get TV with ARC, hdmi 1.4 and hdmi-cec and you'll be good to go. (I expect the new ones in the shops will all have this stuff, but if you look secondhand, don't get something too old that doesn't have/do this)
     
  8. OP
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    dcyloo

    dcyloo Member

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    The thing is I'm looking to avoid needing a receiver. I'd like to try and get a set of speakers that are able to receive audio input from the HTPC and have enough power to do adequate TV theatre surround sound.
     
  9. broccoli

    broccoli Member

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    There's the rub, what is "adequate"? I've had 5.1 logitechs hooked up, with and without a sound card. They were adequate for what I needed (decent enough sound in my room), but whether they'd be sufficient for your purpose is another question altogether......

    You can grab some cheaply secondhand, give it a whirl. It's not like you'll be spending hundreds to find out it isn't up to (your) snuff.

    One of the more hifi-focussed members might be able to give you some better feedback on whether a good soundcard can get you up to "separate-receiver" quality using just computer speakers or computer-attached speakers.

    EDIT: I was mistaken above, you can be paying hundreds. I had ones similar to the ones on the right. The ones on the left might be what you are after? They'd need to be good for that sort of price.....http://www.logitech.com/en-us/speakers-audio/surround-sound
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2015
  10. Copie

    Copie Member

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    Correction, they made sound, not decent sound.

    Anyways, budget is always going to be the limit when it comes to HT/audio. But with speakers in particular, you do get what you pay for and quality gear will last decades, they arent something that typically 'wear out'


    Steve over at Eastwood hifi do a variety of packages to suit most budgets, even something like 2500 will get you a system that will shit over just about anything.

    A good HT will completely change your viewing experience and is something that is far more important then visuals (aka tv)

    http://www.eastwoodhifi.com.au/specials%20-%20packages.htm

    System 7 or 8 if you want 4x floorstandings would be my choice for a 'budget orientated' setup, quality gear and a good price
     
  11. OP
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    dcyloo

    dcyloo Member

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    Yeah I know I'm being quite specific about the tools I'm looking for. Preference has been to not have a separate receiver to drive the surround sound speakers because of space considerations but on retrospect and further thought, I'm thinking I might need to have a receiver to do the surround sound because if I'm not using the HTPC I'd have to get the TV's speakers into play unless there's something else I can get which is able to receive multiple audio inputs?

    As point of reference, my current setup is an old Samsung Series 5 TV hooked into a Series 5 HT-C5550 unit which also drives the speakers.

    Maybe I ditch the idea of using separate speakers and instead look for a soundbar and a sub woofer instead? Will the HTPC motherboard's HDMI output include the audio stream or does this require the audio input also be plugged into the TV so that the audio pass-through from the TV into a soundbar/sub woofer combination enable a simplified audio delivery?
     
  12. Copie

    Copie Member

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    Regardless if you use the HTPC for audio processing or an AV reciever, you will still need an amplifier or power source of some description to power the speakers/sub, and as you said if you want to use another source (like a game console etc) you would need to switch the input to it.


    Easiest way is a seperate AV reciever with HDMI input/output, you run everything through it, and the TV simply becomes the screen.

    HDMI carries sound, you can also get sound bars that have HDMI switching already there (and can be controlled via app) the Yamaha YSP-2500 comes to immediate mind.

    Whilst they are visually nice, they arent that good compared to a proper 5.1 speaker setup
     
  13. broccoli

    broccoli Member

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    If you've got ARC on the tv, and hdmi 1.4 cable that "does" audio/ARC, then you should be able to get audio out of the pc via just hdmi. There's an hdmi driver that you need to install on the pc to make it work.
     
  14. Copie

    Copie Member

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    Huh?

    Any PC with HDMI out will support Audio over HDMI (known as HDMI passthrough) You simply select the audio output via the sound settings within windows.

    ARC is completely different (its Audio Return Channel)
     
  15. OP
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    dcyloo

    dcyloo Member

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    TV is old. I doubt it supports HDMI 1.4.
    This is my TV
    http://www.samsung.com/au/support/model/LA46A550P1FXXY

    Ok then - I'll ditch the idea of trying to avoid a receiver and plan towards getting one instead. More cost than I had originally planned in order to get it but I'll have to build towards it then I guess.

    I'll aim then to minimise space even more - get a smaller/thinner case for the HTPC. What's a case which could do that for me? Antec ISK300? I'm going to stick with the aim of a build using a mini-ITX board given that it's the smallest sized board available. 4GB of RAM, Core i3 processor and have use the onboard graphics and motherboard sound. Stick in a 3.5" Blu Ray drive and an old SSD for the OS that'll be the build of the PC.

    As for a receiver, what sort of item would you recommend? Same for sound - surround sound speakers or soundbar?
     
  16. Copie

    Copie Member

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    All depends on budget really.

    As for HTPC, if size is a concern you should be looking at the NUC's, since they are the size of a cigarette packet and can be hidden just about anywhere.
     
  17. OP
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    dcyloo

    dcyloo Member

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    Understood - I'm going to need it to be able to play Blu Ray videos so no matter what I do, it'll have to be size constrained to minimum size of a Blu Ray Disc drive somehow... even if it's an external drive unit so I might as well get something about at least the width of a 3.5" drive bay.

    -edit-
    Hmm... looking more at it, simplicity's sake, the NUC could do it but I'd need to use an external drive.
    i3 NUC $389
    External BluRay drive $99
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2015
  18. broccoli

    broccoli Member

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    You might be right about the pc sending it, but if the cable doesn't carry it (and the older version cables didn't) and if you tv can't receive it, it doesn't do you much good.... It's why I had speakers on my pc before I got this newer tv....

    I've got one of these. It's a weeny little thing, but it's got an optical drive in it. http://www.asrock.com/nettop/NVIDIA/ion%20330/index.asp?cat=#Specifications
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2015
  19. neRok

    neRok Member

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    Your TV has 3 HDMI inputs and 1 S/PDIF output, so you can feed all your sources into the tv and then send the digital audio from your tv to your audio setup. This will also pass live-tv audio that you may be watching on the tv. I had a similar model samsung and I never bothered checking the settings for a relevant option, but the tv volume was independent of the 'output' audio, so I would turn the tv down to 0 to listen via my speakers.

    There are 2 main steps in creating audio. The first is converting the digital signal into an analogue one (known as DAC), and the second is amplifying this line-level signal into a stronger signal suitable for driving speakers.

    A sound card in a PC will have a DAC, and its output will be line-level (sometimes the soundcard will have a small amp suitable for headphones). You would feed its analogue line-level signal into an amp, which makes it strong enough to run speakers.

    Some speakers such as the 2.1 logitechs and audioengines have an amp built into the speaker.

    Some speakers such as the top-end logitech 5.1 have an amp and dac built in (to the speakers). Wireless speakers are probably the same, as a digital signal would be transmitted and then converted and amp-ed in the speaker.

    A receiver has a DAC and an amp, and then connects to the speakers with wires. Not really any different to the aforementioned, just in different boxes and with wires on the outside, not the inside.

    If you get to real top-end stuff, each component is separate. You get a DAC which sends its line-level signal to a pre-amp, which adjusts volume etc and then sends its line-level signal to a power-amp. A receiver does all 3 functions (plus handle video) in 1 package.

    There are a number of interconnects for transmitting digital audio signals. Optical S/PDIF is probably the most prevalent, as a lot of motherboards include it. There is also Coaxial S/PDIF (the same signal just over copper not fiber), USB, and you can probably do it with HDMI too. The red and white RCA plugs (and similar for the 5.1, I dont know the colors) are for analogue line-level sources.

    Hopefully now you understand the function of each component, you can work out what to get.

    Soundbars for example appear to have both analogue and digital inputs. If you use the digital input, the dac will convert the signal and send it to the built-in amp. If you used analogue, the signal would go straight to the amp. The amp will then power the soundbars speakers.
     
  20. Zee

    Zee Member

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    Pretty sur eoyu need an i3 Nuc for DTS-HDMA etc. That's why I ended up getting one, instead of a lower end unit.

    Works brilliantly with Kodi, and BD rips on my NAS. Works just as well with movies on a USB HDD or whatever...

    As for the sound...

    Don't replace crap with more crap. Just make the effort and save up for some good second hand stuff. It won't cost much more, and it will be so much better in the long run. Especially speakers. A good set of speakers will last many decades.

    Z...
     

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