HTPC Surround Sound For Dummies (1 Viewer)

dcwp

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  • October 9, 2006
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    Howdy,

    I've never given a lot of attention to the audio component of my HTPC. I've just been too transient to invest the time and too cheap to invest in hardware. But I'm in the middle of an upgrade and little ideas about better sound have started flittering through my head. The problem is that I'm totally clueless about surround sound.

    My basic question right now is about exactly what kind of hardware is required to achieve a basic 5.1 system. I've got a motherboard that supports up to 7.1 through all sorts of outputs including SPDIF and a bunch of 1/8" jacks (I guess that's analog?). It's an Asus P5N7A-VM (picture of i/o port here: http://images.tigerdirect.com/itemDetails/A455-2858/A455-2858-call04-maf.jpg) if you're interested.

    Right now I'm running a basic 2.1 system out of the analog (?) connection into a Creative Soundworks powered 2.1 system. I'm not sure the model off hand, but if you're curious, you can see what it looks like in my ongoing project thread: https://forum.team-mediaportal.com/ongoing-htpc-projects-60/diary-htpc-dabbler-56070/

    So I guess what I need to know is this: Does a surround sound system require a receiver of some sort or can my mother do all that? Or is it possible to somehow run speakers directly off of the motherboard with a connector to the 1/8" jacks or something. Honestly I'm embarrassed to ask that last question, but I really don't know. :oops:

    One of the major WAF elements of the HTPC endeavor in my house is lack of clutter. Adding an extra component to my setup is not really an option. The current system works nicely because the sound is run through the subwoofer, which I assume has an internal receiver/amplifier, so there is not an 'extra' box sitting around. I know Logitech and others make 5.1 and 7.1 systems like the one I've got, but are there any that are high enough quality to be used as part of a home theater system rather than just a nice computer?

    Thanks for any enlightenment!
     

    ryan20021982

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    Well since you dont really want another item to add to your equipment then I personally would suggest a PC 5.1 system like your referring to, It dont sound like you are a big audiophile so you dont need the best of the best. I use a Yamaha system but it requires a receiver or at least amplifier so something like that wont work for you. If I were you I would try to stay with something with more power since PC systems tend to not have that much power, but also a good brand also. I think a set of 5.1 speakers from logitech would do you just fine, they sound pretty good.

    You can also look into the MSI motherboards with amps

    Newegg.com - MSI Media Live DIVA 5.1 AM2+/AM2 AMD 780M HDMI Micro ATX AMD Motherboard - AMD Motherboards
    Newegg.com - MSI Media Live DIVA 7.1 AM2+/AM2 AMD 780G HDMI Micro ATX Combo Kit of Mobo and 7ch Pre-Amplifier Card - AMD Motherboards
     

    Tesla

    Portal Pro
    January 30, 2009
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    Howdy,

    I've never given a lot of attention to the audio component of my HTPC. I've just been too transient to invest the time and too cheap to invest in hardware. But I'm in the middle of an upgrade and little ideas about better sound have started flittering through my head. The problem is that I'm totally clueless about surround sound.

    My basic question right now is about exactly what kind of hardware is required to achieve a basic 5.1 system. I've got a motherboard that supports up to 7.1 through all sorts of outputs including SPDIF and a bunch of 1/8" jacks (I guess that's analog?). It's an Asus P5N7A-VM (picture of i/o port here: http://images.tigerdirect.com/itemDetails/A455-2858/A455-2858-call04-maf.jpg) if you're interested.

    Right now I'm running a basic 2.1 system out of the analog (?) connection into a Creative Soundworks powered 2.1 system. I'm not sure the model off hand, but if you're curious, you can see what it looks like in my ongoing project thread: https://forum.team-mediaportal.com/ongoing-htpc-projects-60/diary-htpc-dabbler-56070/

    So I guess what I need to know is this: Does a surround sound system require a receiver of some sort or can my mother do all that? Or is it possible to somehow run speakers directly off of the motherboard with a connector to the 1/8" jacks or something. Honestly I'm embarrassed to ask that last question, but I really don't know. :oops:

    One of the major WAF elements of the HTPC endeavor in my house is lack of clutter. Adding an extra component to my setup is not really an option. The current system works nicely because the sound is run through the subwoofer, which I assume has an internal receiver/amplifier, so there is not an 'extra' box sitting around. I know Logitech and others make 5.1 and 7.1 systems like the one I've got, but are there any that are high enough quality to be used as part of a home theater system rather than just a nice computer?

    Thanks for any enlightenment!
    Well, I wouldn't consider an amp and speakers clutter. If you want to hear the system there has to be some speakers showing. If they are substantial and need some power, you need an amp.

    Those 1/8" jacks are for multi-channel PC speakers. If you have a 3.1 set and an old 2.0 set, you can use them both to make a 5.1 system.

    However, for a little more than the price of a (still low powered) PC 5.1 set, you could easily buy a nice little HomeTheaterInABox that comes with an amp, sub, and 5 little speakers. Connect it to your PC with the SPDIF or Digital Coaxial port (because they pass DolbyDigital 5.1 over one wire) and you are all set. A few even have wireless surrounds or can be added later. Be sure it has Digital Audio IN.

    LG - 1000W 5.1-Ch. Home Theater System with Upconvert DVD/CD Player - LHT854

    Still a lot smaller and cheaper than an a real amp, dedicated speakers, and a stand-alone sub.
     

    Lupismaximus

    Portal Member
    April 13, 2009
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    The direct answer to your question is no, you don't need a receiver, but you do need a powered speaker system. I personally wouldn't bother with anything above 5.1 sound, especially if the wife doesn't want extra components sitting around. Think of it this way, the more speakers you have to drive, the more power you need.

    Overall, In order to get the best sound quality, you would need to go with a receiver and speakers, or go with one of those HT in a box, like Tesla mentioned. The problem with this is more components. The more logical option for you is to get some Logitech speakers, like the z5500 series, and run a SPDIF cable between your MB and the head unit. These are self amplified speakers (505W), and produce equivalent or better sound than any HT in a box will do. Sound quality is subjective and also it depends on your room size, orientation, flooring, so on.

    These PC speakers cost a bit, but produce a great quality sound. The only thing to consider is the wiring for your surround speakers. I don't know if you can run these against the wall, under a rug, but you will need to run wires to power the satellite speakers. The further you run them the greater risk of sound degradation. I haven't seen the latest wires that come with these speakers, but you might have to upgrade the wires to a high gauge wire, ir order to get the quality you want for distance longer than 15ft. Any Radio Shack wiring will do you just fine!

    I currently do this same set up for my gaming rig, and it sounds great. There are cheaper speakers out there, but you need to be conscious that what ever you choose, it can accept SPDIF cable, and understand DTS and Dolby audio encoding.
     

    dcwp

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  • October 9, 2006
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    Thanks for all the help! I feel like I've learned more this morning than in the past two weeks of reading through AVSForum and online guides to Surround Sound. Well maybe not really more, but definitely the answers I was *looking* for this time. :p

    I hadn't realized there was such thing as a MoBo with onboard Amp. That sounds very cool, but will have to wait since my new board is less than a month old now.

    I think it's right to say that I'm not a huge audiophile. Deep down I love sound more than video and have always dreamed of having a high quality system to listen to my music collection, but since so much depends on space and I move so much (in tiny places usually) that I've never invested. And of course there is the fact that I sold my wife on HTPC by telling her I could put all the old components, CDs, DVDs and junk into a single box. I'm sure I can convince her to adapt to a small component, but now I'm hooked on invisibility as much as I am on silence. Maybe once I have a permanent home with a dedicated theater room I can hide a receiver somewhere.

    This is helpful though, I'll start looking at powered systems like the Logitech one you mention. The Cambridge powered system I have sounds great for a 2.1 computer set so if I can find a 5.1 system with the same quality I'll be happy. I assume that I'll be able to swap stock speakers for aftermarkets? The long term plan that is developing in my head is to run speaker line through the wall and attic for the rear (surround I think they're called?) sattelites and mount them flush in wall or ceiling. That should make everyone in the house happy.

    Thanks again, you guys are great! :D
     

    dcwp

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    I've been exploring my options a little more. I always thought the world of HTPC components was overwhelming, but the volume of products available for audio is absolute dumbfounding.

    Until I started looking, I don't think I'd ever heard of a soundbar system. These apparently put an array of small and large speakers in a single bar that is mounted under the TV, but can somehow simulate a simple surround setup. As with all things, I'm sure it takes big bucks to get truly impressive sound, and even then I have doubts about a true surround experience. But I'm wondering if any of you have experience with these soundbars. Would a soundbar system perform nearly as well as a component system at the same pricepoint? Can a soundbar plus 2.1 PC speaker system add up to 5.1(ish) surround?

    Sorry for the burst of questions. All this audio stuff has my head swimming. I'm not convinced that the soundbar system is for me yet, but they sure are sexy (a big plus with WAF) and mostly it's something I've never heard of before.

    If it isn't clear what I'm talking about, here's a link to one I was checking out earlier tonight: HTS8100 Philips SoundBar High Def DVD Home Theater System with Video Upscaling, 1080p
     

    FantaXP7

    Portal Pro
    February 3, 2009
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    I personally would stay away from HTIB (home theater in a box) setups and sound bars. In my experience I have never heard one that was really all that great. I have what many would consider a budget-mid range surround setup and I have never heard a htib sound as good. They usually lack power, good bass, and receiver options. My setup right now is a low profile onkyo receiver that looks like the size of a cable box, 5 cambdridge sound works speakers, and a cambridge sound works sub.

    Although my father has recently bought an Onkyo htib and I will admit they do sound better. The great thing about the Onkyo htib is that it has a full featured receiver, most likely do to that fact that they specialize in receivers. The speakers weren't as nice quality. Overall I wasn't really all that impressed.

    If space is a condition than I would consider what Lupismaximus suggested. There are some great 5.1 and 7.1 packages out there with good subwoofers.

    As a side note, if you plan on buying any cables at all, check out monoprice.com. They have awesome prices on cables. An hdmi cable from bestbuy would be around 30-80 bucks and well take a look for yourself at what they charge.
     

    Tesla

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    January 30, 2009
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    Although I have no personal experience with them, SoundBars seem like a HTiB emphasizing “form over function” (something I never buy into). If you want true surround sound, in my opinion … you need to be physically surrounded by speakers.

    You might get a better response on the performance of various SoundBars and HTiBs at AVS, but keep in mind, you are shopping on the low end. However, we sometimes need these types of units for secondary rooms and bedrooms.

    I only recommended the HTiB because you wanted something minimalistic. I don’t have one but I think of them as a miniature version of what you really need (dedicated amp and speakers). You could always hide the amp or receiver in a cabinet, and use an IR extended/repeater.

    I think what it comes down to is that if you want good sound, you need good speakers. Speakers need power to reproduce sound accurately. I personally run a system similar to Fanta … If you have around $1100 to invest, go for some dedicated components like this …
    Panasonic 6.1 700watt amp
    Infinity 100watt dedicated subwoofer
    1 JBL Center Channel Speaker (large)
    2 JBL Left/Right Bookshelf Speakers (large)
    3 JBL RR/LR/Back Surround Bookshelf Speakers (medium)

    If you are only playing MP3s and videos files with 2 channel sound … Sure, you will get simulated matrix surround, but we are talking true 5.1 multi-channel sound here. Of course I use this same sound system to get DD5.1 from my cable/DVR and dedicated Panny DVD player. On the MediaPortal I rip my DVDs straight to the HD so nothing gets manipulated. Each DVD takes up about 5-8 gigs. Sometimes its hard to tell whether it’s playing from the PC or dedicated source (but I still think the dedicated players do a better job).

    A good test movie is Apollo 13. Crank it up close to max and play the scene where the Saturn V is taking off. If the walls, windows, funiture (and you) are shaking ... your mission is accomplished :)

    Oh, maybe that's the sub test ... for DD test try LotR, Armageddon, or Star Wars: Episode 2.
     

    dcwp

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    Great replies, thanks for the continuing education! This is more or less what I've suspected, but I was hoping there was some magical cheap silver bullett. Funny how that never works out, huh?

    One thing that occurred to me recently (why not before, I don't know) is that I can easily stash a component in the attic directly above the TV/HTPC. The previous owners of this house insulated and finished part of the attic so it doesn't get too hot or dusty, but the room is cramped and useless to me for anything but storage. I can easily put a receiver there and run the connecting lines down through the wall, achieving the invisibility my wife wants and the quality I want. Heck, if it weren't for the optical drive and power button, I could put the entire HTPC setup up there.

    I think the plan I'm coming to is to buy something passable but cheap in the next few months so that I can start experimenting with sound. Maybe htib, maybe proper receiver from the low end or used. Right now I'm in the post-doc/temporary job market so I have to move quite a bit and I don't know if I'll be in this house for 20 more years or 20 more weeks and I'm not sure what my employment situation looks like past a couple of months so I hesitate to commit to anything soon. But if I start experimenting with audio at the low end now, then once I get some stability I will be ready to invest in a higher end system. Thanks for helping me get into that position!
     

    dcwp

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    OK, I'm back with another question. I've been checking out various HTIBs and proper receivers and I'm getting closer to a decision. What I want to know now is how interchangeable the speakers, especially subs, are with these systems. I've seen a couple of 5.1 systems that get good reviews, except noting that the subs are weak. I'm pretty pleased with the low end coming from my current sub (a cambridge PC sub that includes amplifier/receiver circuitry. Would it be possible to continue using this sub with another receiver if I find that the shipped sub is insufficient in the new system? Many ongoing thanks!
     

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