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Digital surround sound receiver/speakers for HDTV?


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#1 of 8 OFFLINE   UniAce

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Posted January 18 2010 - 05:54 AM

 Hi all, (Note: I don' have very high A/V standards/expectations, as I am a student on a budget.) I have just gotten a Sharp 42" LCD HDTV (LC42SB45UT) and the picture is great for me, but the built-in speakers just aren't doing it for me.  I'm mostly using the TV for gaming, and some DVD watching.   What I'd like is to set up a halfway decent surround sound system as cost effectively as possible.  Here's the tricky part: the TV ONLY has a digital audio (coaxial) output.  I'm running an Xbox 360 to the TV via HDMI cable, so it looks like I can't separately run the audio output from that to anything else. The setup is in my living room, which is not huge so no space for big freestanding speakers, but those smaller speakers that you can mount to the walls would work.  I don't have a receiver or speakers. So, what do I need to get, and what are the most cost-effective options?Thanks,~jason

#2 of 8 ONLINE   Jason Charlton

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Posted January 18 2010 - 06:27 AM

Hi Jason, welcome!

Once you start adding mutliple sources to a surround sound system, the TV no longer acts as the center of the system, your A/V receiver does.

The digital audio out on the TV isn't good for anything but stereo audio (at best) from external sources.  The only digital audio that's actually output via that jack is what's picked up by the TVs internal tuner.

To really make a solid recommendation, we would need a specific budget to go on.

Ideally, you woul purchase an A/V receiver and speakers separately - that's the best way to ensure that something buy today will serve your needs as your system grows.  However, that approach often requires either a higher initial investment, or a piecemeal approach to gathering components.  Probably start with a receiver and main speakers.  Later add a center channel and subwoofer, then finally adding surround speakers.  That approach takes time but results in a better overall system.

If you want instant gratification and money is tight, all-in-one systems are about the only option.  These systems often have limited inputs and expandability, and the speakers are often the weakest part of such a system.  Often times people buy all-in-ones (or Home Theater in a Box - HTiB) systems only to discover soon after that it won't handle adding a PS3 or Blu-Ray.

Let us know how much you'd like to spend, and we can provide some specific options.

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#3 of 8 OFFLINE   CB750

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Posted January 19 2010 - 04:29 AM

Welcome Jason,

You are going to need to establish a budget for your receiver and speakers.  To help you decide,  you might want to visit a retailer and listen to equipment in various price ranges to see what you will be getting for your money.   Beware of less expensive HTib as many of the receiver's many not have all the connections you might need.   As a general rule you are going to want to put the majority of your budget into your speakers.   Some think a ratio of two to one speakers vs receiver is a good starting point.  

#4 of 8 OFFLINE   UniAce

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Posted January 19 2010 - 06:42 AM

 
  
Hi guys,
Thanks for the quick responses.  This is certainly not an area of expertise for me, but I enjoy learning quickly.
 Honestly, for the HDTV I just bought (on sale) I paid $600, most of which amount I don't actually have (i.e., I used a credit card).  So I'll be working on paying down that cost for the next year or two.  I can only carry so much debt, so for the audio, I certainly cannot afford to spend more than I just spent on the TV, and would certainly like to spend much less. So, in retrospect, I really have two goals:
    {A} get better sound than is coming out of the built-in speakers on the TV, and
    {B} get surround sound. I figured since {A} would probably require at least getting new speakers, I might as well see about trying to get surround sound while I'm at it.  But I also see now that it might be an option to achieve {A} without necessarily achieving {B} (especially if I just can't afford {B}). So here's how I was previously thinking of things:    [1]    Xbox360 (and maybe other input sources) ---> TV ---> Speakers  And based on Jason's helpful insight, here is how I perhaps should instead be thinking of things:    [2]    Xbox360 --->    Other input sources (DVD, PS2, etc.) --->        A/V Receiver             ---> TV            ---> Speakers (Sorry, not a great schematic, but hopefully you get the picture.) It sounds like there's no way for me to setup surround sound, goal {B}, with layout [1].  But it may be possible to simply improve sound, goal {A}, with layout [1].  For example: (i) Get two speakers that accept digital audio coaxial input (if such exist).(ii) Bargain basement option (and I've no doubt this will induce groans for audiophiles): I do have an extra set of computer speakers (3.5mm plug, Creative brand, with subwoofer) that I have been using with my old TV (old GE 25" CRT) and Playstation 2 and DVD player (via an RCA to 3.5mm adapter cable), and those really seemed to work fine.  It doesn't look like an adapter exists to go directly from digital audio coaxial to 3.5mm stereo, but it does look like digital audio coaxial to RCA stereo adapters exist, so I could use one of those and make the following hare-brained setup:    Xbox360 ----> {HDMI cable} ----> HDTV ----> {digital audio coaxial sable} --{{adapter 1}}--> {RCA stereo cable} --{{adapter 1}}--> {3.5mm stereo cable} ----> Computer SpeakersFar from ideal, I'm sure, but if the adapter cables are cheap enough it might be worth just trying. If, however, I do want to achieve both goal {A} and goal {B}, I'll need to use layout [2].  Even there, it seems there are several major options:(iii) get a Home Theater in a Box (HTiB) all-in-one system.(iv) get a good AV receiver, then speakers, then more speakers, etc.  I'm guessing that the rank ordering of costs of the above four options would be: (ii), (i), (iii), (iv).  But cost needs to be weighed against value and my usage scenario.  So, since it seems like the more info I provide the better advice is possible, here's more about my current and projected use patterns: I'm unlikely to get a PS3 or any other console anytime soon (i.e., within the next three years).  Seriously.  I am a grad student and I just do not have time to play enough games that I'll want another console, and I'm absolutely sure that is not going to change in the next few years. Also, I never watch any TV anymore. Again, it's dollars-to-donuts that that's not going to change anytime soon. The Xbox360 plays regular DVDs, so I probably don't even need my regular DVD player anymore either.  The only other thing I would like to run is the PS2 I already have, which uses a composite audio & video cable(s). Even though I really don't even watch DVDs very often, I guess there is a higher-than-zero chance that I MIGHT want to get a BluRay player at some point in the next few years. Even if I end up having 2 input sources (e.g., Xbox360 and BluRay player) that both use the same output format (e.g., HDMI) and I have an A/V receiver that only has 1 of that kind of input, then I'd be totally fine just manually swapping the cables as needed, or using a switch or something from RadioShack (assuming such exists).   Ok, phew, thanks again for helping.~jason


#5 of 8 ONLINE   Jason Charlton

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Posted January 19 2010 - 08:11 AM

Jason,

$600 is about the price of the least expensive "recommended" HTiB system from Onkyo, the 6200.  Anything cheaper than that isn't going to be very expandable.

You probably could find a way to get your computer speakers to work for now, but they're not designed for home theater, and frankly aren't going to sound very good at all.

The closest thing to powered speakers that accept digital audio input would be a sound bar.  There are several out there that supposedly offer decent sound (certainly better than anything your TV could produce).  Sony makes two models, the HTCT-100 and the HTCT-500, and there are others by Yamaha, Sharp and Samsung.  These would get you to {A} but would not help you get to {B}.

At some point you're going to need a surround sound receiver, but again, the cheapest variety out there that will fully support what Blu-Ray has to offer start at around $300 (the Onkyo 507 is one of the least expensive "HDMI Repeater" receivers out there - HDMI Repeater is probably the single key feature you'd want to have if going Blu is in your future).  However, depending on your budget, you may not have enough left over to get any decent speakers.

With a really tight budget, the key is to find the best sequence to add components, while minimizing the amount of "throwaway" spending - i.e. components that won't help get you to where you want to go (speakers are notorious for falling into this category, they're very hard to "get right" the first time).

One other approach may be to invest in a "good" pair of bookshelf speakers (maybe somewhere in the neightborhood of $200-250/pair) and couple them with a cheap two-channel amplifier (certainly less than $100 and even cheaper if you go used).  The amp would be a stopgap and would only be used until such time as you could upgrade to a receiver.

Next, save up for a receiver like the Onkyo 507 - that would give you the processing you need for surround sound.  After that, it'll be a matter of adding speakers - you could find a matching center for your front bookshelves, then a subwoofer and finally surrounds, OR you could relocate your bookshelves and use them for surrounds and get yourself a new matching front three speakers and a subwoofer.

How do these scenarios fit into what you had in mind?

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#6 of 8 OFFLINE   UniAce

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Posted January 21 2010 - 06:52 PM

 Hi again Jason,Thanks for the detailed info.  It's good to know what the lowest high quality options are, if nothing else then to just have a reference point. Today I managed to hook up the Xbox360 to the computer speakers (by using the composite cable instead of the HDMI cable), and I couldn't really tell the difference between those and the built-in TV speakers.  So, no reason to try to use the computer speakers. Hm, So for the price of the high quality sound bars, it seems like I might as well go for a HTiB at that point.  Hm, so, what if I just forgot about Blu-Ray?  I could really be satisfied (at least for the next few years I'm sure) just playing video games and watching standard definition DVDs (neither of which happen with tremendous frequency anyway).  If I concede that, would some of the less expensive HTiB be worth it? For instance, Newegg has a few name brand HTiB setups in the $200-$250 range: SONY DAV-HDX285LG LHT854SAMSUNG HT-Z320.  And SONY HT-SS360 $300.  And elsewhere it looks like there would be no-name-brand systems down around the $150 range. I'm also wondering if it's the case that the untrained ear (e.g., mine) wouldn't notice much of a difference between mid-range and higher-end equipment even if there did happen to be an opportunity for comparison? I think at this point in my life, I'd be happy to go with the simpler solution of a HTiB rather than piecing together a superior system, which is something I might like to do eventually when I have more time and money (say, in 10 years). thanks,
~jason


#7 of 8 ONLINE   Jason Charlton

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Posted January 22 2010 - 02:04 AM

If you concede the Blu-Ray option, then that does bring the cost down a bit.  You don't need to worry about the HD audio formats and you can stick with 5.1.

I still think it's much wiser to get a system with a separate receiver and DVD player if for no other reason than if one breaks, at least you're not out the entire system.

Here are some thoughts after quick glances at the systems you mentioned:

Sony DAV-HDX285
- These speakers have proprietery connections and are rated at 3 ohms.  This will make them completely useless for use with any other equipment.  In my mind, this is a huge drawback.
- As with most of the lower-cost HTiB units, there are no additional video inputs.  It has 1 optical and 1 coaxial digital audio input, though it's hard to tell if they can both be used for different sources, or if both jacks feed the same input.
- Even though it's cheap at about $220, I would probably put this at the bottom of my list.

LGLHT854
- Speakers don't use proprietary connections, but are still rated at 3 or 4 ohms, so any upgrade of the receiver in the future will likely mean upgrading the speakers at the same time.
- Only has 1 digital audio input (plus 1 analog/stereo input) so no digital surround from more than 1 external device/game system.

Samsung HT-Z320
- Like the Sony 285 it has proprietary speaker connectors, so that's a bummer.
- One digital audio input, one stereo audio input, no video outs.  Typical for a budget HTiB.

Sony HT-SS360
- This one actually has some video inputs (3 HDMI on the back) as well as a total of 3 digital audio inputs (2 optical, 1 coaxial).
- It WILL process 5.1 audio over HDMI as well.
- It still has proprietary speaker connections and is rated at 3 ohms.
- Of the bunch you have posted, this seems like the best one, but honestly, there are still a number of compromises.

Now, don't think I'm an Onkyo salesperson or anything, but when it comes to HTiB systems, theirs are the best because they generally include an actual A/V receiver that's USABLE outside the system.  They have "normal" speaker impedances, more inputs to support additional devices, and the build quality is overall much better than most systems.

For only $5 more than the Sony 360 is the Onkyo HT-S3200.  It does not come with a DVD player, but you can get DVD players these days for about $50.  This receiver will drive most speakers out there (rated at 6 ohms) and has just as many inputs as the Sony 360 (so it's essentially more future-proof than the Sony).  Now, the Onkyo won't process audio over HDMI (it's pass-thru only) but it's a much higher quality piece of equipment.

If budget is really tight, you could go with the Sony 360 and it will probably do OK for now.  However, when the time comes that you decide to upgrade any part of that system, the whole thing will need to be replaced.

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#8 of 8 OFFLINE   UniAce

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Posted January 22 2010 - 12:00 PM

 Wow, thanks again for all the very helpful information and insights.  One question: what is that difference between the Sony 360 and the Onkyo HT-S3200 with regard to how they handle HDMI audio?  (e.g., what does pass-thru only mean, and what are the practical implications of that). thanks!