HTPC surround sound issues

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Re: HTPC surround sound issues

Postposted on Wed Dec 05, 2012 12:25 pm

southrncomfortjm wrote:I like the Asus USB Xonar. I just want to be sure that my receiver will be able to use that to output 5.1. I don't know what Dolbly Digital Virtual Speaker, Live or anything else listed on the Asus spec page means really. This may be an obvious question, but will DTS work at all since it is not listed?
As I said, Dolby Digital Live is for realtime encoding of all sounds, including normal app and game sounds. Since this HTPC seems to be a strict TV and media playback machine, you don't necessarily need this. All you need is the ability to bitstream DD/DTS-encoded data (mind you, if your media files/discs do not contain such data then this does not work) over the S/PDIF port from the sound device to the receiver over an optical cable.

southrncomfortjm wrote:I also like the Creative USB Adapter, I just have the same questions as the Xonar above based on the specs. I think I like this option best, though I am concerned by the statement "DTS & Dolby Digital Decoding via free PowerDVD Download" on the amazon page. What does that mean? Can I only get DTS/Dobly surround sound using PowerDVD?
This means the software can decode DD/DTS data into "PCM/wav" 5.1 sound. That is for people outputting audio using the 3 analog 3.5"mm jacks out the back of their computers (and need a speaker set or receiver that can take 5.1 analog inputs, which your receiver lacks). You need the software to not touch DD/DTS data and just send the data direct (ie. bitstream) through the S/PDIF.

southrncomfortjm wrote:The Turtle Beach option seems decent, I am just concerned by the "virtual" tag being thrown around with it. That sounds a lot like Pro Logic II.
The product page does not mention much, but once I downloaded the manual there is this interesting bit:
The digital audio output may be used to transfer multi-channel audio to an external system with built-in 5.1 decoder for Dolby® Digital or DTS™ formats. DVD playback of Dolby Digital or DTS signals requires a software DVD player that transmits this audio format.
So this looks promising. The "external system with decoder" is your receiver, your linked manual already said it can decode both formats. It is down to software that can bitstream the data directly from files/discs.

southrncomfortjm wrote:Price doesn't matter between the three as long as I'm getting the one that works, or should work, better.
I actually think that cheapo SYBA linked in your first post can do the job too, as long as you have the software. Unfortunately you missed your chance from the very beginning. Better research when you bought your components, including revealing to us in your build thread that you have an old receiver, would have saved you this trouble now. We would not have approved your Biostar board and will suggest one like Chrispy_ has suggested above. It is not like your Biostar is that much cheaper without that S/PDIF port. :(

If you can afford to buy a new receiver, then of course get one that can take HDMI inputs with audio. You may find some cheaper (<$200) in the used market. The one twist here is that for older, used receiver you should not get those that has "HDMI passthrough/switching", since that means they can only take video over HDMI. You need a receiver that can take both video and audio signals, since your fundamental problem is you don't have the ability to output audio over S/PDIF.

What cjcerny said is pretty spot on. What you need is not any encoding/decoding on the sound device itself. You want the receiver to do the work of decoding digital surround sound data. I see 3 kinds of media that will be played on your HTPC:
1. Recorded shows. I am not too familiar with this one, but assuming you are going through Windows Media Center, then according to cjcerny the recorded files should contain surround sound data (assuming the broadcast gives you surround sound in the first place) and WMC will bitstream over native output. So just adding the S/PDIF output and selecting it as your default sound device should suffice.
2. Downloaded media files. The most popular format in this area is MKV files with DD/DTS sound encoded as a track. That you need playback software. I believe AC3Filter can get used to get Windows to bitstream the encoded surround sound data via S/PDIF. I used MPC-HC and K-Lite pack to accomplish this.
3. DVDs. Cjcerny said that PowerDVD can bitstream the sound tracks. So I think you are good as well.
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Re: HTPC surround sound issues

Postposted on Wed Dec 05, 2012 4:42 pm

southrncomfortjm wrote:The Turtle Beach option seems decent, I am just concerned by the "virtual" tag being thrown around with it. That sounds a lot like Pro Logic II.

Price doesn't matter between the three as long as I'm getting the one that works, or should work, better.

Basically, my questions is really only - which of these options gives me true 5.1 surround sound?


The Turtle Beach option should give true 5.1 sound. Looking at the Newegg reviews, it seems that you may need to download a more recent driver. But there are a couple of people claiming that they had no issues doing 5.1 passthrough with the Turtle Beach. This is your cheapest and simplest option if the only thing you need is to output digital audio to your non-HDMI receiver.

If you really don't like the idea of the USB dongle --> Toslink, then the PCIe Asus Xonar for $40 will work.

There are also a couple of cheaper options like this Vantec PCIe soundcardfor $30 at newegg. The reviews are bad apparently due to terrible analog stage (noise, crackles, etc) but if you only care about digital out, it has Toslink and apparently works fine for that.

And here's a $20 PCIe card that has toslink too, that apparently works for 5.1/7.1 out over digital. (I suppose this may be your cheapest solution) Edit: Sorry - just realized this is the SYBA you linked to in your first post..

Take your pick. Any of these options should allow 5.1 dolby digital/AC3/DTS or PCM passthrough via Toslink. You normally set whether you want dolby digital/AC3/DTS or PCM passthrough in the settings of either the digital audio codec installed on your computer (which then determines the setting for all other programs) or in the media player itself (if it comes with its own codecs). PCM just means that you can adjust levels (ie, volume) at the computer. If outputing dolby digital/AC3/DTS directly, you'll only be able to adjust levels at the receiver. Then you need to set your sound device in Windows to output 5.1 (instead of stereo). That's it.

If you want an HDMI-capable receiver, you are looking to start at around $200 or close enough (ie, this or maybe this).
Last edited by cynan on Wed Dec 05, 2012 5:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: HTPC surround sound issues

Postposted on Wed Dec 05, 2012 4:58 pm

Flying Fox wrote:2. Downloaded media files. The most popular format in this area is MKV files with DD/DTS sound encoded as a track. That you need playback software. I believe AC3Filter can get used to get Windows to bitstream the encoded surround sound data via S/PDIF. I used MPC-HC and K-Lite pack to accomplish this.


I thought the more current popular players, like MPC-HC and VLC, come with all the codecs they require. You can go into the settings and select to use external codecs, but this isn't required (though you may have to go into the settings upon first use and make sure the AC3/DTS codec settings are set to either output the bitstream directly, or PCM - and perhaps the correct number of channels).
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Re: HTPC surround sound issues

Postposted on Wed Dec 05, 2012 5:13 pm

cynan wrote:
Flying Fox wrote:2. Downloaded media files. The most popular format in this area is MKV files with DD/DTS sound encoded as a track. That you need playback software. I believe AC3Filter can get used to get Windows to bitstream the encoded surround sound data via S/PDIF. I used MPC-HC and K-Lite pack to accomplish this.


I thought the more current popular players, like MPC-HC and VLC, come with all the codecs they require. You can go into the settings and select to use external codecs, but this isn't required (though you may have to go into the settings upon first use and make sure the AC3/DTS codec settings are set to either output the bitstream directly, or PCM - and perhaps the correct number of channels).

MPC-HC uses the same codec driver stack as in Windows/WMP. A lot of codec packs actually bundles a version of MPC-HC, not the other way around. Last I used MPC-HC which comes with the K-Lite pack I recalled I still have to bring up the AC3Filter config and set "S/PDIF passthrough". VLC uses its own codec and the bitstream setting is somewhere in its own configuration UI.
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Re: HTPC surround sound issues

Postposted on Wed Dec 05, 2012 10:07 pm

I will qualify this with saying that I don't have any of the USB to optical devices we're talking about. That being said, I have plenty of experience with many different digital audio output (optical, SPDIF, HDMI) to receiver combinations with both onboard and discrete solutions through the years and everything from the VIA audio on an old P4 board with MCE 2005 to most recently AMD HDMI output on Windows 7 to a Pioneer HDMI receiver and none have ever had a problem outputting the digital audio signal encoded on either DVDs or HDTV recordings to my receiver and having it work correctly. I'm confident any of the solutions we have covered would address your needs well and feel the most comfortable recommending the Creative solution based on the popularity and positive reviews it has on Amazon. Beyond that it appears to be a well made piece of kit that can find a useful purpose a few years down the road (or months?) if/when you get a new mobo or HDMI capable receiver. Go for it and be happy.
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