How to replace your home theater pre-processor with a HTPC! - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 24 Old 06-06-2013, 11:44 AM - Thread Starter
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Some of you may know that back in Feb of this year I started a mini-project to see if I could replace a pre-pro with a home theater PC. See 'Deconstructing the home theater pre-processor'.

The experiment has been a resounding success. I've been using the PC in our demo room for around three months now with no hickups, crashes or anything that would make me worry about recommending it as a solid solution. The quality is good enough that it has replaced my other music server (Mac Mini, iTunes, Pure Music) and so now I am using one server for both music and movies. It's really nice to be able to rip blu-rays to a server and be able to choose scenes as needed and skip all the introductory screens. A poor man's Kaleidescape.

The downside is the large amount of configuration that needs to be done to get everything to work. Thankfully I've figured all of this out and documented it in a blog post on my website: how to replace your home theater pre-processor with a HTPC!

Take a look and leave a comment either here or there!

Next up I am going to start looking at what benefits, if any, these new fangled full range room correction plugins like Dirac Live and Audiolense can offer. I am personally not convinced theoretically about full range room correction but given the level of interest in it generally I figure I should at least try these things out, do some measurements and report back my findings.

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post #2 of 24 Old 06-06-2013, 01:01 PM
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I just posted a comment about installing from a USB drive. It's a relatively simple process and the installation is way faster than copying the files from an optical drive.

The only reservation I have for using a HTPC as my preamp/processor is the lack of inputs. If it's the sole device in your system then there's no issue. If you're like me and need to have multiple switched inputs for trying new A/V components, then nothing short of a quality pre/pro will do.

Without knowing the level of processing your setup is performing, I can only assume that using an i7 CPU is drastic overkill. If the software you're using is CPU intensive then it makes more sense.

Nice case, BTW.
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post #3 of 24 Old 06-06-2013, 02:04 PM
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I bought a Denon 4311ci on sale for $1000 and that's one of the high end processors/receivers from Denon.

I doubt any home brewed or commercial PC can match what the Denon offers for even twice that amount. The room correction/Audyssey equivalent itself costs several hundred for a PC. And that's not counting the multitude of inputs and outputs.

The "stability" factor is probably half that amount.
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post #4 of 24 Old 06-06-2013, 03:19 PM
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<<- - - - In.


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post #5 of 24 Old 06-06-2013, 06:14 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by kapone View Post

I bought a Denon 4311ci on sale for $1000 and that's one of the high end processors/receivers from Denon.

I doubt any home brewed or commercial PC can match what the Denon offers for even twice that amount. The room correction/Audyssey equivalent itself costs several hundred for a PC. And that's not counting the multitude of inputs and outputs.

The "stability" factor is probably half that amount.

Really?

Whilst Denon gear is ok I would not call it high end. The 4311 is not even a separate pre and power, it's an AVR. My target and comparison is with the Classe, DataSat, Krell, Bryston units. With the ability to use outboard DACs you can really step the game up. The Metric Halo LIO8 I'm using is a very very nice unit, but of course there is always better.

I had a Marantz AV7701 in the demo room before I built this unit and the sound quality was not good enough. That's one of the things that prompted me to do the project in the first place!

Also I am not a fan of Audyssey, but that's another conversation entirely!

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post #6 of 24 Old 06-06-2013, 06:23 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by captain_video View Post

I just posted a comment about installing from a USB drive. It's a relatively simple process and the installation is way faster than copying the files from an optical drive.

The only reservation I have for using a HTPC as my preamp/processor is the lack of inputs. If it's the sole device in your system then there's no issue. If you're like me and need to have multiple switched inputs for trying new A/V components, then nothing short of a quality pre/pro will do.

Without knowing the level of processing your setup is performing, I can only assume that using an i7 CPU is drastic overkill. If the software you're using is CPU intensive then it makes more sense.

Nice case, BTW.


I saw the comment thanks! I had a not-so-straightforward time installing Win8 onto a bootable USB for some reason, that's why I made the comment about the optical drive.

It is possible using JRiver's ASIO in to use JRiver and the PC as an audio processing device. For example you could run a modified Oppo with digital out into the Lynx AES16e card and a HDMI straight to your display.

The i7 is overkill. CPU utilization is 13% playing back a blu ray. I wanted some headroom to be able to run 12 channels of FIR filters for my room correction experiments.

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post #7 of 24 Old 06-06-2013, 09:00 PM
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Fantastic post!
This is exactly what I was looking at doing but wasn't sure how to handle 5.1 set up.

Can you please give a bit more information on how the Lynx card is hooked up?
Are you using each output as a stereo pair, or each output as an individual channel?
IE:
Output 1 = front L & R
Output 2 = center & sub
Output 3 = surround L & R
Output 4 = back L & R

I'm assuming each channel is outputting a digital signal?


TotalMedia has a decoder for DTS... what about for Dolby?


Thanks in advance as i'm sure there will be more questions from me as I complete a similar journey smile.gif
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post #8 of 24 Old 06-07-2013, 07:35 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nyal Mellor View Post

Really?

Whilst Denon gear is ok I would not call it high end. The 4311 is not even a separate pre and power, it's an AVR. My target and comparison is with the Classe, DataSat, Krell, Bryston units. With the ability to use outboard DACs you can really step the game up. The Metric Halo LIO8 I'm using is a very very nice unit, but of course there is always better.

I had a Marantz AV7701 in the demo room before I built this unit and the sound quality was not good enough. That's one of the things that prompted me to do the project in the first place!

Also I am not a fan of Audyssey, but that's another conversation entirely!
I never said Denon is "high end". I said the 4311 is the high end of Denon. smile.gif

And the discussion of whether an "AVR" is as good as a dedicated Pre is also a whole another discussion.

"Classe, DataSat, Krell, Bryston" - All these are great with analog and/or up to 5.1 digital. By the time you're looking at one of their units that can do lossless/True-HD/DTS-MA, you're looking at a small house mortgage.

DACs - I'll agree that there is certainly a sonic difference between a dedicated DAC and a mass market pre/AVR. But that's a preference. It doesn't show anything one way or the other.

Now, Audyssey (or its equivalents).... smile.gif Again, YOU may not like it, but the fact that the room plays a big part in the reproduction of audio has been known for decades. We just haven't had automated algorithms, processors and the technology to implement it on a mass market scale, until a few years ago. Is room correction the end all with all? Nope. But it can certainly bring out the best (which again is subjective) in your equipment in your space.

The point being, there is a place for exotic equipment in the marketplace, and there is place for the mass market, mid/high end equipment. One is not necassarily better/worse than the other. It's the human factor that makes a difference. As an e.g. my wife cannot see a major difference between SD and HD and she's in her 30s... smile.gif Is she blind? Nope. Does she not care about picture quality? Well, she cares more about the content. Where I see frame drops, she sees one of the Kardashian sisters swishing around in a couture dress. Go figure.

And I'll go head to head with anybody who claims that they can produce the "SQ" AND feature set of a Classe/Krell/Meridian/NAIM etc on a PC for the retail price of the respective equipment. Can't be done.
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post #9 of 24 Old 06-07-2013, 08:56 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by fury13 View Post

Fantastic post!
This is exactly what I was looking at doing but wasn't sure how to handle 5.1 set up.

Can you please give a bit more information on how the Lynx card is hooked up?
Are you using each output as a stereo pair, or each output as an individual channel?
IE:
Output 1 = front L & R
Output 2 = center & sub
Output 3 = surround L & R
Output 4 = back L & R

I'm assuming each channel is outputting a digital signal?


TotalMedia has a decoder for DTS... what about for Dolby?


Thanks in advance as i'm sure there will be more questions from me as I complete a similar journey smile.gif

A straight 5.1 setup would be easy.

The Lynx card uses DB26 connectors but comes with a cable for DB26 to XLR or you can have one custom made. The outputs are digital in the AES/EBU format. Each XLR is a stereo pair. It is possible to reassign channels either in the Lynx Mixer or within JRiver's parametric EQ so they meet your requirements.

Standard order for 5.1 would be L/C/R/Sub/SL/SR.

If I only needed a 5.1 setup I would skip the Lynx and probably try out the Exasound E18. I need the Lynx because I need 12 output channels.

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post #10 of 24 Old 06-07-2013, 09:04 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by kapone View Post

I never said Denon is "high end". I said the 4311 is the high end of Denon. smile.gif

And the discussion of whether an "AVR" is as good as a dedicated Pre is also a whole another discussion.

"Classe, DataSat, Krell, Bryston" - All these are great with analog and/or up to 5.1 digital. By the time you're looking at one of their units that can do lossless/True-HD/DTS-MA, you're looking at a small house mortgage.

DACs - I'll agree that there is certainly a sonic difference between a dedicated DAC and a mass market pre/AVR. But that's a preference. It doesn't show anything one way or the other.

Now, Audyssey (or its equivalents).... smile.gif Again, YOU may not like it, but the fact that the room plays a big part in the reproduction of audio has been known for decades. We just haven't had automated algorithms, processors and the technology to implement it on a mass market scale, until a few years ago. Is room correction the end all with all? Nope. But it can certainly bring out the best (which again is subjective) in your equipment in your space.

The point being, there is a place for exotic equipment in the marketplace, and there is place for the mass market, mid/high end equipment. One is not necassarily better/worse than the other. It's the human factor that makes a difference. As an e.g. my wife cannot see a major difference between SD and HD and she's in her 30s... smile.gif Is she blind? Nope. Does she not care about picture quality? Well, she cares more about the content. Where I see frame drops, she sees one of the Kardashian sisters swishing around in a couture dress. Go figure.

And I'll go head to head with anybody who claims that they can produce the "SQ" AND feature set of a Classe/Krell/Meridian/NAIM etc on a PC for the retail price of the respective equipment. Can't be done.

We are on the same page with respect to the importance of the room. Most of the work I do is room acoustic analysis and treatment design! I use parametric EQ for the lowest frequencies (say under 150Hz) but philosophically I am not convinced about 'full range' room correction - it is more like speaker correction above the room's transition frequency and the main issue I have is that the automated room correction algorithm does not know the anechoic response of the speaker or what the it's power response looks like. Each speaker will need a different 'target curve' to sound right, and so that means a) your software needs to allow you to freely specify the target curve (which Audyssey cannot) and b) you are going to spend a lot of time playing with the target curve to get things to sound right.

In some respects the HTPC has more functionality or feature set than the Classe/Krell/Meridians. One for me being the huge flexibility and power in parametric EQ that JRiver offers. For example I can do an active crossover at 150Hz in JRiver for my screen speakers. I can't do that with anything else short of a DataSat.

I don't think the HTPC as pre-pro is right for everyone but this experiment shows that for some uses it is better than most of what is commercially available. For most of my customers I would not recommend a HTPC as pre-pro. If they wanted the same sonic quality as what I have right now I would point them at a high end pre-pro, simply due to usability, maintenance, complexity.

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post #11 of 24 Old 06-07-2013, 12:19 PM
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I'd be the idiot who plays around with it and wastes half his time trying to get it perfect. That's something stupid I'd be inclined to do because I have a prevailing sickness.

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post #12 of 24 Old 06-07-2013, 01:20 PM
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It doesn't really seem like this is something that would be an option for most of us.
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post #13 of 24 Old 06-07-2013, 01:46 PM
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It's certainly an advanced level project. My hat goes off to the OP for tackling and doing this project.

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post #14 of 24 Old 06-07-2013, 01:56 PM - Thread Starter
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It doesn't really seem like this is something that would be an option for most of us.

Why? Lack of inputs? Yes that is a big draw back. I don't watch cable TV so no great loss for me. You can stream Netflix, Amazon, etc through JRiver and with blu-rays that's all I really watch anyway!

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post #15 of 24 Old 06-07-2013, 02:32 PM
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Why? Lack of inputs? Yes that is a big draw back. I don't watch cable TV so no great loss for me. You can stream Netflix, Amazon, etc through JRiver and with blu-rays that's all I really watch anyway!
.

Lack of inputs is one of many issues.

The biggest issue to me is that doing a proper parametric eq is probably something that I couldn't manage and I don't think I could justify spending the money for a pro to come in and do it.

I personally don't care for being locked into j.river and would much prefer a parametric eq built in to the sound card drivers somehow or just using Windows auto-calibration and modifying as needed.
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post #16 of 24 Old 06-07-2013, 04:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Nyal Mellor View Post

A straight 5.1 setup would be easy.

The Lynx card uses DB26 connectors but comes with a cable for DB26 to XLR or you can have one custom made. The outputs are digital in the AES/EBU format. Each XLR is a stereo pair. It is possible to reassign channels either in the Lynx Mixer or within JRiver's parametric EQ so they meet your requirements.

Standard order for 5.1 would be L/C/R/Sub/SL/SR.

If I only needed a 5.1 setup I would skip the Lynx and probably try out the Exasound E18. I need the Lynx because I need 12 output channels.

Thanks for the reply.

I am currently running Behringer DCX's to run my speakers active, with the plan of full 5.1 active speakers.
The DCX's are currently being fed by a stereo AES/EBU digital signal. Unfortunately they will not process a 5.1 signal, so I need software / soundcard that can output a 5.1 signal in stereo AES pairs.
I do not wish to use analogue inputs on the DCX's (albeit ths would make life easier).
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post #17 of 24 Old 06-07-2013, 10:47 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by fury13 View Post

Thanks for the reply.

I am currently running Behringer DCX's to run my speakers active, with the plan of full 5.1 active speakers.
The DCX's are currently being fed by a stereo AES/EBU digital signal. Unfortunately they will not process a 5.1 signal, so I need software / soundcard that can output a 5.1 signal in stereo AES pairs.
I do not wish to use analogue inputs on the DCX's (albeit ths would make life easier).

Either the Lynx AES16e or the RME equivalent are your only options I think...

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post #18 of 24 Old 06-07-2013, 10:50 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by macks View Post

.

Lack of inputs is one of many issues.

The biggest issue to me is that doing a proper parametric eq is probably something that I couldn't manage and I don't think I could justify spending the money for a pro to come in and do it.

I personally don't care for being locked into j.river and would much prefer a parametric eq built in to the sound card drivers somehow or just using Windows auto-calibration and modifying as needed.

You do not need to use parametric EQ to have a good sounding system. It does help, however, especially in the low bass where passive acoustic treatment necessarily becomes very big and bulky. People with large open plan rooms may not need any bass trapping or EQ.

If you don't want to have parametric EQ in JRiver for fear of being locked in then you could use a unit such as a Xilica XD-4080 (a 4 input, 8 output DSP processor) which can take an AES input and has parametric EQ in the unit.

There are also automated room correction plugins available such as Dirac Live and Audiolense.

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post #19 of 24 Old 06-08-2013, 07:04 AM
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Yeah that's what it appears to be...
$700 for the Lynx, $1200 for the RME.
Expensive either way you look at it.
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post #20 of 24 Old 06-09-2013, 04:18 AM
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biggest problem I have when doing any processing at HTPC is LFE channel and re-directed cross-overed bass

I'll read more in depth ref your original posts as I'm interested to see how you've dealt with that

adding the +10dB required post-processing to LFE I find a right pain
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post #21 of 24 Old 06-09-2013, 03:24 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by markabuckley View Post

biggest problem I have when doing any processing at HTPC is LFE channel and re-directed cross-overed bass

I'll read more in depth ref your original posts as I'm interested to see how you've dealt with that

adding the +10dB required post-processing to LFE I find a right pain

JRiver handles all bass management internally including the LFE level adjustments. Works a treat.

http://wiki.jriver.com/index.php/Audio_Setup#Room_Correction

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post #22 of 24 Old 06-09-2013, 03:32 PM
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thanks Nyal - I use Jriver already

but i have issues getting the LFE to the right level

I use HTPC - USB 8 channel LPCM (48/16) into my 59TXi - a weird but useful feature

but if I apply +10dB to the LFE channel as required within Jriver - using "Room Correction" part of DSP - I get clipping

even if I apply say +4dB to LFE and -6dB to all other channels - I still get clipping frown.gif
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post #23 of 24 Old 06-09-2013, 10:27 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by markabuckley View Post

thanks Nyal - I use Jriver already

but i have issues getting the LFE to the right level

I use HTPC - USB 8 channel LPCM (48/16) into my 59TXi - a weird but useful feature

but if I apply +10dB to the LFE channel as required within Jriver - using "Room Correction" part of DSP - I get clipping

even if I apply say +4dB to LFE and -6dB to all other channels - I still get clipping frown.gif

Could you try turning your analog sub volume control up instead of trying to manage sub level digitally (presuming your sub has a volume control).

I've actually got my subs turned down 8dB relative to the center channel in JRiver to get proper balance and integration. In fact even then it might be a little hot and I may take out another 3dB. I have four subs.

Much depends on how many subs you have and how they are placed in your room (i.e. 1) how much boundary gain they get from near wall or corner placement and 2) how they interact with room modes). Personally when I calibrate a system I have no qualms about turning up or down a sub (or subs) to properly integrate and balance them with the other speakers. And neither should you!

In summary I would likely leave the sub at 0dB in JRiver if it was causing digital clipping issues and set the sub up using acoustic measurements and listening.

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post #24 of 24 Old 06-10-2013, 02:18 PM
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I am using my pc for all decoding/processing - 2 channel only. The reason I don't use a pre-pro, among other things, is because I found that not using a preamp of any kind , active or passive, greatly improves the sound of my system - a direct connection from the pc to the amps can't be done with a pre pro . Question: if I use a usb dac (presently using an asus xonar stx soundcard) will I still get lossless bluray audio when decoding truhd and dtsma with arcsoft or similar software?
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