How to replace your home theater pre-pro with a HTPC! - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 218 Old 06-06-2013, 12:42 PM - 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 218 Old 06-07-2013, 04:38 AM
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Interesting, but nothing really new though..wink.gif Many, myself included, have done this for many (10?) years.
When trying to convince others about the benefits of the HTPC as pre-pro, it almost always comes down to the difficulties in adding external sources.

I use the Lynx2B sound-card and have yet to listen to a better digital sound solution. I see you use the AES16 card and then a DEQX or Metric Halo d/a converter. Have you also tried going Lynx all the way with the Aurora..?
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post #3 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 10:08 AM - Thread Starter
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True, we have been able to do this for a long time, but only recently with the advancements in JRiver and computer power could we potentially run a 16 channel system with Dirac Live on a completely silent HTPC!

I would like to try all Lynx. The Aurora would be half the price of the LIO8 I am using. Honestly though I think SQ would be worse, after all you generally get what you pay for. You have an additional 8 channels of A/D which I don't need in the Aurora.

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post #4 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 11:30 AM
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Does this collection of software handle all (or most of) the Bluray advanced audio codecs? I see you have DTS but what about DolbyHD for example?

Seems like a needed addition would be an SPDIF input with AC3 decoding for satellite/cable and an HDMI switcher for the video - select either the STB or the media server. HDMI video input to the HTPC would be nice except then we get into HDCP issues as satellite and cable are now using it.

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post #5 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 11:36 AM
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I would like to try all Lynx. The Aurora would be half the price of the LIO8 I am using. Honestly though I think SQ would be worse, after all you generally get what you pay for. You have an additional 8 channels of A/D which I don't need in the Aurora.
Don't be so sure it's worse sounding. Me and friends of mine have compared it to just about everything (!) out there, and so far the only solution found to be slightly better was a top MSB-rig. Subjectively of course.. cool.gif

On the other hand, since I'm always looking for ways to improve my system, I would love to try the Metric Halo...

Btw, I have also tried Audiolense, 5-6 years ago. Did not get the results I was hoping for, but I'm gonna try it again. Bernt is a GREAT guy, very helpful.
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post #6 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 11:40 AM
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Seems like a needed addition would be an SPDIF input with AC3 decoding for satellite/cable and an HDMI switcher for the video - select either the STB or the media server. HDMI video input to the HTPC would be nice except then we get into HDCP issues as satellite and cable are now using it.
This is where the trouble starts...wink.gif
One or two old soundcards had the ability to take an external spdif signal and produce AC3 or DTS from it. Don't think any current soundcard will though.

Simply put, forget it.
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post #7 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 11:50 AM
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This is where the trouble starts...wink.gif
One or two old soundcards had the ability to take an external spdif signal and produce AC3 or DTS from it. Don't think any current soundcard will though.

Simply put, forget it.

I searched for such as card as well. It does not need to "produce" AC3 or DTS, it needs to decode it. The card does indeed not exist to my knowledge. I will use a kludgy workaround to route MCH audio from satellite TV source through my HTPC: the old Meridian 561 processor will output 4x unencrypted PCM over S/PDIF. So I will hook up my satellite receiver the Meridian and the Meridian to the Lynx card inputs to get MCH audio for TV. I am currently doing the same feeding the S/PDIF inputs from the Meridian into my Trinnov processor. All video will go through monoprice HDMI switcher.
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post #8 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 12:05 PM
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Don't be so sure it's worse sounding. Me and friends of mine have compared it to just about everything (!) out there, and so far the only solution found to be slightly better was a top MSB-rig. Subjectively of course.. cool.gif

On the other hand, since I'm always looking for ways to improve my system, I would love to try the Metric Halo...

Btw, I have also tried Audiolense, 5-6 years ago. Did not get the results I was hoping for, but I'm gonna try it again. Bernt is a GREAT guy, very helpful.

I totally agree. Any straight AES I/O card is deserializing the data stream and moving a few control bits around. It can't really can't change the audio data. Sure it can corrupt it but that would just mean clicks and pops. It's not like one AES I/O card is going to have better highs, imaging, or less noise than another.

Now when we get into DACs, that's another matter altogether. There quality does matter. But an AES I/O card is really not much different than a USB or old RS232 serial card function wise.

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post #9 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 12:09 PM
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It does not need to "produce" AC3 or DTS, it needs to decode it. The card does indeed not exist to my knowledge.
Sorry. Decode was the word my brain couldn't find..smile.gif
I had a Creative X-Fi Elite something, many years back, that actually did this, but I can't remember if I could use it together with my Lynx..?!? Probably not.
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post #10 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 12:10 PM
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I totally agree. Any straight AES I/O card is deserializing the data stream and moving a few control bits around. It can't really can't change the audio data. Sure it can corrupt it but that would just mean clicks and pops. It's not like one AES I/O card is going to have better highs, imaging, or less noise than another.

Now when we get into DACs, that's another matter altogether. There quality does matter. But an AES I/O card is really not much different than a USB or old RS232 serial card function wise.

Correct me if I am wrong, but in an synchronous architecture the AES/EBU I/O card provides the master clock to the DAC(s). Wouldn't jitter of the clock on the card have a fairly substantial impact on SQ of the downstream DACs? Anyone tried an external word clock with the lynx card? If that improves SQ this would confirm that the card matters quite a bit.
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post #11 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 12:13 PM
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Sorry. Decode was the word my brain couldn't find..smile.gif
I had a Creative X-Fi Elite something, many years back, that actually did this, but I can't remember if I could use it together with my Lynx..?!? Probably not.

The issue is does it work as an input source to JRiver (probably not). The Lynx card is an output device for Jriver. Irrespectively, the card is a museum piece.
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post #12 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 12:15 PM
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This is where the trouble starts...wink.gif
One or two old soundcards had the ability to take an external spdif signal and produce AC3 or DTS from it. Don't think any current soundcard will though.

Simply put, forget it.

We also need to keep in mind that most of these advanced CODECS are licensed. Yes, AC3 has been hacked enough and is widespread enough that there is plenty of gray software out there but not the case with the newer CODECS. And the more prominent companies like J River can't bypass the licensing issues like the free underground players (VLC, XMBC) seen to do. Bottom line is you are back to loading hacked unsupported software when new CODECS come out and that is what gives the HTPC it's "tinkerer's toy" reputation.

I am not knocking this project at all. I really like what Nyal did and fully support it. I just wonder if it can really compete with hardware solutions at this time. Surely for plain old DD AC3 and basic DTS it can.

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post #13 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 12:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Glimmie View Post

We also need to keep in mind that most of these advanced CODECS are licensed. Yes, AC3 has been hacked enough and is widespread enough that there is plenty of gray software out there but not the case with the newer CODECS. And the more prominent companies like J River can't bypass the licensing issues like the free underground players (VLC, XMBC) seen to do. Bottom line is you are back to loading hacked unsupported software when new CODECS come out and that is what gives the HTPC it's "tinker's toy) reputation.

I am not knocking this project at all. I really like what Nyal did and fully support it. I just wonder it it can really compete with hardware solutions at this time. Surely for plain old DD AC3 and basic DTS is can.

I am personally not too worried about this. To be on the safe side, you can always run a modded Oppo digitally into the Lynx card for the rare disc that does not work.
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post #14 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 12:21 PM
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Correct me if I am wrong, but in an synchronous architecture the AES/EBU I/O card provides the master clock to the DAC(s). Wouldn't jitter of the clock on the card have a fairly substantial impact on SQ of the downstream DACs? Anyone tried an external word clock with the lynx card? If that improves SQ this would confirm that the card matters quite a bit.

Yes it would. But how bad does the jitter need to be to have an adverse affect. And remember that jitter can start way back in the PC so I'm not so sure an AES card makes that much difference. Perhaps a better AES card could have an input FIFO and a slow PLL to average out the jitter, but then most good DACS has this as well.

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post #15 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 12:25 PM
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I am personally not too worried about this. To be on the safe side, you can always run a modded Oppo digitally into the Lynx card for the rare disc that does not work.

Yes, but does the J-River software support 7.1 external input? If your EQ and other room correction is being done by J-River, then it needs to be online all the time. Just as you hardware processor is. For example I have my Lexicon MC8 modified with a 7.1 external input. All the MC8 does is volume control. My EQ and bass correction is after the MC8 so this works. But ideally the J-River would feed into DACs then right to the power amps.

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post #16 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 12:30 PM
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Yes, but does the J-River software support 7.1 external input? If your EQ and other room correction is being done by J-River, then it needs to be online all the time. Just as you hardware processor is. For example I have my Lexicon MC8 modified with a 7.1 external input. All the MC8 does is volume control. My EQ and bass correction is after the MC8 so this works. But ideally the J-River would feed into DACs then right to the power amps.

I think it does, but I don't know for sure. In any event, not a factor for me since I have a 5.0 system. I will do EQ and room correction in Dirac Live, which will be applied after Jriver.
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post #17 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 12:34 PM
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Irrespectively, the card is a museum piece.
Yes, just like your 561..wink.gif
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post #18 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 12:43 PM
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Yes, just like your 561..wink.gif

Exactly. I scored one used for $800. Lot of money for an AC3 to S/PDIF converter. It sits behind my rack with a coax cable coming in from my satellite receiver, and 3x S/PDIF coming out. Figuring out how to configure it to output unencrypted S/PDIF using the a legacy version of the meridian configuration program and a serial cable was a nightmare - but it works like a charm now.
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post #19 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 01:29 PM - Thread Starter
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Does this collection of software handle all (or most of) the Bluray advanced audio codecs? I see you have DTS but what about DolbyHD for example?

Yes JRiver supports Dolby Digital and DolbyHD out of the box. The dtsdecoder.dll mentioned is needed for DTS-HD.

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post #20 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 01:29 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Glimmie View Post

Yes, but does the J-River software support 7.1 external input? If your EQ and other room correction is being done by J-River, then it needs to be online all the time. Just as you hardware processor is. For example I have my Lexicon MC8 modified with a 7.1 external input. All the MC8 does is volume control. My EQ and bass correction is after the MC8 so this works. But ideally the J-River would feed into DACs then right to the power amps.

I have not tried it but it should via ASIO line in.

In my system the signal path is HTPC-DACs-Power amps

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post #21 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 01:32 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Glimmie View Post

I totally agree. Any straight AES I/O card is deserializing the data stream and moving a few control bits around. It can't really can't change the audio data. Sure it can corrupt it but that would just mean clicks and pops. It's not like one AES I/O card is going to have better highs, imaging, or less noise than another.

Now when we get into DACs, that's another matter altogether. There quality does matter. But an AES I/O card is really not much different than a USB or old RS232 serial card function wise.

There are only two AES multichannel IO cards out there - the Lynx and an RME. I have not compared the two.

I am talking about DACs. There is a definite difference between DACs. I have no idea what the Lynx Aurora sounds like but I am just suspect of something retailing for 2k with 8 channels of AD and 8 channels of DA being 'good enough' for my tastes which are sadly high end due to my job and the amount of time I spend working and listening to very very nice gear.

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post #22 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 01:44 PM
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There are only two AES multichannel IO cards out there - the Lynx and an RME. I have not compared the two.

I am talking about DACs. There is a definite difference between DACs. I have no idea what the Lynx Aurora sounds like but I am just suspect of something retailing for 2k with 8 channels of AD and 8 channels of DA being 'good enough' for my tastes which are sadly high end due to my job and the amount of time I spend working and listening to very very nice gear.

I will be using the MSB signature DAC for mains, and 2 x NAD m51 for surrounds and center. An intriguing option is to get a battery of Mytek DACs. This would allow you to run native MCH DSD over USB (see thread on this subject on computer audiophile).
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I will be using the MSB signature DAC for mains, and 2 x NAD m51 for surrounds and center. An intriguing option is to get a battery of Mytek DACs. This would allow you to run native MCH DSD over USB (see thread on this subject on computer audiophile).

I need 12 channels which kind of limits my options!! That would be 6 mytek DACs...

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post #24 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 03:32 PM
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I am talking about DACs. There is a definite difference between DACs. I have no idea what the Lynx Aurora sounds like but I am just suspect of something retailing for 2k with 8 channels of AD and 8 channels of DA being 'good enough' for my tastes which are sadly high end due to my job and the amount of time I spend working and listening to very very nice gear.

Since you have listened to many of the high-end offerings out there, how would you rate the DEQX or Metric Halo against Meitners, MSB's, Wadias etc..?

But you should still try an Aurora..smile.gif
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post #25 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 03:36 PM
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I need 12 channels which kind of limits my options!! That would be 6 mytek DACs...

6x mytek will set you back less than a single one of uber DACs (EMM, PBD, MSB, dCS). Plus, you'll probably get a volume discount!
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post #26 of 218 Old 06-07-2013, 04:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Nyal Mellor View Post

I have no idea what the Lynx Aurora sounds like but I am just suspect of something retailing for 2k with 8 channels of AD and 8 channels of DA being 'good enough' for my tastes which are sadly high end due to my job and the amount of time I spend working and listening to very very nice gear.

Everything I've read indicates that they sound great/are transparent.

FWIW this is from pro audio guys.

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post #27 of 218 Old 06-08-2013, 03:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Nyal Mellor View Post

There are only two AES multichannel IO cards out there - the Lynx and an RME. I have not compared the two.

I am talking about DACs. There is a definite difference between DACs. I have no idea what the Lynx Aurora sounds like but I am just suspect of something retailing for 2k with 8 channels of AD and 8 channels of DA being 'good enough' for my tastes which are sadly high end due to my job and the amount of time I spend working and listening to very very nice gear.

Nyal,
I've been living in the Denon 4311/Audyssey XT32+Pro world, and have been following your work. Quite impressive in seeking to tear down some of the barriers between the 'hardware' world and customized HTPC-based components.

Something for you:
I was thinking of looking into Dirac Live as an alternative to Audyssey due to greater focus on impulse response correction (to the extent possible electronically), as well some of the options for shaping target/house curves outside of the Audyssey propensity for flatness - Pro's Target Curve Editor aside to create a "house curve".

However, I'm not so much looking to replace my Denon 4311 with a HTPC as use it as a dedicated pre/pro, feed it assumedly via its unbalanced RCA pre-out to a HTPC to maintain bass management and independent sub distance/trim settings, and then have the HTPC run Dirac Live, finally feeding via analog out to either an AVR I would use as an "amp" (I have a spare SC-27 I could use for this in Pure Direct mode), or a dedicated amp. My current system is 5.2 - Mythos ST fronts, CS 8080-HD center, Gem XL surrounds, and two HSU-15 subs (equidistant from MLP). I also feed an Oppo 93, TiVo Series 3, and Apple TV into my Denon, exporting HDMI video to a Lumagen Mini, Darblet, and VT50 (in that order).

While I'd love to get into the full-featured Trinnov world with a TEQ-8 or buy a Datasat RS20, that's about 4x outside of my price range. And I'm not going near the R-972 due to unit reliability issues, and the desire to keep the core functionality "family friendly" once a calibration is set..

For the app I'm thinking of, assuming it's doable, what kind of A/D interface, sound card, and DAC would you recommend to go with Dirac Live? Would I have to go to something like the Lynx or RME, or are their other alternatives that are LT $2K for the pre/pro->PC interface? I'm trying to keep my costs, including Dirac, at the $4K level or less. I also want to keep my 24/96 (if not 192) Hz channel output from the Denon "pre/pro" intact as much as possible. Ideally such alternatives would be an external rather than internal, so I could use a laptop as a processor rather than have to work with a dedicated mini-tower, but it's not essential.

I'm also assuming that due to HDCP restrictions, there's no practical way to output HDMI multichannel audio from the Denon while still outputting HDMI video to my display chain, let alone input HDMI into a DAC or convert into a form usable in a sound card for Dirac processing. The Denon technically has "TV" mode for HDMI audio passthrough, but it's unclear if this automatically downconverts to two-channel.

Yes, I know about Carl Huff's DL 2 being in the pipeline, but there's no definitive release date. Hence why I was thinking of experimenting in this direction with Dirac.

BTW, if I got this to "work", a true A/B/X would probably be not using my Denon-based 4311's Audyssey, but probably to pick up a (trial) version of ARC, which is a PC-based version of XT32, to have a true apples to apples comparison. But one thing at a time. One could even - although at the risk of other complications - use Dirac as "icing on the cake" for an AVR-based Audyssey, similar to the way that some would use a Behringer or MiniDSP in conjunction with Audyssey. Regardless, I'd be using REW as my tool to access room response.

Any thoughts about how I could make this "work"? While I could post this to the HTPC forum, since you're covering some of the same territory, I thought I'd start here.

Stuart

 

Denon 4311 with XT32 and Audyssey Pro

Oppo 93 and 103

Panasonic VT50

Sherwood R-972 with its version of the Trinnov Optimizer

MiniDSP 10x10 HD

PSB Imagine T2, Center, and Surrounds (as of 5/2014); HSU ULS-15 subs (2)

 

The Audyssey FAQ Guide can be found here:

http://www.avsforum.com/...

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post #28 of 218 Old 06-09-2013, 04:36 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sdrucker View Post

Nyal,
I've been living in the Denon 4311/Audyssey XT32+Pro world, and have been following your work. Quite impressive in seeking to tear down some of the barriers between the 'hardware' world and customized HTPC-based components.

Something for you:
I was thinking of looking into Dirac Live as an alternative to Audyssey due to greater focus on impulse response correction (to the extent possible electronically), as well some of the options for shaping target/house curves outside of the Audyssey propensity for flatness - Pro's Target Curve Editor aside to create a "house curve".

However, I'm not so much looking to replace my Denon 4311 with a HTPC as use it as a dedicated pre/pro, feed it assumedly via its unbalanced RCA pre-out to a HTPC to maintain bass management and independent sub distance/trim settings, and then have the HTPC run Dirac Live, finally feeding via analog out to either an AVR I would use as an "amp" (I have a spare SC-27 I could use for this in Pure Direct mode), or a dedicated amp. My current system is 5.2 - Mythos ST fronts, CS 8080-HD center, Gem XL surrounds, and two HSU-15 subs (equidistant from MLP). I also feed an Oppo 93, TiVo Series 3, and Apple TV into my Denon, exporting HDMI video to a Lumagen Mini, Darblet, and VT50 (in that order).

While I'd love to get into the full-featured Trinnov world with a TEQ-8 or buy a Datasat RS20, that's about 4x outside of my price range. And I'm not going near the R-972 due to unit reliability issues, and the desire to keep the core functionality "family friendly" once a calibration is set..

For the app I'm thinking of, assuming it's doable, what kind of A/D interface, sound card, and DAC would you recommend to go with Dirac Live? Would I have to go to something like the Lynx or RME, or are their other alternatives that are LT $2K for the pre/pro->PC interface? I'm trying to keep my costs, including Dirac, at the $4K level or less. I also want to keep my 24/96 (if not 192) Hz channel output from the Denon "pre/pro" intact as much as possible. Ideally such alternatives would be an external rather than internal, so I could use a laptop as a processor rather than have to work with a dedicated mini-tower, but it's not essential.

I'm also assuming that due to HDCP restrictions, there's no practical way to output HDMI multichannel audio from the Denon while still outputting HDMI video to my display chain, let alone input HDMI into a DAC or convert into a form usable in a sound card for Dirac processing. The Denon technically has "TV" mode for HDMI audio passthrough, but it's unclear if this automatically downconverts to two-channel.

Yes, I know about Carl Huff's DL 2 being in the pipeline, but there's no definitive release date. Hence why I was thinking of experimenting in this direction with Dirac.

BTW, if I got this to "work", a true A/B/X would probably be not using my Denon-based 4311's Audyssey, but probably to pick up a (trial) version of ARC, which is a PC-based version of XT32, to have a true apples to apples comparison. But one thing at a time. One could even - although at the risk of other complications - use Dirac as "icing on the cake" for an AVR-based Audyssey, similar to the way that some would use a Behringer or MiniDSP in conjunction with Audyssey. Regardless, I'd be using REW as my tool to access room response.

Any thoughts about how I could make this "work"? While I could post this to the HTPC forum, since you're covering some of the same territory, I thought I'd start here.

Your 'Dirac Live black box' should be feasible.

How many inputs do you need? If 7.1 then you could theoretically use a Lynx Aurora 8 interface which is 8 in, 8 out and something like a Lynx LT-USB. They also do a 16 in, 16 out though that is beyond Dirac's current channel processing abilities.

Also look at RME and Echo.

I would abandon the 'using a laptop' idea and build yourself a small format PC like the one I built (passively cooled and so silent).

Acoustic Frontiers: design and creation of high performance listening rooms, home theaters and project studios for discerning audio/video enthusiasts.
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post #29 of 218 Old 06-09-2013, 09:03 PM
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Unless things have changed the software version of Dirac Live is only 8 channels.
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post #30 of 218 Old 06-11-2013, 01:24 AM
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My perfect idea for a home theater that microsoft should come out with.

A large reciever that runs on a custom Windows 8 operating system.

It'd have tv tuner with cable card 2.0, 4 3 terabyte hard drives in raid 0+1 and a 2 smaller ssds in raid 1, a blu ray drive, it'd have all the video and audio inputs and outputs like a preamplifier including 7.1 xlr and rca outputs, it'd have optional video cards for gamers and an optional 50, 100 or 500 disc USB 3.0 multi disc changer and have multiple multi disc changers.

You could hit TV on the remote to avoid all the menus and watch TV in 5 seconds. You could dvr shows and view them in a library. You could hit Blu-Ray and skip menus to boot a blu ray in 5 seconds. With the optional blu ray multi disc changer you can go to a menu and see all the discs listed and search through them if say you have 5 500 multi disc changers which all the entries would be saved after an inital scan then rescan each disc that has been detected to have been moved from the multi disc changer. You could have a menu like a smart tv where you can have the apps like hbo to and what not. You could hit hdmi 1 where it'll output audio to your amplifiers and video to a display from maybe a playstation 3. Then there is a button you can hit that says windows desktop where you'd have a fully functioning computer for web browsing, computer games or anything a computer could do. Also complete audio and video calibration modes.

So you could get rid of your blu ray player, video scaler, cable and dvr reciever, home theater processor, ROKU and HTPC for one all in one device.
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