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HTPC Audio Output - Best Option

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
Hey all -
Long time/first time.

I have recently built an HTPC with an ASUS motherboard that has standard RealTek sound built in. The MB has the ability to do both digital optical and coax digital out. I currently have coax connected from the HTPC to my receiver.

I will be upgrading my reciever and speakers and want to ensure I am getting the best possible sound quality from the lossless FLACs played on the HTPC. I have a few options in mind and would love input as to what people think is the best approach:

1. Leave HTPC it as is and just be sure the new receiver has digital in.
2. Buy a dedicated sound card (like ASUS Essence STX) and use digital out from that sound card.
3. Abandon the HTPC sound card altogether and go with a high quality USB DAC device (actually the reciever I am looking at has one built in).
4. Buy a dedicated sound card (like ASUS Essence STX) and use red/white standard RCA from that sound card.

Basically, I am unsure where/when/how to loop in the conversion to analog....

Thoughts?
post #2 of 13
All receivers have a built in DAC. I think your best bet would be to run optical from the HTPC to the new receiver. Thru optical the info is passed to the receiver and the conversion is done there. Coax is the opposite. I've done both with my receiver and both sound good. I would avoid using standard analog, the red/white, if you can. You say you have coax connected now, do you like how it sounds? If so go with that.
post #3 of 13
If you have an HTPC, don't you have HDMI out? Normally, I think even some of the very basic graphics cards with HDMI at least can transfer 2 channel PCM. Have you looked into your graphic card's capabilities? Then if you get an AV receiver, you are all set.
post #4 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post

If you have an HTPC, don't you have HDMI out? Normally, I think even some of the very basic graphics cards with HDMI at least can transfer 2 channel PCM. Have you looked into your graphic card's capabilities? Then if you get an AV receiver, you are all set.

That's a good option, and one that I had considered, but my MOBO doesn't support running sound to the HDMI cable, and my current graphics card doesnt have HDMI out.
post #5 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by acebreathe View Post

All receivers have a built in DAC. I think your best bet would be to run optical from the HTPC to the new receiver. Thru optical the info is passed to the receiver and the conversion is done there. Coax is the opposite. I've done both with my receiver and both sound good. I would avoid using standard analog, the red/white, if you can. You say you have coax connected now, do you like how it sounds? If so go with that.

When I said coax, I meant digital coax - the sound is very good. The only reason I am not doing digital optical today is that my current receiver is a bit dated and doesnt have any open digital optical "IN" ports left.
post #6 of 13
Best audio option: invest in a modern video card and an AVR which can be interconnected using HDMI for both audio and video. (Displayport to HDMI adapters are readily available, if necessary.) This provides full multichannel lossless audio from high resolution sources.

Second best: Invest in an audio card or USB dongle which provides S/PDIF over coax. This provides compressed 5.1 Dolby Digital multichannel audio. It really doesn't matter if it's a card or USB device. Both provide equivalent sound, unless, perhaps, you have lots of high-throughput devices competing for bandwidth on the USB connection.

Third best: invest in a high-quality audio card or USB dongle with multichannel analog outputs. This introduces additional conversions (DtoA in the computer, AtoD in the AVR), but you shouldn't be able to hear the tiny distortions this might introduce. However, room equalization can't be applied by AVRs to their multichannel analog inputs.

Last choice: stereo analog connections. This limits you to matrixed surround sound. Room equalization can be applied to this, though.

Analog audiophiles might reverse the second and third options.

There's nothing really wrong with the last choice as a stopgap until you upgrade to the first.

Edited to add: the second choice (coax) also can provide 24/96 stereo LPCM, but not multichannel PCM.
post #7 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by dpetit123456 View Post

That's a good option, and one that I had considered, but my MOBO doesn't support running sound to the HDMI cable, and my current graphics card doesnt have HDMI out.

Just to echo some good advice that has already been given:

Good graphics cards with full-function HDMI ports (both video and sound) are readily available and can be inexpensive - like under $30. If your MB has a PCIE-16 slot, it may be time to do an inexpensive upgrade on it.
post #8 of 13
I continue the suggestion of an updated HDMI video card. I recently posted my non-understanding of HDMI vs sound card and got some good responses. I've since removed my X-Fi xtrememusic card and now push all my raw sound data out my 4830 Radeon. Looking to update soon to a Radeon 77xx video card.
post #9 of 13
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Selden Ball View Post

Best audio option: invest in a modern video card and an AVR which can be interconnected using HDMI for both audio and video. (Displayport to HDMI adapters are readily available, if necessary.) This provides full multichannel lossless audio from high resolution sources.

Second best: Invest in an audio card or USB dongle which provides S/PDIF over coax. This provides compressed 5.1 Dolby Digital multichannel audio. It really doesn't matter if it's a card or USB device. Both provide equivalent sound, unless, perhaps, you have lots of high-throughput devices competing for bandwidth on the USB connection.

Third best: invest in a high-quality audio card or USB dongle with multichannel analog outputs. This introduces additional conversions (DtoA in the computer, AtoD in the AVR), but you shouldn't be able to hear the tiny distortions this might introduce. However, room equalization can't be applied by AVRs to their multichannel analog inputs.

Last choice: stereo analog connections. This limits you to matrixed surround sound. Room equalization can be applied to this, though.

Analog audiophiles might reverse the second and third options.

There's nothing really wrong with the last choice as a stopgap until you upgrade to the first.

Edited to add: the second choice (coax) also can provide 24/96 stereo LPCM, but not multichannel PCM.

To be clear, are you suggesting a single card that functions as both a video and sound card?
post #10 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by dpetit123456 View Post

To be clear, are you suggesting a single card that functions as both a video and sound card?

Yes. So that they can support use of blu-ray players on PCs and other full multichannel video files and sent the video and audio to your receiver, many graphics cards with HDMI even provide full 7.1 channel audio output with Dolby TrueHD and DTS MA, much like a standard blu-ray player.

What you probably want to do is talk with the AVS HTPC forum. Tell them your HTPC specs--motherboard, CPU, power supply, case model and size--your budget, and what kind of audio/video use you would like to have from your PC. They can suggest graphic cards that fit well with your setup. This would be the next best step because, even though as arnyk pointed out, there are inexpensive graphics cards with HDMI audio output support, not all graphics card chipsets have the full multichannel support if you would like to have that. Although most will serve your needs if all you want is 2 channel audio.
post #11 of 13
Just as an example, the Dell Latitude laptop that I have includes Nvidia graphics chips and a single displayport output jack. Using a displayport to HDMI adapter, it sends 1920x1080p video plus full 7.1 audio to my Marantz receiver. It has a few quirks, but not in the quality of the audio or video.
post #12 of 13
Thread Starter 
Awesome. Thanks everyone for your input. This is great stuff!!!
post #13 of 13
Quote:
Originally Posted by dpetit123456 View Post

To be clear, are you suggesting a single card that functions as both a video and sound card?

Common modern desktop computer video cards with HDMI outputs (for example current ATI & Nvidia desktop chipsets) appear to the system as two video adapters and 4 stereo output-only audio devices. All that for $29.95 or even less!

Example:


http://www.zotacusa.com/geforce-8400...meh3p-fsl.html
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