Total newbie - trying to install surround sound - do I need an amp?

Riyazi

Active Member
I am a total newbie at this so actually not sure whether I am posting in the right board - forgive me if I am not. I have a few questions about setting up a surround sound system but all my research and reading is only getting me even more confused

1. I have a dell with a (supposedly) 5.1 Sigmatel surround sound card (for which I can't even find a new driver other than the 2006 driver it came with) which might limit the sound quality but I am not fussed as long as I get 5.1 output. I usually play dvds or downloaded movies on my computer and view them on my Samsung LCD tv. At the moment I am sending the sound from my computer to the tv speakers using a 3.5" jack male to male cable from the "line out" (green) socket. Sound is not great and I have to put the TV volume to almost 100 to hear speech (BTW sound when playing normal freeview channels is fine even at 20). I suppose by getting a 5.1 speaker set I can plug directly in to the computer sockets and get better sound? If yes, I get on to my next issue

2. If I do get a 5.1 system I would like to connect my TV (Samsung LE40B530) to it as well. I only have freeview at the moment so would plugging a 5.1 system be overkill as freeview broadcasts only in stereo (I think). I am considering getting Sky HD but even then I have read that not many programs are broadcast with 5.1 so again might not be worth it? If there is a case for connecting the TV to a surround system, how can I connect the computer (as above) and the tv to the same system and switch when needed? I presume this is where a Amp will come in? If so do I connect the TV to the amp using a HDMI cable and get 5.1 sound? And how will the 5.1 sound from the computer be connected to the amp?

If the solution to the above is to get an amp and 5.1 speakers, I would like to get some recommendations if possible. I am no audiophile and am not fussed about the "best" sound quality but I would like to get a compromise between quality and cost. If possible, the config should be able to do the following as well

a) Stream audio to a bluetooth head set - I like to be able to listen and watch tv while my wife works on the computer. At the moment I use a headphone extension which is fiddly with wires running across the hall. I know there are radio signal wireless headphones but if I have to get an amp and it has this functionality then that saves me the cost / trouble of getting another piece of equipment. And yes I know I wont get 5.1 through the head phones :D

b) Quite a long shot and maybe even impossible, but is it possible to configure the setup in such a way that I listen to the audio from a dvd through tv/amp and/or bluetooth while my wife is able to listen another audio stream (eg: youtube) through the computer speakers?

c) Preferable if I can get wireless speakers as I live in a flat at the moment so wiring speakers will be difficult. I am planning to move to our own house quite soon so the setup should be able to handle that as well

My priorities at the moment are the 1st two points. The rest are add ons which would be "nice to haves" depending on the cost. I am just looking at the cheapest possible solution which will give me a compromise between quality and cost.

Very sorry about the long long post with so many questions. If you have read so far I would be thankful and if you are able to answer any question above I would be very grateful :D
 
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Gaspode_TWD

Active Member
1. Sound is not great and I have to put the TV volume to almost 100 to hear speech (BTW sound when playing normal freeview channels is fine even at 20). I suppose by getting a 5.1 speaker set I can plug directly in to the computer sockets and get better sound? If yes, I get on to my next issue
There may be adjustment available in the PC's setting for the volume output. The output from the card will be at line level (i.e. not enough to drive 'speakers directly). You will either need an amp or active (powered) speakers.

2. If I do get a 5.1 system I would like to connect my TV (Samsung LE40B530) to it as well. I only have freeview at the moment so would plugging a 5.1 system be overkill as freeview broadcasts only in stereo (I think). I am considering getting Sky HD but even then I have read that not many programs are broadcast with 5.1 so again might not be worth it? If there is a case for connecting the TV to a surround system, how can I connect the computer (as above) and the tv to the same system and switch when needed? I presume this is where a Amp will come in? If so do I connect the TV to the amp using a HDMI cable and get 5.1 sound? And how will the 5.1 sound from the computer be connected to the amp?
Your TV will output stereo. You can still get a surround effect but not full surround information.

If the solution to the above is to get an amp and 5.1 speakers, I would like to get some recommendations if possible. I am no audiophile and am not fussed about the "best" sound quality but I would like to get a compromise between quality and cost. If possible, the config should be able to do the following as well
While you say cheap, one mans cheap is anothers very expensive. Give us an idea of the kind of budget you had been thinking of.
 

Riyazi

Active Member
Thanks so much for reading and replying Gaspode :)

I have the speaker output on the computer to full. I also have Creative Soundblaster Audigy MB software which gives some options of setting 5.1 surround sound and 3D effects (living room, theatre, etc). It does make the sound better but the difference is small because I am sending only through the line out (I think). And when you say "not enough to drive 'speakers directly" does that mean that even if I plug a speaker in each of the sockets I still won't get proper surround sound (or low quality surround sound)? Which might explain why I am not having much quality at the moment. For reference: this is my computers manual which has a pic of what the sound card output sockets look like (page 1) http://support.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/dimE520/en/OM_en/NH730A01.pdf

Your TV will output stereo. You can still get a surround effect but not full surround information.
So even with an amp I won't be able to get true surround sound?

Give us an idea of the kind of budget you had been thinking of.
Understand your point. I was trying to get a feel for costs because of some of the amps I have seen range from £200 to £600 - and that is for the amp only and that is beyond my budget. A friend of mine bought a surround system with dvd player for about £129 about a year ago (dont know whether it has an amp but not sure) so I am thinking of about £200 (amp and speakers) if I can get all the functionality I want. But I am not sure whether that is a feasible budget though
 

Gaspode_TWD

Active Member
It does make the sound better but the difference is small because I am sending only through the line out (I think). And when you say "not enough to drive 'speakers directly" does that mean that even if I plug a speaker in each of the sockets I still won't get proper surround sound (or low quality surround sound)?
The output from your PC is like the output from a stand alone CD, DVD or VCR. It provide a low power signal that needs to be amplified to a level that will drive speakers. This amplification can be (and on made for computer speakers often is) built in to speaker box.

So even with an amp I won't be able to get true surround sound?
Trying to keep it simple (which means I'm leaving out some information) there are many forms of surround sound. The early forms, still in use in some formats, were analogue. These can be decoded from a normal stereo signal. Newer formats use digital data.

Your PC can provide surround sound data from the outputs on the back and if those are connected to an amp that will accept 5.1 inputs then you can feed that sound to the speakers.

Keep in mind that the source material will need to have that information to give. Like the old mono records would still be mono when played on a stereo record deck so the number of channels is limited by the the recording. And, like back then, the manufacturers now have created ways to use all the channels available by "making it up". You may, or may not, like what this sounds like.

I believe the Audigy has a digital output which could be used to feed an amp that has an on board processor (many do these days). This could simplify your wiring.

TVs are viewing devices first. Sound processing is rarely a major selling point. Anyone that cares about sound will usually by a stand alone sound system. As a result most TVs only go as far as stereo.

At the price point you are looking at start with these:
1 BOX HOME CINEMA SYSTEMS from Richer Sounds
 

phil5366

Banned
I would reccomend a Dennon 1610 along with Jamo A102's 5.1 suuround sound.

I was a complete novice until I researched on these forums and went along with what Dante reccomended to me for my budget.

I must say his advice was superb as I have had it up and running since Xmas and am more than pleased with it, in fact well pleased. I have this set up to my LG PS8000 Plasma, my Epsom Projector, PS3 etc.

Good Luck!:hiya:
 

Riyazi

Active Member
Thanks for your help Gaspode

So, with regard to the computer, I should either get an amp which is able to take 4 plugs from the sound card and get analogue surround or get an amp with a digital processor (and I believe the home cinema systems that you had linked to have this?) and connect with a single 3.5" audio jack to the amp which will decode the digital signal (is this possible or do i need a special cable?)

With regard to TV, even if I have the home cinema system connected with an HDMI cable, if I am viewing freeview all I will get is 2.1 sound? If I have sky HD and connect the sky box directly to the amp with an audio (or hdmi?) cable I should get 5.1 when available?

I checked with my friend and he had got the SONY DAVDZ280 which is one of the models in the link that you had given. If I get the same system, will I be able to connect the computer to it and get better sound? I can't figure this out from the details from the product page. Also, I suppose the SAMSUNG HTZ220R might be better for me as it seems to be the same spec (though I can't find the watt power which my friend says is important and is 850W on the sony) just because it can synch better with my Samsung TV (control both with 1 remote)

I suppose getting a system with BT or wireless speakers will only add on more cost so will give that up. As long as there is a headphone socket on the amp I will use the headphone extender cable.

Phil - thanks! Those look way too complicated for me :D And the cost of both is about £450 - £500 - dont think I want to stretch my budget so far! :D
 

Gaspode_TWD

Active Member
So, with regard to the computer, I should either get an amp which is able to take 4 plugs from the sound card and get analogue surround or get an amp with a digital processor (and I believe the home cinema systems that you had linked to have this?) and connect with a single 3.5" audio jack to the amp which will decode the digital signal (is this possible or do i need a special cable?)
The connectors on the PC would need 6 (front left, centre and right; rear left and right[5] plus sub[.1]) connections for the analogue signals using the 3.5 jacks. A digital output will either be optical or RCA phono.

With regard to TV, even if I have the home cinema system connected with an HDMI cable, if I am viewing freeview all I will get is 2.1 sound? If I have sky HD and connect the sky box directly to the amp with an audio (or hdmi?) cable I should get 5.1 when available?
TV will allow 2.1. The sky box connection will vary. What outputs are fitted & what inputs you have on the amp. I'll have a look at the systems to see what connections they allow (some are very restrictive).
 

Riyazi

Active Member
Thanks again for your help Gaspode. I got a basic idea of what can be done now so will try to do more research on the setups that you linked at Richer Sounds. Might go to a John Lewis or something and check them out physically. Please let me know if you get any more info
 

Gaspode_TWD

Active Member
... SONY DAVDZ280 ... will I be able to connect the computer to it and get better sound?
This unit has connections for analogue (scart) and digital (HDMI) signals. The manual suggests everything is connected to the TV first and then the signal from the TV is sent to this unit. So you'd need to spend on switching boxes or cables to get the flexibility you're looking for.


... SAMSUNG HTZ220R might be better for me as it seems to be the same spec (though I can't find the watt power which my friend says is important and is 850W on the sony) just because it can synch better with my Samsung TV (control both with 1 remote)
This has slightly better connectivity. It has HDMI, Scart, an optical digital and RCA stereo phono. This gives you some scope for the future.

Have you considered buying second hand? Older amps which don't support HDMI and have older decoders in them have dropped in value a lot. As you 'only' want 5.1 (7.1 is becoming the norm on amps). You could pick up something for about £50 and buy a package of speakers to fit your budget.
 

Riyazi

Active Member
Thanks Gaspode. I have been doing more reading and research in to all this and fast realising that this subject can be quite addictive..... and expensive :eek:

I currently play DVDs from my computer and view on the TV but after reading about the home cinema systems that you had given in your link, I think I can make better use of my HDTV using the upscaling DVD players on those systems. And I have been also advised to go for a Blu ray home cinema as that is the way forward. I am not sure whether I will buy/watch blu-rays at the moment but it seems prices are coming down quite fast for blu-ray discs so wondering whether I should go for that. I know it is more costly and almost double the DVD systems but it might be better getting this now rather than upgrading again in another year's time?

Your suggestion of getting an older amp is interesting. Will I be able to solve my issue of computer and TV connectivity by doing that? If so, which amp do you suggest? But does that mean that I lose out on getting DTS and Dolby ProLogic II (which according to my understanding converts stereo to a virtual 5.1 surround sound) by getting an old amp?

Do you think I should concentrate on the sound aspect by going for the old amp and speakers now and get blu-ray etc later on when I need it? Or is it worthwhile in the long run to get a blu ray home cinema system now as it will be more cost effective and better quality (I am assuming I might need to upgrade the amp as well if I go for blu ray) ?

Your help and advice much appreciated!
 

Gaspode_TWD

Active Member
..... and expensive :eek:
Oh yes. Like all hobies you can spend really big numbers if you want to.

Your suggestion of getting an older amp is interesting. Will I be able to solve my issue of computer and TV connectivity by doing that? If so, which amp do you suggest? But does that mean that I lose out on getting DTS and Dolby ProLogic II (which according to my understanding converts stereo to a virtual 5.1 surround sound) by getting an old amp?
Make sure you get an amp with a digital input - or, ideally 3 (DVD, Sky, and your next purchase ....). Older Yamahas, Denon, Pioneer, infact any of the major names. Just make sure it has the inputs you need.

Do you think I should concentrate on the sound aspect by going for the old amp and speakers now and get blu-ray etc later on when I need it? Or is it worthwhile in the long run to get a blu ray home cinema system now as it will be more cost effective and better quality (I am assuming I might need to upgrade the amp as well if I go for blu ray) ?
I can see you've already been influenced by some of the information you've gained. I can't tell you what you'll get the best value out of. As you don't have a player yet then you may as well start with blu-ray. You'll still be able to play DVDs on it.

There are some cheap items here, but check for the digital inputs -
Home Cinema Receivers
Check the classified section here, maybe add your own advert?
 
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Riyazi

Active Member
Thanks Gaspode

I looked at the link you gave - interesting stuff. I need to do research on those items with regard to the inputs. Also will look at blu ray home cinema systems and figure out whether that is the way I want to go. I did go through the classifieds and will keep an eye on that well.

I think I've got an idea of what I can and can't do with regards to sound, so thanks a lot for taking all the trouble :smashin:

Wish there was a "Buy a beer" button on these forums :D
 

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