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Old 3rd February 2009, 03:55 PM   #1
tnargs is offline tnargs  Australia
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Default Bluray HTPC audiophile thread

I'd like to start a discussion of a HTPC set-up that is high quality and flexible in the audio domain, and good enough for main audio use by audiophiles.

I am slowly working my way through the huge "How to PC XO" thread, and I have been monitoring the huge "Linux Audio the way to go?" thread, but I am not a Linux guy. Not against it, just not familiar.

The PC XO thread started over 3 years ago and I am not sure if it has been fully updated for the latest hardware and media formats. I can't even figure out if the answer to my topic is in these threads, so I will ask anyway. (If you can point me to up-to-date discussions elsewhere, we can take this thread there).


OBJECTIVES

Have PC's evolved enough to do the following, simultaneously?--

--Play bluray audio and video

--Capture the full high def audio information available on bluray

--DSP all 8 channels

--XO the 8 channels (3-way for main fronts, 2-way for centre and surrounds). (Actually I am not intending to use the 2 side channels, but would like to know the PC could handle it one day).

--Output to high quality outboard DACs with balanced outputs (which feed power amplifiers, not an AV receiver)

--Do the video as well as a top BR player

--Be near enough to silent. I am an audiophile, this will be my main audio system, there won't always be a TV or projector running to drown out a noisy PC. Quiet passages of classical music would be ruined by fan noise or squealing or optical drive noises. Quiet/slow fans are OK though...

--Not hang or stutter or have lip-synch problems.


SOLUTIONS

I assume extreme PC (gaming) architectures are wrong for this because of all the heat they would generate. So the question becomes is the midrange hardware evolving enough to do this quietly, efficiently and reliably?

What are the hardware recommendations?

--Power supply

--CPU

--Memory

--Storage (I suppose flash = silent)

--Drives (must do audiophile quality Bluray, CD and DVD. Leave SACD out for simplicity)

--Case

--Graphics card (high quality 1080p to my HDMI TV port, utilising any video features/ processing that top AV receivers have for bluray playback. Basic output to a basic PC monitor is also needed but this could be on a cheap second GFX card)

--Outboard DACs / sound card(s) with balanced analog outputs. Are we looking at multiple 'pure' sound cards, or some kind of pro audio hardware to provide 12+ channels of analog? (not my area of knowledge).


What are the software recommendations?

--OS

--Bluray player / DAE

--DSP

--Crossover (if not integrated with DSP)

--Other

Of course, the software has to line up in sequence, DAE=>DSP=>XO=>DACs. It won't help if the DAE will only talk to the sound card(s), or if the DSP will only take input from Windows Media Player, etc. My greatest fear is investing in all the hardware and software, only to find it will only play bluray audio to a 7.1 soundcard without DSP or XO, despite the assurances of salespeople who *thought* they knew the answers.

I need your advice to understand this. I am reluctant to (again) approach the local PC shops because whenever I try, the staff tend to respond "a good gaming PC is bound to do it although I have no idea about the software to handle the audio you are describing, but hey, if it will do gaming it will do anything".

Thanks
Arg
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Old 3rd February 2009, 04:28 PM   #2
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I currently use my PC for Bluray audio and video. To focus on the audio aspect, I use an inexpensive Lite-On bluray drive with Powerdvd ultra 8, and then I can switch between the onboard SPDIF output or a two channel Emu 1212m soundcard.

For example if I'm listening to 2Ls Divertimenti in a bluray format I'll typically use the 2 channel PCM format to the Emu with good results. If I use any of the fancy hi-rez surround channels, I would expect that things are downsampled to be compatable with either DTS or Dolby Digital, since SPDIF can't handle much more. You'll need either an HDMI output to an appropriate surround processor, or a soundcard that is adequate for decoding. A Asus Xonar perhaps?

My impression is that it's just another DRM pain in the you-know-what that I don't want to deal with. I'd prefer that high-rez FLAC become more popular. It's DRM free and portable across platforms.

You probably won't get real far with linux and bluray due to the DRM involved.

As far as computer specs are concerned, big slow moving fans and big heatsinks is the way to go. You can get solid state hard drives now that make no sound at all too. You'll also want to use a low power consumption CPU and video card to keep the heat down.

I'm not sure how you could do the software digital XO part though. That would require some sort of post-processing, and DRM makes that near impossible.
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Old 3rd February 2009, 08:27 PM   #3
dangus is offline dangus  Canada
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What he said.

My setup is an LG Blu-ray/HD-DVD/DVD+-R/etc combo drive, Geforce 8500GT card, Athlon X2 3800+, and whichever player doesn't crash. Sound card is Audigy 2 ZS, which can do bit-perfect S/PDIF input (for recording) and output. There's a "helper" program to get around the fact that the video card didn't support HDCP. Case is currently a 19" rack mount salvaged from a scrapped server, but I may switch back to a more compact Inwin midi-tower, or possibly a shortened 19" rack case. For the crucial human interface, there's an ATI Remote Wonder, and a Liteon infrared wireless keyboard with integrated thumb-operated nipple mouse. If I was buying today, I'd look for a video card with HDMI audio support, and no fan.

It would be reasonable to assume you could get multichannel analog audio out from the PC, but I had no success. I'm not prepared to invest in an HDMI receiver and new video card just yet, so I'm settling for whatever comes through S/PDIF.

Some audiophiles have resorted to ripping their HD discs and re-encoding them into a container like mkv that supports multichannel lossless audio. I suspect that's the only way to play back under linux, unless players like VLC can digest unprotected Blu-ray back-ups the way they play DVD back-ups.

Making a quiet and reliable PC is a challenge. A start is to to adjust fan voltages; 12V fans run much quieter on 7 to 8 volts, for example. Look very carefully at the air flow and heat management in the case, and be prepared to make modifications with a Dremel or plasma cutter (as available), because case manufacturers know sheet metal and not thermal design. Cool the hard drives directly with incoming air, not outgoing, because cool drives live longer.

Check AVSforum's HTPC section for ideas. Consider a built-in soundproofed equipment cabinet that is ventilated to an adjoining room or floor. That'll be helpful if you also have fan-cooled power amps, or noisy Laserdisc players.
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Old 3rd February 2009, 09:25 PM   #4
Key is offline Key  United States
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Default Re: Bluray HTPC audiophile thread

Quote:
OBJECTIVES

Have PC's evolved enough to do the following, simultaneously?--

--Play bluray audio and video
--Do the video as well as a top BR player
--Capture the full high def audio information available on bluray
Sure, I would argue it is easier to get a great picture quality on a PC monitor with DVi or even VGA over the TV standards. It's much easier to set white points, contrast levels, etc... You can get fancy and use colorometers to calibrate your monitors. I don't know of any consumer tvs that can be calibrated.

Ripping content from Blurays will give you better, lossless, quality over capturing. But if you do want to have the ability and have the money to spend you could capture video at a better quality than any DVR would ever do.

Quote:
--DSP all 8 channels
--XO the 8 channels (3-way for main fronts, 2-way for centre and surrounds). (Actually I am not intending to use the 2 side channels, but would like to know the PC could handle it one day).
--Output to high quality outboard DACs with balanced outputs (which feed power amplifiers, not an AV receiver)
--Be near enough to silent. I am an audiophile, this will be my main audio system, there won't always be a TV or projector running to drown out a noisy PC. Quiet passages of classical music would be ruined by fan noise or squealing or optical drive noises. Quiet/slow fans are OK though...
--Not hang or stutter or have lip-synch problems.
Sure, all of this depends on how much money you want to spend on soundcards. There are a bunch of different soundcards that allow you to use more than one at a time - up to 3 or more multichannel cards running at the same time. Having up to 30 or more outputs on a computer gives you a ton of options for auraphonic ideas.

But when you start getting into surround sound and strange experimental digital crossovers and things like that I wouldn't expect everything to work all at once. That is where things start to get tricky. Often if you are not a programer or have an easy way to implement some strange crossover or whatever a quick way to get around it is to just use another computer/soundcard as a dedicated module.

So if you wanted to watch a bluray and use your computer based crossover you might have to use two computers - one for the crossover one for the bluray.

I have not messed with the cards with onboard DSP so I cannot say if they could take care of most of the crossover idea.

Silence can be an issue when you need to get a computer up to spec I guess. I think the easiest way to do it would be to get a soundcard with a breakoutbox and a long DVi cable for the monitor. Punch a whole in the wall and stick the computer in another room with the audio breakoutbox in the listening room. Use bluetooth wireless mouse and keyboard

Quote:
SOLUTIONS
Too many to name I can say some of my system.

Case: Antec Sonata III (don't buy for silence it is loud)
Mobo: Foxconn P45A-S
CPU: Intel Core 2 Quad Q9450 (Yorkfield)
RAM: 8GB DDR2 1066 (PC2 8500) g-skill F2-8500CL5D-4GBPK
Display Adapter Interface: PCI Express 2.0 x16
Display Adapter: MSI R4850-512M w quad cooler/heatsink
Monitor: KDS 21" LCD 1680x1050 @60Hz 6500k (DVi: Computer 1, VGA: Computer 2)
Colorometer: Greytag Macbeth i1 (calibrates colors/white point/contrast icc profiles)
OS #1/Disk #1 (Surround Sound DAW): Windows XP SP3 32 Bit: Internal SATA Seagate Barracuda ST3750330AS 750GB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache
Dedicated Audio/Project Disk/Disk #2 (No OS): Internal SATA Seagate Barracuda ST31000340AS 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache
OS #2(64-bit)/Disk #3: Vista Ultimate 64-bit Sp1
Dedicated internet/Experimental 64-bit OS disk: Internal SATA Seagate Barracuda ST31000340AS 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache
Optical Drive: LG SATA Internal Blu-ray/HD DVD-ROM & 16X DVD±R DVD Burner Model GGC-H20L
NIC: PCI Express D-Link DWA-556 IEEE 802.11n (draft) IEEE 802.11g IEEE 802.11b
Onboard LAN disabled in BIOS
Audio Device #1: Mackie Onyx 400f, (good for recording not good for surround sound support)
Additional Audio Devices:
Audio Device #2: HDMI (2.0 192kHz) via video card (might support 7.1 but I have only been able to get stereo to work)
DRIVER: Latest ATI Catalyst
Audio Device # 3: Onboard audio disabled in BIOS and disconnected from front ports.

For Bluray, HD-DVD software I think you are stuck with cyberlink though. And I have had to use AnyDVD to get my monitor to work even though it is supposed to be able to use DVi with it.
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Old 3rd February 2009, 09:55 PM   #5
jalejos is offline jalejos  Spain
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http://www.hfx.at/index.php?option=c...169&Itemid=120
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Old 5th February 2009, 04:40 AM   #6
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Intel Core2 Duo E8200
Gigabyte GA-EG45-DS2H with
VGA, DVI and HDMI onboard
4GB RAM Corsair XMS2 DHX
Blu-Ray Player Sony-Nec
2x 1TB Western Digital Caviar Green
1x DVB-S2 FloppyDTV
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Old 5th February 2009, 10:50 AM   #7
tnargs is offline tnargs  Australia
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Thank you for the suggestions and advice so far.

I knew I was getting in over my head!

In my case the display is a 1080p LCOS projection unit with HDMI input. I notice some responses were about using a monitor, which is interesting, but the application in mind is a home theatre. All the same it's no big deal, the main interest is in the treatment of audio.

It's a concern if one can't get DSP'd analog out from the PC. I don't see it as desirable to run hdmi audio from the PC to an AV receiver; the idea is for the PC to be the AV receiver, but with more audio processing flexibility.

Running SPDIF (or any digital) out from the PC seems counterproductive. Whitelabrat mentioned DRM raising its ugly head and that's exactly when I would expect it.

No-one has described their experience using DSP/DEQ in a HTPC (or did I miss it?). Ditto for digital XO. Surely some HTPC gurus out there are doing this with DVD? Then it becomes a question of whether the process can be extended to Bluray.

I am presently using pro audio hardware for digital equalisation and digital crossover for my 2-channel hifi. It's been a big step up from standard hifi electronics and passive speakers, able to counter one or two nasties in the room/speaker setup and generally smooth out the response and time align the speaker drivers. I want to move to Bluray in anticipation of it becoming a means to hi-res audio, but a BP player plus AV receiver is too inflexible, and extending my 2-channel hardware setup to 7.1 has many issues, not just cost and complexity but the basic fact I would need to use analog output from a BP player, plugged into DSP, to avoid DRM issues.

Final question: posters to this thread have been suggesting huge HD storage. Is that a strictly necessary part of the bluray disc playback concept of this thread? Or is it related to the assumption we will be storing mass data onboard, maybe even downloading hi-res audio? I can see the sense in that, I am just surprised if it is essential to the playback system.
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Old 5th February 2009, 04:25 PM   #8
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Since this is an audio forum I didn't want to get into the video aspect, but heck. You'll want a video card with HDCP support. A video card with a DVI port can also do HDMI, but without the audio. Of course there may be excpetions.

20GB disk is fine for bluray only work, but 100GB+ is wise if you want to record DTV shows, or rip your whole CD collection, run an Oracle database, etc.

I have a nVidia 8600GTS that connects to a 720p TV with an HDMI port. The TV was broken and someone just gave it to me. In the DIY spirit I up and fixed it myself. Works like a champ. Windows even detects the TV as a device. The important factor is that HDCP support. Otherwise you'll not get a full rez picture from bluray due to DRM restrictions.

Likewise with the audio. The DRM will really cripple what you can do because Sony's goal is to prevent you from having access to the raw digital data.

Bluray is a lot like SACDs, but a bit looser. You can use it, but it will be a degraded experience until all the DRM requirements are fulfilled. To fulfill the DRM requirements you have to use a bunch of limited and proprietary software and hardware which really puts a crimp on the use of nice HDCP incapable DACs and other nice things.

If only I had a couple grand to blow on an Integra DTC-9.8

A-Bit AT8-32x motherboard
AMD X2 3800+
2GB RAM
nVidia 8600GTS
DVICO FusionHDTV3
LiteOn DH-4O1S Bluray
Hitachi HDS72101 1TB hard drive
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Old 6th February 2009, 05:40 AM   #9
tnargs is offline tnargs  Australia
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Quote:
Originally posted by whitelabrat
....If only I had a couple grand to blow on an Integra DTC-9.8
Not even sold down under, and only 120VAC ex USA.
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Old 6th February 2009, 05:45 AM   #10
tnargs is offline tnargs  Australia
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Quote:
Originally posted by whitelabrat
....Likewise with the audio. The DRM will really cripple what you can do because Sony's goal is to prevent you from having access to the raw digital data. ....
I always assumed DRM controls what exits the device (in this case a PC) through its ports in digital form. Does it also prevent DSP within the PC?
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