Thinking of setting up a home theatre system with surround sound? Under normal circumstances the easiest way to go about it is to get a packaged home theater system which typically comes with a DVD player. This is usually cheap and hassle free (if you don’t go for high-end stuff that is).
However, if you want to play surround sound content from downloaded video files (e.g. avi or mkv with ac3) then a PC is necessary. Using your PC (assuming you already have one) has the added obvious advantage that you don’t have to spend another dime on getting a DVD player.
If you already have your sound system set up complete with a surround sound decoder, and your PC sound card has digital output (optical or coaxial), simply connect the digital output to the receiver, play the video file with the surround pass-through option selected and it should just work. If your PC sound card has 5.1 output instead, you might find the Creative Home Theater Connect DTS-610 useful as it encodes the 5.1 output into DTS signal for piping into your receiver, or, you may be able to replace the sound card with one that comes with digital output (like the HT Omega Claro) for a little more.
If you haven’t actually set up your home theatre system, you could choose to get a standard packaged speaker + receiver set, or you might want to consider building one. In my previous post i shared on how to build a decent Stereo Hi-fi. Now to extend it to a 5.1 surround sound set up, you need to get a center speaker plus rear speakers. If you deem the rear speaker sound as less important than the front, you can opt for low cost speakers. Get the Wireless Digital T-Amp, which uses the very same high quality Stereo class-T amplifier, to transmit the rear speaker sound signal wirelessly and you’re good to go!