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!
I want a cheap and decent Hi-Fi. I was wondering, can i get something better with what people normally pay for a Hi-Fi? I know the off-the-shelf home theatre systems can go as low as S$250, but the itch to go the DIY way was just too hard to overcome. So, without actually evaluating any ready-made home theatre system, i decided to go ahead and build one!
The whole idea of a DIY Hi-Fi actually came from stumbling upon the T-Amp on ThinkGeek site. It is touted to be a US$30 amplifier that sounds like something 100 times its price (review here). Now that’ll fit my criteria for cheap and decent!
The next thing i acquired was the Creative USB Sound Blaster Digital Music SX. What caught my attention was the ability of this product to act as a pre-amp which is basically the equivalent of a receiver. I managed to get this piece of hardware at S$107, which is much cheaper than what receivers typically cost. I foresee that i wouldn’t have more than 2 or 3 sources of sound input so this will work just fine. It even comes with a remote control which is handy for controlling sound volume. The built in USB sound card was just an extra feature that i eventually used for sound output from my laptop.
Finally, to complete the set-up, i needed speakers. Again my search is based on “best among the budget”. Very quickly i settled my choice on the Monitor Audio Bronze BR2 as well as the Wharfedale SW150 subwoofer, both of which had been What Hi-Fi award recipients.
All in all, i spent around S$1300. Not cheap compared to the ready-made home theatre systems, but relatively cheap for a real Hi-Fi system. Amplifiers can easily cost S$1300. So how does my Hi-Fi sound? It is superb! Now i’m no audiophile, but i know it when i’m hearing clean and clear sound, with details exposed i never knew existed before. In fact, it reveals so much detail, i found out that some familiar tracks don’t sound as good as i thought they did..