Software Defined Home Theatre
This is part 1 of a series of topics I will post over the next few days…
Yes, a home cinema system with all it’s brains residing in a Home Theatre PC. This means, no AV receiver, no DACs, no Streamers, no BlueRay player… it’s all done inside the HTPC and mostly in software.
Is this truly workable?
Beginning with the High Definition Audio specification published by Intel in 2004 and the High Definition Video proposal from Sony in the mid-1980s, computer sound and video have moved forward by leaps and bounds. Today we can build relatively economical HTPC computers with HDMI outputs that are capable of 8K video and onboard audio processing that rivals the best AV receivers on the market, without sacrificing the computer’s ability to still do all the things a regular computer does.
From time to time you will see videophiles and audiophiles dump on the HTPC concept claiming that onboard video is somehow inferior and onboard audio sounds like crap. In 2005 this might have been true but motherboard manufacturers have taken up the challenge and roundly improved both motion and sound to the point where some relatively inexpensive motherboards are better specified than high end DACs for sound and AV Processors for video.
So yes, we can do this… and very nicely it won’t be all that expensive.
What do I need?
You need only 5 basic things, plus a few cables…
First you need a purpose-built HTPC. To get the best from this, the typical trick of retasking an older computer isn’t your best route. You can, of course do this experimentally, but I’m sure you will want to step up to the latest configurations once you see what this can do. (See part 3)
You will need a HD Television with HDMI inputs. You can use a front screen projector if you wish but big screen television sets can offer better contrast and brightness, often for a lower price. Plus the big TV means one less complication in setting up the projector for it all to work.
You will need a bag full of amplifiers. For a 5.1 system, you will need 6 channels. You can configure this any way you like. On the low end a couple of Chinese companies have started offering DIY amplifiers specifically made for this purpose but these tend to be limited to 20 and 50 watts per channel. A better plan would be to consider 3 good quality stereo amps or 6 monoblocks if you really want to build a “killer” system. With the new generation Class D amplifiers becoming more common prices are coming down rapidly so you can use something like the Stereo Amplifier that Nick describes in his video or the Crown XLS series amps, both of which are excellent choices.
Then you need speakers. Knowing where I am, Nick and a couple of others may wish to get in on this, but I’ve personally used the Fluance Signature Series in a system I recently deployed and they do an excellent job.
The subwoofer can be powered, in which case you have several excellent choices, or since you will have an amplifier channel available you can also use a passive subwoofer. The Fluance Subwoofer is a good choice as are those made by SVS and others.
With some careful shopping and sales, you can easily set this all up for around $3000.
In Part 2: System setup.
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