Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Is the format war over? Do I need a new Receiver? What do I need to enjoy these new high definition audio formats?

Another question this week. Sort of one of ours...

Q) Is the format war over? Do I need a new Receiver? What do I need to enjoy these new high definition audio formats?

A) Well, despite the recent announcements of Sony gains in the HD Disk format war, there is still no clear winner. Now about the receiver and all that...

OK, lets see here, do I need a HDMI receiver to decode Tru HD or do I need the player to do it and just send it PCM? What was that thingy about some receivers passing Video or audio, or one or the other but not that other thing? Doesn't everything have to be HDMI 1.3a or I can't get all of that really cool stuff in HDMI 1.3a no matter what I do? What if I have a great sounding Receiver or Preamp/Processor that sounds great but doesn't have HDMI? Problems, problems, and to top it off HDMI incompatibility issues* are as confusing as ever. What do I have to do for everything to just work, without me having to get an EE degree?
Right now, if you are considering one of the new HD DVD players or Blu Ray players, and have been looking into the whole audio mess of it all, you have probably reached a point where you just want to throw up your hands and give up. No wonder sales are so slow for the new HD players - not only do they go ahead and have an ill-conceived format war, but the complications of connecting them and getting all that the new formats can deliver in audio and video is so complicated that the most dedicated of A/V nerds shivers at the thought of helping a friend get it working in any demonstrable way.
Sure, you could go out and preorder one of the new Denons (or other brands coming soon) to decode everything you think you could want, but don't think for a minute that there might not be a "software" update possibility in your future to enable something you feel you "need", or to fix a problem. This is tricky with receivers. You usually have to send it into the shop for this.

Another solution
If you have a Receiver or Preamp/Processor with 5.1 multichannel analog inputs for surround sound, or maybe 7.1 inputs, you may want to consider this...
Here's the premise: You must use DVD/Blu Ray/HD DVD players with multichannel outputs to do all the decoding and digital to analog conversions. You can use HDMI, Component Video or whatever for video output to the display. If you have only one player, connect it with a multichannel cable and set the receiver to "External input" and you are done. If you have several players with these multichannel outputs you should think about a multichannel switcher. Connect the Audio/Video Source components to the switcher with some multichannel analog audio cables, connect the multichannel outputs of the switcher to the input on the receiver, and you are done. No worrying about the receiver supporting Tru HD or DTS HD, no worries about the receiver passing or not passing anything, and no HDMI issues. If the player can do the right thing, your receiver will not be a problem at all.
If you can't stand to deal with all of this nonsense anymore, go analog, baby. It just works.

Zektor 5.1 multichannel switcher (no remote but with IR Learning)

Zektor Passive 4x1, 200MHz, Multichannel switcher, RS-232, IR-Jack, Includes Remote

Zektor 7.1 channel switcher with HDMI, digital coax audio and Optical Toslink MAS7.1

5.1, 6.1, 7.1 Multichannel Cables from RamElectronics.Net

* Hey, HDMI is going to be great. It can work beautifully if you are careful with your product selections. Then again, it can, get pretty tricky, with all of the constant adding of new features, it gets better, but with less "compatibility". The used market is going to get ugly.

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