Help me hook up a new HDTV to an old(ish) stereo receiver?
September 22, 2009 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me connect my optical-out DVD players to my new HDMI-in HDTV?

This is the kind of thing that drives me bananas.

Just got a nice, brand-new Sony HDTV, with several HDMI-in ports. I would like to get the highest resolution I possibly can out of my video components -- generally DVD. In the past, when I had an older, analog TV, I just used the stereo receiver as an A/V switcher, for which purpose it works very well. But now this functionality has been compromised by the new array of input/output jacks.

Here's the setup:
- The two DVD players I have (one "regular" and one multistandard) both have optical-out ports. I have an old laserdisc and an even older VHS player hooked up to the system, too, but I'm not terribly concerned about them right now.

- I have all audio and video components running through a good, but eight-year-old, Sony A/V receiver. LP/tape/VHS/LD are connected via regular old component RCA plugs, which are just fine. The CD player and the two DVD players can connect to the receiver with optical cables -- which I prefer to use whenever I can. They work well and provide good sound.

- The problem is that the new HDTV does not have any optical-in ports. (If it did, I'd just run the sound from the DVD players through the receiver, and the picture, via optical cable, right to the TV. But I can't do this.) It does have composite-in and component-in, but no optical-in. And the receiver has only composite-out.

The receiver I have is a Sony STR-DA 333 ES. The manual, in PDF form, is available on this page; click "primary user manual" and go to Page 5.

The HDTV I have is a Sony Bravia KDL-46VE5. The manual doesn't seem to be online, but you can find the details here by clicking on "Specifications." (The site will not allow me to access that page directly.)

- The upshot of all this (if you're still with me) is that my only current option is to run all video components into the receiver, and thence to the TV via a crappy composite video cable. Which would sort of defeat the purpose of the 1080p set that I just bought. (We don't have any sort of cable, satellite, or other TV, so this new HDTV is really just going to be used as a monitor for movies on the DVD players.)

What I would like to do is get the highest possible resolution (the HDTV can handle 1080p/24f) when I watch DVDs. Is there a simple, inexpensive way to convert the optical signal to HDMI?

I can imagine several options:
1. I find a magical converter device that can handle multiple optical inputs and output HDMI. This device would be a switcher, so I could run optical cables from both DVD players into it, and then a single HDMI cable from the switcher to the HDTV.

2. If it's cheaper, I certainly don't mind eschewing with the idea of the switcher box and just getting two separate optical-to-HDMI cables, one for each DVD player.

HOWEVER: the problem I foresee: What about the audio??
I want to run the audio from the DVD players through my stereo system, which has a nice 5.1 setup. HDMI handles both video and audio, right? So if I choose either option above, will I be locked into using the speakers built into the HDTV? Or would I then just add another cable, so that the setup would look something like this:

DVD optical out --> HDMI cable --> HDMI in to HDTV --> TV audio out --> receiver. (In which case the audio running from the HDTV to the receiver would be component, yes? Which would be a step downwards, yes?)

I am reasonably good with stuff like this, but the age disparity between the new HDTV and the older stereo system is giving me a headache.

What's the best, cheapest, most reliable way for me to get the highest-quality picture from the DVD players onto the TV, and still get the room-shaking audio through the stereo?

Should I just buy a new multistandard, HDMI-out DVD player? If I did, I could connect it right to the HDTV, but I'd still have the audio problem that I detail above.

Related questions, for masochists and/or AV geeks:

- Let's say I solve this problem above. I'm still left with an LD and a VHS, both of which I still use occasionally, that will be unconnected. Is my best bet with these just to run A/V to the receiver, and thence to the HDTV via component cables?

- I'd like to minimize the number of A/V component switchers. Ideally, I'd still like my receiver to be the one and only device that switches between ALL a/v components. And what's nice is that I can split the audio and the video signals -- that is, I can listen to the CD player while watching the signal from the VHS, if I so desire. Is there some way I can use this functionality to refrain from buying any further switchers?
posted by Dr. Wu to Technology (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you are talking about optical video connections. Is that even a real thing? On every DVD player I've seen, the optical out is just the digital audio.

ANyways, you should buy a new progressive-scan DVD player. It will have a nice HDMI or component outputs and give you the best picture you can get from a DVD. They are fairly cheap. $30 cheap.
posted by smackfu at 3:11 PM on September 22, 2009

Well, first off, optical cables (toslink, I'd assume) are audio-only. Your video is probably coming in over component (a red, blue, and green plug), which is still decently competitive with hdmi for image quality, but with the downside being that it's analog, and therefore will suffer degradation for all of the usual reasons.

Secondly, you should have an HD source, whether it's a Bluray player or HD cable or just rabbit ears. Upconverting DVD players do what they do, but it's a waste of a good HDTV.

That said, for what you want to do, you need an HDMI-capable receiver that can take all of your various and sundry inputs, send the video to the TV, and output the audio to your speakers*

*if you don't actually have speakers, and are just using it to switch inputs for the tv, it doesn't really matter what cables you use, the speakers on most TVs are too crappy to tell the difference.
posted by Oktober at 3:16 PM on September 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

My receiver doesn't support HDMI either, just S-Video. So I have all the video components plugged into the various TV inputs, all the audio components plugged into the receiver, and the TV audio out plugged into the receiver too (to get the TV sound on the good speakers). This does require switching both the TV and the receiver to the right inputs, but a Harmony remote makes that pretty effortless. It's a decent stopgap until I buy a HDMI receiver.

At one point I tried to run everything through the TV, and then a single audio-out to the receiver, similar to your plan. This didn't work too well because my Samsung LCD downconverts the HDMI input audio to stereo on the audio-out. I don't know why it does this rather than passing it through, and I don't know if your set does the same, but it was quite a "gotcha".
posted by smackfu at 3:21 PM on September 22, 2009

You should be able to tell your DVD player to send audio over optical only (i do this with my ps3) and then hook up the hdmi directly to your tv and the optical to your reciever.
posted by Oktober at 3:22 PM on September 22, 2009

Response by poster: OK, I may have messed up a couple details, it seems. Partly because I just unpacked and reconnected the stereo and its components for the first time in a few years (long story), and could sworn that the optical-out from the DVD handled both audio AND video. Perhaps I was wrong.

Oktober: I think I may be able to send the DVD audio to the receiver via optical, but my old DVD player does not have an HDMI out.

smackfu (hi!): I think you're right that the cheapest, easiest way out of this is to get a prog-scan DVD player with HDMI out. And then I would just run the audio from the TV back to the stereo, downconverting via component cables, right? Or is there a more elegant, higher-quality-audio solution?

To add on, then: can anyone recommend a good, cheap, multiregion/multistandard DVD player with an HDMI output? About 8 or 9 years ago, the good/cheap/play-anything DVD players were made by brands like Apex and Mitashi. Since then, I've been out of the loop. What are the best options now?
posted by Dr. Wu at 4:02 PM on September 22, 2009

First of all, there is no reason to run optical audio from the receiver, or source devices to the HDTV. Why run optical audio to the HDTV if it needs to feed through the receiver in order to be output by your speakers? Secondly, if either of you're 2 DVD players do not upscale, it doesn't matter whether or not your A/V receiver handles HDMI, because it won't be producing an HD video stream.

So, audio doesn't really appear to be your problem. Managing mixed SD and HD components seems to be your issue. In which case you have two options.

1. Replace your DVD players with upscaling models. Run the video directly to your HDTV and the optical audio to your receiver. Pro: it only cost you a couple hundred bucks, and you get to keep your receiver and its attendant set-up. Con: any time you want to use a different device you'll need to select the source on both your receiver and HDTV.

2. Replace your receiver with a model that handles both HD and SD sources. Sony has a "low-end" receiver (STR-DH700) that handles HDMI, component, AND composite for $300.00. But you're SD video sources would still be sent in SD to the HDTV. They have a "mid-range" (STR-DN1000) receiver that handles HDMI, component AND composite AND will upscale SD video content to HD for $500.00. Pro: you're problems are solved in one purchase, you have access to "legacy" components, and have relatively future-proofed your A/V set-up. Con: Price may be a barrier of entry, you will have to part with your current receiver (may e-bay/craigslist mitigate your losses), and you will have to plug everything back into your new A/V rig.

I am not a Sony shill, you have Sony components so thats what I used for reference, you may find comparable receivers by different companies for less YMMV.
posted by lilnemo at 4:10 PM on September 22, 2009

If you really want to maximize the use of your HDTV, I'd recommend getting an inexpensive Blu-ray player that also does DVD upconverting (I think they all do). Blu-ray is definitely worth it. The prices are really coming down; you should be able to get a "cheap" BD player for around $150 by Christmas.
posted by kenliu at 5:40 PM on September 22, 2009

Buy a PS3: Great blu-ray player, great dvd-player, plays virtually any video format you throw at it, plus you can use all kinds of streaming services through Play On.

Oh yeah, and there's some good games too.
posted by Oktober at 6:23 PM on September 22, 2009

The solution is to not send any video to your old receiver. Connect the video signals directly to the TV, and connect the audio to the receiver. This is redundant if you were using HDMI for everything... but it should still work fine. The TV does not need sound and the receiver does not need video.
posted by jrockway at 2:03 AM on September 23, 2009

I think you're right that the cheapest, easiest way out of this is to get a prog-scan DVD player with HDMI out. And then I would just run the audio from the TV back to the stereo, downconverting via component cables, right? Or is there a more elegant, higher-quality-audio solution?

The important point here is that HDMI does handle audio, but it doesn't need to. Most components I've seen with HDMI also have a digital audio out (optical or coax), so you can run that to a somewhere different than the video.

One question I have is whether there is any advantage to an upconverting DVD w/ HDMI out vs. a progressive scan DVD w/ component out? Assuming your TV is good at upconverting 480p signals, of course.
posted by smackfu at 6:55 AM on September 23, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for your input, and sorry for the delay in posting a reply. This is the first moment I've had.

Clearly, I had been overthinking this, and the most reasonable solution, as several of you have suggested, is 1) to get a new, HDMI-output DVD player, 2) send the audio from the new DVD player and all other components through the receiver, and 3) send the video from all components directly to the TV, which has multiple inputs and switching capacities. It's actually pretty simple, innit? So simple I was unable to see it, I guess.

A followup:
To echo smackfu's question: If I plug in the new DVD player to the TV via HDMI, and hook up its audio to the receiver via either optical or component, then will I definitely get the DVD sound coming from the receiver? Will I, in other words, effectively be sending the audio to BOTH the TV and the receiver, but only listen to it through the speakers hooked up to the receiver? Would sending audio to the one source "cancel" its being sent to the other?

Thanks again!
posted by Dr. Wu at 10:24 AM on September 23, 2009

Not sure exactly what you mean by "cancel", but you should be able to send the audio to both the TV and receiver (via HDMI and optical, respectively).

You also should be able to configure the DVD player to send only video over HDMI and send the audio only via optical.
posted by kenliu at 4:21 PM on September 26, 2009

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