How do I make Blu-Ray work on a standard computer?
February 2, 2010 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Going to buy a new computer and connect it to already-owned surround speakers and HD monitor. I want to be able to play Blu-Rays with nice HD sound if possible. I'm an HD, HDMI, Blu-Ray and recent-PC-hardware virgin, and will need to be led through this like I'm a kid.

I have a nice new HD monitor (Asus VH242H, HDMI input available, native resolution 1920x1080 - 1080p) and a nice, fairly-recent set of 7.1 surround speakers which don't specifically have an HD input plug of any kind (Creative Gigaworks S750 which I bought a couple of years back). I can afford to replace neither of these - they have to stay.

I'm looking at buying a standard Alienware Aurora with the following core specs and can't change them all that much:

OS: Windows 7 64-bit
Processor: Intel Core i7
6GB tri-channel RAM
Obviously, a Blu-Ray ROM drive

I have a choice between buying the standard video card:
nVidia GeForce GTS240
or upgrading to this one:
ATI Radeon HD 5870

I have a choice between going with the standard onboard HDA 7.1 audio or adding a Soundblaster XFi Titanium card.

I want to be able to play (standard DVDs and) Blu-Rays and pass the Blu-Ray HD video to the monitor and the Blu-Ray HD audio to the speakers and not run up against any problems. Simple as that.

I have googled about this and what I have read confuses me and makes me suspect that there will be problems - glitchy software, my speakers aren't connected through a separate audio receiver, there might be no sound at all, etc. etc. I'm also confused by leftfield talk of having to connect your sound card to your graphics card inside the case, or something equally outlandish.

Help and advice would be appreciated particularly in terms of connections between the hardware components, and on software. Of course this could all be really easy and effortless to you, but please pretend I am a clueless child. Thankyou kindly...
posted by paperpete to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
If you aren't gaming, that system is overkill. A standard Core2 CPU will handle 1080p with ease, and 6GB of RAM is ridiculous.

You won't get HD sound without your sound card, and I'm not even sure if there is one that will handle DTS-MA and TrueHD without a receiver. You will get standard DD/AC-3 and DTS though.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:05 AM on February 2, 2010

Typo: *You won't get HD sound with either of those sound cards.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:07 AM on February 2, 2010

Bluray is still in its computer infancy. I think this explains your lack of responses. I consider myself up-to-date with most home theater tech. I have two computers at home, one that's attached to a 46" LCD TV. I use my PS3 for viewing Bluray discs and actually decided to buy the PS3 instead of gear for the computer due to the complications involved.

For example. The machine I have has a video card with an HDMI out. I had to find and download a beta driver to get it to push audio via the HDMI port in addition to the video. If you want to run audio from the audio card instead of via HDMI it will be a completely different story, but my experience was a compete pain in the ass.

I've also been told by two friends, both with newer computers that have Bluray drives (ostensibly "state of the art" machines), that the biggest pain is the software you are able to use to play the discs. They are constantly running into compatibility issues from disc to disc--firmware and software updates being the usual hassle.

My suggestion, and I know this isn't what you want to hear, is to take the money you were going to spend on your sound and video cards and buy a PS3 and the $15 bluetooth remote. It is self-updating and has options for segregating the audio and video feeds. I don't know about the new 'slim' variants, but mine has an HDMI out and an optical audio out, both of which support everything from stereo to 5.1 to 7.1 to DTS. Audio stuff like TrueHD I've never really explored since I'm satisfied with my out-of-date receiver.

Also, don't get me wrong... I effin' love having my computer hooked up to my TV. I have another machine that I stream watchable content from into the living room. It is rad fo sho, but Bluray is something I plan to leave to stand-alone players for a while yet. We'll see if Sony ever lessens their strangle hold and allows the technology to evolve to a more usable model someday.
posted by Gainesvillain at 10:18 AM on February 2, 2010

Response by poster: I will be gaming - sorry for not pointing that out!

I used to know a lot about gadget geekery back in 2004 but I don't now. I didn't keep up with it after buying my last computer. I'm coming to Ask Mefi on this so that I can hopefully avoid having to go through a fortnight's worth of confusion and headaches - someone must know this stuff already right?!

Again, I would very much appreciate being treated like a newbie in terms of current tech and concepts, and if something's not going to work with the equipment and the spec above, please do suggest something that will. Thanks!

I know I'm going to need to buy an adapter and/or cable to convert the DVI output from the graphics card to an HDMI input for the monitor. Beyond that simple requirement, I'm confused. I don't even know which software to buy or which codecs I need, or anything. Googling confuses me even more. I really am sorry, guys, but all this is a pain for me too!

On preview - thanks for all the helpful info and advice, Gainesvillain! - but I really do want to stick to the PC. I don't have room for another piece of kit in my shoebox of a room.

Also, you're right - I want to run the audio through my audio card, whatever it happens to be. I don't have another choice / a very large wallet for this purchase. Or do I have another choice I don't know about?
posted by paperpete at 10:46 AM on February 2, 2010

i would upgrade to the ATi for sure. they've been dominating nvidia in the vidcards lately. if you're not in a huge hurry to get this i would watch as they commonly post discounts to dell and i've seen a few for alienware aurora lately. i also noticed you could add a bluray burner as opposed to just the player for $100 more...just something to consider.

yes 6gb's of ram is overkill but you need it in order to use all of your processor cores in the i7 so keep it.

the ATI and your monitor are both HDCP compliant which you will need in order to run DVI -> HDMI to your tv or monitor. that was a big pain in the ass when i bought my last video card an TV.
posted by no bueno at 11:13 AM on February 2, 2010

My boss just bought this system .Its very fast .Dont listen to the people saying its way to fast for your needs. This will last you a while before you need to upgrade.

The 5870 has an hdmi out with audio onboard . I know because i have a 5770. With the 5870 all you would have to do is connect the hdmi from the hdmi port on the video card to the hmdi port on your tv and windows 7 would switch everything automatically.

Also this would work for your monitor also . So I suggest the 5870 video card. It also helps that the ati card is direct x 11 capable which also helps the longevity of the system.

The speaker system will work with the onboard card or the creative labs. Thats your choice to make. (

You are fine with this pc. Your surround speakers will work perfectly and i suggest getting the 5870 card..
posted by majortom1981 at 12:13 PM on February 2, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks very much for your answers, everyone.

wongcorgi - thanks for the clarification about the HD sound issues - seems for true HD sound you need even more than a luxury soundcard! Any more details on how to achieve that would be welcome.

Gainesvillain - thanks for the context - this was really helpful for a newbie.

And nobeuno and majortom - thanks for the vid card recommendations.
posted by paperpete at 10:35 AM on February 7, 2010

Response by poster: Just as a final update - I ended up buying a different PC but with the same key innards. Except the sound is onboard, on the motherboard, rather than being a separate card.

And I can now tell you, myself, and anyone who comes along to this thread, the following:

- You can't get true HD sound, as wongcorgi says, unless you have vastly more expensive hardware than I can afford, but Blu-Ray-supporting playback software (like PowerDVD Ultra) will let you choose to play the DTS HD audio track on a Blu-Ray, and will simply convert it down to the sounds your computer can cope with - DTS 5.1 or stereo or whatever your audio setup is.

- You don't need to worry, as I was, about where the sound is going and where the video is going in terms of Blu-Ray. Install compatible playback software and it will just work. And if you have a 1080p monitor, as I do, I can vouch that it looks superb.

- Sadly, if you have lots of DVDs from lots of different regions, and have hacked your DVD drive to make it region-free, you will need to retain it. My Blu-Ray / DVD drive, at least, hasn't had hacked firmware released for it yet. It seems to be a common problem.
posted by paperpete at 12:31 PM on March 6, 2010

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