How to get a PC to output surround sound to a receiver
March 20, 2011 7:43 PM   Subscribe

Trying to work out how to get surround sound from a PC to a receiver...

I'm a noob at this. Lets say I pick up any modern motherboard, some random LED TV (Sony Bravia?) and any 5.1 surround sound system, say a Yamaha

From what Google has been telling me, it's impossible to get gaming surround sound of out a PC into the receiver properly. So many people have posted trying so many different attempted solutions using the various outputs (RCA/HDMI/SPDIF) that I'm having a hard time sorting out what really works and what doesn't, and what amazed me is that none of the attempts ended in success. Hence my questions here.

1. The point of paying hundreds of dollars for the receiver included in a home theatre system (to my mind) the superior sound quality you get by letting it do the signal processing instead of the motherboard integrated audio. Am I right in assuming that I need to use SPDIF in order for this to work (while for HDMI / RCA the signal processing is already done by my onboard audio?)

2. If SPDIF is the way to go, I've had google saying that it can only handle 2 channel audio, but may be able to do 5.1 in a compressed / degraded form. Can anyone verify this, what the software hardware requirements are, and whether the sound degradation is noticable? Most google results are stating that you can get 5.1 sound only from bluray / dvd playback but not from anything else.

3. I guess what I'm looking for is a three step process where if you buy a pc with X feature, a surround sound system with Y feature, and use Z cable to connect them it will work, but what I've googled doesn't make me hopeful. But any discussion / links to information are much appreciated!
posted by xdvesper to Technology (4 answers total)
HDMI's audio capabilities are a superset of SPDIF's. (You may want to ensure that all devices are certified to HDMI 1.2+, I think HDMI 1.0 might not have had as much audio format support). HDMI is exactly what you need.
posted by kickingtheground at 8:33 PM on March 20, 2011

If you pay less than a grand on your entire home theater package, especially less than $500, you almost certainly won't notice a difference between most of the things you're talking about-- digital/analog conversion on soundcard versus receiver, compressed vs uncompressed audio over TOSLINK/HDMI.

What you WILL notice is lag. The soundcard is probably optimized for playing games; more so than the receiver anyway. If you have 5.1 analog inputs to your receiver and outputs on your soundcard, that's probably the least laggy solution. Or try HDMI, or TOSLINK, or SPDIF. Cables are cheap (get then from Monoprice!) so you can see what works best for you in terms of latency and quality.
posted by supercres at 9:30 PM on March 20, 2011

Yes, SPDIF can only support 2 stereo uncompressed PCM channels or 5.1 channels when encoded at 448 kbit/s AC3; there is no way to do 5.1 uncompressed PCM. That means if you want to carry multichannel audio over SPDIF you need the signal to either already be encoded in AC3 (as it would be on a DVD) or you need software drivers that do the encoding in the background, taking the game/program output and encoding it to AC3 in realtime. Some cards have drivers with this capability, but the easiest solution by far is just to use plain analog RCA outputs for all six channels which will work universally.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:58 PM on March 20, 2011

I use HDMI from my graphics card. It works fine and can even do dts-ma and true-hd.
posted by JonB at 10:32 PM on March 20, 2011

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