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GET OLYMPIC SOUND

 

Here's how to get great TV sound, at reasonable cost - without a lounge full of loudspeakers.


Firstly, in the UK you need a Freeview HD tuner, or a Freesat tuner. Freeview uses an ordinary TV aerial so it's easy to receive, but terrestrial TV does not carry many HD channels.

 

Freesat  is best for HD because more bandwidth is available, allowing many more HD channels, but it is beamed down from a satellite, so you need a satellite dish.

 

There are two ways to get Freeview or Freesat  broadcasts: with a suitably equipped TV, or with a set top box.  UK TVs nowadays come with a suitable HD tuner built in, but if your TV doesn't have this and you don't want  to buy a new TV, there's no problem. You can buy a set top box like the Humax Foxsat for just £99 and this will do the job. Simple!


humax-foxsat-front

 

The Humax Foxsat-HD set top box outputs TV surround-sound in digital form.

 

Whichever you get – a TV or a set top box – you will need to connect its S/PDIF digital sound output to an AV surround-sound receiver that decodes Dolby Digital Plus. Modern ones can do this.  A decent Onkyo AV receiver like the TX-SR313 costs just £300 and will do the job nicely, for example.

 


tx-sr313-site

Onkyo TX-SR313 AV receiver costs little but has all you need for TV surround sound.

 

 

Of course, to enjoy surround sound in the lounge you need front and rear loudspeakers. But they do not have to be large or intrusive. Manufacturers like KEF and B&W have both large stand-mounters for use up front, and smaller bookshelf loudspeakers for rear.

 

Large stand mounters like KEF Q300s (£450/pair) are able to cover the full audio range; they give plenty of bass and have a powerful sound. Smaller shelf mounters like KEF Q100s lack deep bass but as rear loudspeakers faced with handling ambient information, like crowd sounds, they are fine. And shelf mounters can be tucked away almost anywhere.

 

So reckon on spending £400-£800 for four suitable hi-fi loudspeakers. You might even want to pick up two pairs of a loudspeaker in clearance, or suchlike, from a hi-fi dealer. They'll love you for this!kef-q100

 

You can use small shelf mounters up front and they will give better sound than the TV's internal loudspeakers. However, some of the impact of TV programmes carrying strong bass, from explosions through to music events, will be lost. For the front loudspeakers, the bigger the better – small floorstanders are ideal. The rear loudspeakers should match the fronts, so use loudspeakers from the same manufacturer's range.

 

KEF Q100 (at right) loudspeaker is a small, high quality bookshelf model.

 

Should you buy a 5.1 loudspeaker set, complete with subwoofer and Centre loudspeaker? You don't have to and they are many good reasons not to. 'Full range' hi-fi loudspeakers handle deep bass well, making a separate subwoofer unnecessary, so that's one box out of the lounge. The awkward  Centre loudspeaker is also unnecessary, so that's another box that can be eliminated. The Centre channel can be switched off in an AV receiver and doing this puts centre channel information into the Left and Right loudspeakers. They then produce a normal central stereo image, like any two-loudspeaker stereo system. The reason for a Centre 'speaker is to firmly locate and make clear the dialogue in films, but TV surround-sound does not need this and the Centre speaker is a drawback when it comes to music. Best to do without then.

 

Eliminating the Centre speaker and subwoofer saves cost, lessens domestic intrusion and makes for a simpler set up with fewer wires. Better, if four good standmount loudspeakers are used audio quality will be better than that from a standard package 5.1 loudspeaker set up. You win all round by avoiding the standard home cinema 5.1 set up: fewer boxes, fewer wires, less cost and better sound. It couldn't be better!  A system like this will give you great sound from TV; in fact at times it will astonish you. Today's HD TV broadcasts sometimes carry impressive sound tracks that a proper hi-fi will do justice to, bringing the action right into your lounge. So get ready to experience the 2012 London Olympics in your home in glorious high definition and enjoy the great sound available with a simple but good surround-sound system.

 

WHAT WILL IT COST?

A satellite dish and its installation will cost £200 minimum, let's say, but actual cost depends upon difficulty of course, as well as down cabling. You can DIY but you will need a simple alignment receiver. All parts are available from Maplins.


Suitable TVs start from £500 or so for outgoing, small screen models. A 55in screen, current model LED TV with Freesat and Freeview HD tuners will cost up to £2000, plasmas less.


A set top box will cost around £100, so this is the cheap way of getting TV surround-sound if you don't fancy a new TV.


Then reckon on £500 for a receiver and £500 for loudspeakers. So the audio bit can be had for around £1000 minimum – not a king's ransom.

 

This system will also play movies from DVD and Blu-ray if you add a Blu-ray player (£90 upward).

 

Network connected AV receivers do a lot more, like play music from your computer and from YouTube and they cost £650 or more. Look for an Ethernet connection.

 

MAKE THE CONNECTION

There are two ways to get surround-sound from the TV or a set top box, to an AV receiver or stereo amplifier: through a digital audio cable (usually optical) or through an HDMI cable.


tv-connection

Samsumg TV owner's manual diagram shows optical digital audio cable connection to AV receiver.

 

The former method is simple, currently common and requires an optical (or electrical) S/PDIF 'digital audio' output on either the TV or the set top box. This can be connected direct to an AV receiver for Dolby surround-sound. Alternatively, the digital sound output can usually be set to 'PCM' in the TV or box to output stereo. This can then be fed either to an external Digital-to-Analogue convertor (DAC) and to a stereo hi-fi system, or direct into a stereo amplifier fitted with a digital audio input. You don't get surround-sound but you do get hi-fi sound quality.

 

A neater alternative that eliminates the need for a separate digital audio cable is to use the Audio Return Channel (ARC) that is a requirement  of the HDMI 1.4 Standard. Older products not compliant with HDMI 1.4 cannot offer this facility, but most current TVs and AV receivers have ARC and this is the simple and easy way to get TV surround-sound into an AV receiver. See the HDMI link below for more details.

 

 

http://freeview.co.uk/HD

http://www.freesat.co.uk/

http://www.humaxdirect.co.uk/

http://www.hdmi.org/manufacturer/hdmi_1_4/arc.aspx

http://www.kef.com/html/gb/index.html


 

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