System Recommendation, Analog vs. PCM, TiVo & FiOS

Starting from Scratch
I have a family room that measures 16x25 feet, and I intend to install a projection home theater with a good, affordable sound system. My budget is about $8000. What do you suggest for the projector, receiver, and speakers?

Uday Trivedi

First of all, putting a projection system in a multipurpose family room might not be a great idea unless you can completely control the light in the room. But if you're going to watch during the day with non-sealed windows or at night with the lights on so the kids can play in the same room, front projection is not the best solution.

If you still want a projection system, here's what I recommend:

If you don't have a Blu-ray player yet, I recommend the Oppo BDP-83 ($500). And to control it all, get the Logitech Harmony One universal remote ($250).

Blu-ray Oasis
I'm an audiophile living in Egypt. I have a small home-theater system built around a Pioneer VSX-918 receiver, which has HDMI but no Dolby TrueHD decoder, and a pair of Monitor Audio BR2 speakers. I want to get a Sony or Pioneer Blu-ray player, but how do I get the best of the new HD audio formats? Do I connect using HDMI or multichannel analog? Pioneer UK told me that I can benefit from the HD audio by connecting the multichannel analog output of the Blu-ray player to the receiver. Is this true?

Yasser Sharaf, MD

You can benefit from the HD audio on Blu-ray in one of two ways—connect the multichannel analog outputs from the Blu-ray player to the corresponding inputs on the receiver, or have the player decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD to PCM and send that via HDMI to the receiver. Many audiophiles prefer the sound of the multichannel analog outputs, but I generally prefer the PCM option for several reasons.

First, the multichannel analog inputs on most AVRs bypass the bass-management and EQ functions. A few players offer rudimentary bass management for their analog outputs, but this is relatively rare. Second, the volume level from the analog outputs is often quite different than the level via HDMI, requiring you to reset the volume for that input compared with other HDMI sources. Third, using the multichannel connections requires six or eight analog cables, which I'd rather avoid for convenience.

So you need to get a Blu-ray player that can decode Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD to PCM and/or multichannel analog. Both Sony and Pioneer make such players; you might also look at the new Oppo BDP-83. I don't know if you can get it in Egypt, but I would think so since it's available online. The Oppo is the one to beat these days, and at $500, it's not even that expensive.

TiVo w/FiOS
I'm having a problem with the picture quality from my Verizon FiOS TV service. Here's my setup:

  • Sony KDL-52XBR9 LCD TV
  • TiVo HD DVR
  • Verizon FiOS cable service
  • All connected via HDMI
I signed up with Verizon FiOS about two months ago. After two weeks with the Verizon DVR, I missed my old DirecTV TiVo box that we had for almost four years. So I bought a TiVo HD DVR. From the get-go, I noticed obvious macroblocking on fast-action scenes and scenes with dramatic changes in lighting (like an explosion at night). Speed Racer looked absolutely terrible with all the fast panning and quick action.

I've tried a few things to correct the problem per suggestions from message boards, like attenuating the signal, waiting for a firmware upgrade, etc. I've even swapped out the TiVo for a new unit, but the problem persists. There's got to be a problem with how the TiVo processes the FiOS signal. I don't remember having the same problem with the Verizon DVR, but I don't want to go back to that terrible interface. Do you think a DirecTV box would have a similar issue? I've used the DirecTV DVR and don't mind its UI.

Erick Mangali

Are you feeding the TiVo box directly with the FiOS-delivered signal? Or is the FiOS receiver connected to the TiVo box somehow? Either way, it seems to me that the TiVo box doesn't know what to do with that signal, which is why it isn't working well. The TiVo box is designed to be used with off-the-air broadcast signals or digital cable using a CableCard, so I think the problem is that you're using it in an unintended way. And I suspect you'll have the same problem with a DirecTV DVR, which is intended to be used only with DirecTV satellite service.

You didn't have this problem with the Verizon box because it was designed to be used with FiOS. If you're going to pay for FiOS, I see no way around using its box and interface.

If you have a home-theater question, please send it to scott.wilkinson@sorc.com.

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COMMENTS
Jason's picture

Just wanted to throw in that i picked up the Sanyo PLV-Z3000 as my first project and i absolutely love it on a 106 inch screen. We used it in a mixed purpose theater room and when you turn the brightness up you can clearly see everything when the lights are one. If you eliminate the light it even gets more awesome.

Tom Jiang's picture

Regarding the multichannel analog out dilemma, I think Scott is correct, but mislead. However, he’s not alone, as journalists are not engineers. Think logically about this. A receiver’s primary job is to convert digital signals into analog signals, and provide clean gain (analog signals should only receive gain). Therefore, one would hope, the op-amps, DAC’s, and power supplies will not induce any noise/distortion/jitter. The player’s primary function, conversely, is in the digital domain. It's analog section is made from cheap parts, sharing the power supply with all other circuits (read: noise & jitter). Space savings beat out circuit design. Only the best players provide decent analog performance, for either audio or video, and if you can afford those players, then you can do buy a receiver/processor that can accept audio in bitstream form. Even if the player has a decent audio section, RCA cables induce noise, and all of Scott's points still apply, but are far less important than the reaso

Scott's picture

If light control is an issue with this project, a potential screen to investigate is the Screen Innovations' Black Diamond II. It supposedly rejects ambient light well. FYI, I do not have a connection with this company, nor have I personally used the product.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Tom, I regret that your comment got cut off by the character limit. I don't see how I and other journalists can be correct but mislead. (BTW, I have a degree in physics, so I understand engineering reasonably well for a journalist.) I agree that the analog section of most players is likely to be inferior to the DACs in many AVRs, which is another reason to prefer sending digital audio via HDMI. However, I don't understand your statement that "Only the best players provide decent analog performance...and if you can afford those players, then you can do buy a receiver/processor that can accept audio in bitstream form." If a player provides good analog-audio performance, wouldn't you send analog audio to the receiver, not bitstream? I maintain that my points are also important along with pure audio performance, but I will add that to my list of reasons to prefer digital from the player to the AVR.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Scott, good idea about the Black Diamond! I haven't seen it yet, but I probably will at CEDIA next month, so stay tuned. In general, I'm skeptical about such screens, which normally have hot-spotting issues among other potential problems. But that's from a video purist's perspective, and I'm sure such a screen would work reasonably well for those who aren't as picky as I am and who need the lights on when watching a projected image.

Bill's picture

for what it's worth, I call dibs on Scott's extra ticket to CEDIA, if he has one! ;)I know it's sort of off topic, but I've got to throw it out there!

Derek's picture

Re: TiVo w/FiOSSounds like the Tivo is being forced to convert an analog video signal and is not doing a good job. DirecTV, FiOS and over-the-air are all digital and there is not conversion. The data is simply streamed to the hard drive in the DVR to record and streamed to the video DAC for playback.I agree completely with the Projection system - exactly a speced. I was have a similar system for about 1/2 the price. I have the same Onkyo receiver and Epson 6100 (no frame interpilation), SVC 10D, 3 B&W 600 series and 2 tiny Boston Acoustic in the rear. I also painted 1 wall with Screen Goo. I am VERY happy with the results.I also agree with the multichannel PCM conversion. The later the analog to digital conversion is done, the better. There are exceptions but they are expensive. Example: though there are few receivers that can actually produce a flat 100KHz response from a 192KHz, fewer still can do it with an analog signal.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Bill, I wish I had an extra ticket! Sorry I don't...Derek, you're right that all forms of digital delivery are digital, but I suspect that each one is formatted slightly differently, maybe packetized with different digital "wrappers," which is why the TiVo is having trouble with the FiOS signal. That's my best guess anyway...

Andrew's picture

Regarding TiVo with FiOS...I'm using a TiVo HD XL with FiOS, I have been for almost 6 months, with no major issues. Make sure you're using a cable card in your TiVo...if it matters I have a multi-stream card in mine so I only have to use one.

Carmelo Blanco's picture

I have just bought a PS3 with software version2.80, I use HDMI, have the player set forlinear PCM, and when I play blu ray movies with7.1 sound, I only get 5.1. I set my oppo blu rayplayer for linear PCM and I get my 7.1 sound.This includes Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD master audio,a 7.1 uncompressed. I have spoken with Sony, theychecked my settings, which were properly set. ButI have no resolution. I am pretty down in thedumps on this. Please advise.Thanks C.B.

Tom Jiang's picture

Scott, some one can be correct on their response, but for the wrong reasons. Hence being mislead, but correct. Next: "Only the best players provide decent analog performance... and if you can afford those players, then you can do buy a receiver/processor that can accept audio in bitstream form". The key word there is decent; not spectacular. I'm specifically referring to the flagship denon and oppo units, and while they both provide decent analog audio, it's still no match for even mid-priced receivers (if path is digital), which cost less than the combined average of both players. If someone can drop $500+ on a new player (with DECENT audio), they could instead spend roughly a few hundred more and get a receiver that accepts at least hdmi 1.1 audio spec, and avoid the analog issue completely. Also, the core of a lossless track is nearly undistinguishable from the lossless (play truehd with coax out, and compare with hdmi out, then with analog out). The media continually ignores this

Kenny Kraly Jr.'s picture

Hello Scott I listen to you on the tech guy radio show with Leo Laporte and read your articles at home theater and ultimate AV Magaziens. My question how come the print quallity when movies are restored for blu-ray sometimes the prints are not as good? Does that have to do with the film elements themselfs? Why are some films harder to restore for blu-ray? Are movies shot from the 50's, 60's 70's and 80's harder to restore in high-def than films of today?

John Hart's picture

"Are movies shot from the 50's, 60's 70's and 80's harder to restore in high-def than films of today?"Kenny: It isn't so much that they're harder to restore, it's simply that the elements for older films often haven't been stored properly; have been duped too many times, etc. (Watch the mini-documentary on the restoration of "The Godfather" on the new Blu-ray remasters to see what shockingly horrible condition that film's original elements were in.) Unless the studio decides to pay for a frame-by-frame (and very expensive) full digital restoration, a few scratches and nicks are bound to appear on older titles. The type of film stocks used, different lens types and the cinematographer's particular style can also affect a film's look. Grain is also inherent to film, and is a feature, not a bug. Blu-ray's added resolution also means studios can't be lazy and just rehash old masters done for VHS or LaserDisc; they have to strike new ones,

John Hart's picture

Cutoff sentence from above:"...they have to strike new ones, and as a result many of the catalog titles coming out now do look terrific, even with an occasional blemish on the print."

Kenny Kraly Jr.'s picture

Thanks for explaning this to me John. So John do think the think that when evently The Star Wars Saga and the 1st 3 indina jones films also the back to the future trilogy comes out will they be new masters or used to trasfers from the dvds as a starting point to make new trasfers of the films for blu-ray?

John Hart's picture

Both the original "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" series of films have been extensively worked on by Lowry Digital, and given that Lucas was involved, I'd bet good money they were stored as high-definition files, and the DVD's were made from those. Lucas is said to be "tinkering" with the "Star Wars" films again (hopefully not "fixing" what isn't broken) but the Blu-rays for them and the "Jones" movies will be created from the same basic hi-res digital files, just probably with new color timing, the addition of lossless audio, etc. (No direct info on the "Back To The Future" trilogy, but that's one of Universal's most popular catalog titles, so I'm sure they'd have to do new masters for those.)

John D's picture

What about the sony projector at that price...? I hear their LCOS?? is a better system?Anything coming out if CEDIA for projectors?

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