Multichannel Analog, Which TV, Upgrade Path

Bypass Blues
I read that if you let a Blu-ray player decode the new audio formats and send them to the receiver from the player's multichannel analog outputs, you bypass the receiver's crossover and equalization settings. Is this also the case when you use PCM over HDMI?

Mark Wilson

You are correct that, in most cases, the signals entering a receiver's multichannel analog inputs bypass the receiver's crossover (aka bass management) and other processing. However, PCM via HDMI normally does not bypass these functions. Thus, I generally recommend that you not use the player's multichannel analog outputs. Another reason to avoid them is the hassle of dealing with six or eight separate audio cables. If you're in the market for a new Blu-ray player, I would save some money and get one without these outputs.

Condo TV
I live in a small condo of 650 square feet, and I am in the market for a 42-47" LCD. Do you have a suggestion? My budget is $1200-1500.

S. Lam

My favorite LCDs from 2008 in your price range are the Samsung A650 and Sony W4100 series, both of which are available in the screen sizes you specify. I really dislike the Sony's onscreen menu system, but the Samsung has a much more reflective screen, which can be distracting when watching with the lights on.

Upgrade Path
My Blu-ray player is connected to my plasma via HDMI, and the picture is great. The audio is hooked up to my older receiver (no HDMI) via optical cable. Is it worth it to upgrade my receiver so I can take advantage of the new audio formats, or would it be better to upgrade my surround speakers? Will the sound that much better via HDMI? I'm also worried about how the receiver will handle the output of the HD signal, since the signal would come from the receiver and not the player.

Michael Sorrentino

In my informal tests, I have found that the new audio formats on Blu-ray sound noticeably better than a conventional optical output. However, some readers have pointed to blind studies that show most people—even those with trained ears—may not be able to tell the difference between the old lossy formats and the new lossless formats. Are you picky about audio quality? If not, the optical output is probably fine and upgrading your speakers might be the better way to go.

A good receiver can certainly handle the HD signal and won't harm the HDMI picture quality at all. The Pioneer Elite SC series and Onkyo receivers fall into this camp. The current Yamaha receivers sound very good, but they also negatively affect the video passing through them, so I wouldn't recommend them to you for that reason.

Update: Eagle-eye reader Roberto points out that his Onkyo TX-SR706 receiver does, in fact, clip above-white and below-black, which certainly harms the HDMI picture quality. I was mistaken that our reviews of the TX-SR606 and TX-SR806 tested for this—they didn't. In fact, in his review of the 606 for UAV, David Vaughn commented that the receiver's video processing was not good in general, preferring to let other components in his system perform that task. Otherwise, the Onkyo receivers sound great and provide excellent value, but video isn't their strong suit.

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Roberto Ruggeri's picture

Dear Scott:I do no agree with you regarding that the Onkyo Receivers won't harm the HDMI Picture Quality. I recently purchased an Onkyo TX-SR701 and the HDMI will not pass Black below Black & White above white even ( Checked with DVE pluge & reverse gray ramps). The dynamic range of some material is effectively clipped.Unfortunately there is no way to get around this issue by connecting the Blue Ray 7.1 Analog OUT to the multichannel inputs of the Receiver and running an HDMI cable directly from the Player to the HDTV without losing all the Audissey capabilities, including Dynamic EQ, as all Receivers equalizer functions are bypassed as you mention.At the End I decided to compromise and run the HDMI video & audio stream trough the Receiver, the loss of the Audissey does not compensate for the loss of the Video dynamic range.By the way this is an issue with many Onkyo Receivers, I read on Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity that the TX-SR806 does have the same issue

Roberto Ruggeri's picture

Correction: The Onkyo receiver mentioned in my previous comment is the TX-SR706, not TX-SR701, it was a Typo.

Jarod's picture

Hey Scott, that letter from Mark got me thinking. I am getting ready to get a new Blu-ray player that can decode lossless audio because I want to take advantage of the lossless audio codecs. I have an Onkyo reciever that is doing my HDMI switching to my Pioneer Kuro but the reciver is only HDMI 1.1. Would it be ok if I used the 7.1 analog outputs from the new bluray to my receiver so I can hear them, instead of buying a new receiver with 1.3 HDMI? Thanx

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Roberto, I must have misremembered. I thought for sure we tested that on the TX-SR606 and 806, but looking back at those reviews, I can't find any mention of it one way or the other. Clearly, they were published before we implemented a standard video-test suite for AVRs, which includes checking for above-white and below-black clipping. So I must assume you are correct in your observation. My apologies for that misstatement, and thanks for the correction!

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Jarod, I'm not a fan of the multichannel analog outputs because they bypass the receiver's processing and calibration, and it's a hassle to deal with all those cables. You should be able to set the player to decode the lossless codecs and send them as PCM via HDMI. The HDMI 1.1 input on the receiver can certainly accept PCM, even though it can't accept Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD. In fact, I generally prefer this approach over decoding the new bitstreams in the AVR because decoding to PCM in the player lets you hear the secondary audio, such as a Bonus View PIP window and menu sounds.

Ryan Mack's picture

I'm really looking forward to a review of Onkyo's new TX-SR607. Please be sure to perform the above-white, below-black tests when you do the review.That receiver looks incredible for the price!

Nathan's picture

Speaking of recievers, I'm in the market for a whole new setup. I had been looking at Yamaha's but after reading that they degrade video quality, I may be looking elsewhere. What are your recommendations in the $400-$700 range?

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Ryan, checking for above-white and below-black clipping is now a standard part of our video-testing suite for AVRs. I hope Onkyo has solved this problem in its new models!

Jarod's picture

Thanks Scott!

Mike McNutt's picture

Scott, I have the Oppo Blu-ray player that decodes DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD, but have to send to my Arcam AV9 Pre-pro via Analog cables, because the AV9 only passes the signal through. Do I set my distances in the player? and adjust sound levels with my sound level meter on the player, and how does one balance the Sub level. Mike

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Mike, I'm not completely sure I understand you here. The Arcam AV9 does not decode DTS-HD or Dolby TrueHD, but it does have HDMI inputs that will "pass all audio and video HDMI standards," which must mean it can accept PCM via HDMI. So why not decode in the player and send PCM via HDMI to the pre/pro? That way, you can set the speaker distances and levels in the pre/pro.As for setting the sub level, one basic rule is to set it 10dB higher than the main channels because (1) our hearing is less sensitive to low frequencies, so the sub needs to be louder in order to be perceived as the same volume as the main speakers, and (2) the LFE channel is intended to play 10dB louder than the other channels in order to reproduce explosions and such with a visceral impact. Personally, I find a 10dB boost in the sub to be too much, so I back it off from there to suit my taste, which is what I recommend you do as well.

Bart's picture

Dear Scott, you wrote that current Yamaha receivers negatively affect the video passing through them. I'm interested in buying the RX-V863 and wanted to ask if the negative effect can really be seen in one of those and if it is than is there a chance to bypass it without losing any of audio capabilities of that reciever. Unfortunatelly I haven't seen any mention about "hdmi-effect" in your review of this model.Bart

TP's picture

Dear Scott: Thanks for the info. Since my current receiver doesn't have HDMI, I was planning on using a BD player with multi-channel analog outs to take advantage of the latest hi-def audio. Given the economic times, I'm on a budget, but I also want to get the most out of the latest available hi-def sound formats. So, how significant would the improvement be if I purchased a receiver with HDMI so I didn't bypass the crossover and other processing in the receiver? Is it worth buying a new receiver so I can transmit the audio via HDMI rather than the analog audio outs? Are we talking a noticeable improvement or one that is barely perciptible? Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

Audio_Fan's picture

What about the claim that HDMI audio is inferior to Multichannel Analog? I have a friend who recently purchased an Arcam AVR 350 for 1800.00, I thought he was insane as he has a BDP, PS3 etc.I made the comment that he could have bought a decent HDMI receiver for the same price and he went off saying that HDMI has jitter issues and taints the sound.I personally have a Marantz SR8002 and I do not hear any of these issues.I hate to put you on the spot but I have to ask, in your opinion, would the Multichannel analogs on something like an Arcam AVR 350 give better audio results compared to other HDMI receivers in the same price range?

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Bart, the HT review of the RX-V863 was published before we implemented our video-testing protocol for AVRs, so I don't know for sure if it clips above-white and below-black. But other Yamaha AVRs reviewed by HT and UAV do, so I would suspect that this one does as well. In addition, the flagship RX-Z11 doesn't do a good job deinterlacing 1080i to 1080p, though it does a better job with 480i signals. These problems are not as evident on real-world material as they are on test patterns and carefully chosen torture-test clips, but clipping above-white can be visible in mostly white scenes, such as snowscapes, which look flat and lose detail if above-white is clipped. Another example is the white waiter's jacket worn by a disguised mangalor in The Fifth Element, which looks flat and washed out if above-white is clipped.As far as I know from our other Yamaha AVR reviews, there is a bypass mode, but they still clip above-white and below-black.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

TP, bypassing the AVR's crossover and other processing can be significant, depending on a variety of factors. For example, if the player does not have bass-management capabilities, the low frequencies from the main channels won't be redirected to the subwoofer, which could result in a bass-deficient sound if your main speakers aren't true full-range models—and most aren't because this is very expensive to achieve. Even if they are, I always recommend using a sub anyway, because ideal sub placement is different than ideal main speaker placement.Then there's the AVR's room EQ; if you've tweaked the EQ for your room—or used the AVR's auto-correction routine if available—it won't be applied to the multichannel inputs, and the resulting sound won't be optimized for the room. Thus, I do think it's worth investing in an AVR with HDMI, of which there are many that cost well under $1000.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Audio Fan, I've heard audiophiles claim that HDMI audio is inferior to multichannel analog due to jitter etc., but I haven't heard it myself. There may be some slight difference, but it's insignificant in my view. I'm perfectly happy with HDMI audio to the AVR.

Ryan Mack's picture

I emailed Onkyo regarding the above-white/below-black question on the new TX-SR607. They said "Yes the TX-SR607 should not have any problems passing the below black and above white video signals." I'm still waiting for your review for proof. Could you give us a hint as to when to expect it?

Scott Wilkinson's picture

A review of the Onkyo TX-SR607 is scheduled to appear in the August 2009 issue of Home Theater.