S&V Q&A - September 2006

HDMI Upgrade?

Q. After reading recently about the arrival of the new HDMI 1.3 spec, I started thinking about my HDTV plans. When shopping for an HDTV (plasma, LCD, LCoS, or DLP), how can I verify that the included HMDI inputs on the display adhere to the new 1.3 spec? Will this information be printed in the product documentation, on the outside of the box, or on the manufacturer's Web site? And if the display doesn't meet the 1.3 spec, can its firmware be updated to do so? Justin Lasalata Ridge, NY A. Al Griffin says: I brought those very same subjects up recently in a conversation with a rep from HDMI Licensing LLC, the agent responsible for licensing HDMI to electronics manufacturers. I learned that there's currently no labeling system in place to specify which version of HDMI a given piece of equipment contains. That means it's up to you, the consumer, to determine what's going on HDMI-wise by checking Web sites, reading reviews, and calling manufacturers. Also, there are no firmware updates available that let you upgrade an HDMI connection on your TV or other gear. Since you're currently shopping for a TV and are concerned about HDMI, you should be aware that the 1.3 specification was only just finalized in June. That means it's not likely to appear in any products until 2007 at the earliest.

Missing Audio

Q. Recently, I installed a 7.1-channel home theater system. In addition to my front towers, I have two "soundstage" speakers high in the front corners of the room that I run from the main front channels. I would like to add a center soundstage speaker to fill the "hole" in the middle, but I don't want to tap into my existing center speaker as I want blended L/R and not dialogue. How can I wire in this speaker to achieve this effect?

Ken Robinson, Myrtle Beach,

A. Ian G. Masters says: It's possible, but not necessarily simple. What you don't want to do is just connect the middle speaker in parallel with the left and right speakers. This can damage the amplifier's output stages, and in any event would give you mono L/R in all three speakers. I'd take your receiver or preamp's line-level outputs for the left and right front signals and feed them to the inputs of an external amplifier or receiver, switch its own amp section to mono, and drive the middle speaker with that. That way, you'll preserve the separation of the main channels.

However, I'd advise against this arrangement in general. While your existing extra corner speakers might widen the apparent soundstage just a bit (as would simply moving your main speakers farther apart), adding the sort of fill-in channel you propose would actually narrow the soundstage considerably. If, for example, a sound is recorded in the left channel only, but actually comes out of both the left and a center-mono channel, at best it will seem to be positioned between the speakers. At worst, if this center channel is actually a bit closer to your listening position than the left and right (as is often the case when speakers are lined up against a single wall), the "precedence effect" means that all the sound will come from the center. Mono!

Surround sound, whether algebraically derived by a Pro Logic decoder or discrete (Dolby Digital or DTS), is three-channel stereo up front. That's how it sounds best. But if you really want to experiment with extra front speakers, consider upgrading to a receiver or preamp/processor that offers front "presence" outputs, such as Yamaha's RX-V2600, reviewed in June and now on our Web site.