Going HD: Part 3 (Blu-ray and Surround Sound)

It has been a while since I have written about my move to an HD home theater setup. Going HD: Part 1 detailed the arrival of Samsung's 50-inch plasma HDTV while Going HD: Part 2 with discussing the build of an HTPC. Part 3 will discuss the addition of a 5.1 surround sound system and PlayStation 3.

HTPC Update

Working with my HTPC has been a bit of an uphill battle. I equipped it with a Blu-ray drive and assumed all would be well and I could simply play Blu-ray discs with software like VLC Player in Ubuntu. Unfortunately, that was not the case.

I won’t go into details, particularly since playing Blu-ray movies in Linux consists of bypassing DRM and is considered illegal in the United States, but it consists of compiling the kernel to support UDF 2.5, grabbing the AACS key from a Blu-ray disc and getting an application to rip and decrypt the data. It is “possible” to play the Blu-ray without ripping but requires an advanced setup and enough system resources to be able to decrypt on-the-fly. Then there is the issue of when the disc was produced and if that encryption key hasn’t already been found and put into a database, it is necessary to use a tool to find the Volume ID manually and other such cumbersome tasks. I may revisit this later on but at the moment it’s just not worth messing with Blu-ray in Linux.

Many headaches later I resorted Windows, hoping that would alleviate the problem (Windows solving a problem? irony). To my dismay that proved to be a dead-end also as HDCP issues required I get an HDCP-compliant video card before playing Blu-ray discs with CyberLink Blu-ray playing software.

After that turn of events I decided to forget my dreams of playing Blu-ray discs with my HTPC and put Ubuntu back on the HTPC. Ubuntu is my OS of choice for the HTPC for a few reasons. First off, it is easy to setup Samba shares so it can network with my Mac (Finder » Go » Connect to Server » smb://192.168.1.101 in my case). Also, I have a highly-configured installation of the hellanzb newsgroups downloader installed, which could help with acquiring TV shows and movies quickly if I ever had the itch to do such a blatantly illegal, copyright-violating act.

As for interfacing with the HTPC when hooked up to the HDTV, I don't use any fancy remotes or HDTV-friendly media front-ends. I just have a wireless mouse. To allay any fears about plasma burn-in issues, I have the task bars autohide and use a black desktop background.

I am currently dealing with some bottleneck issue that causes the playback of 1080p movie files to stutter and hang intermittently. It's not a hardware issue; the CPU doesn't get maxed out nor does the hard drive (10,000RPM Raptor - bad choice for an HTPC as it is incredibly loud) have any issues reading off the 50GB files. I've come to the conclusion that it is an Nvidia driver problem that will need to get sorted out. In the meantime, 720p movies play just fine on the HTPC.

No More DirecTV

I canceled my DirecTV service today. I simply don't watch enough TV to warrant the 50+ monthly bill. Furthermore, my building does not have the 5-LNB dish setup necessary to look at the satellites that broadcast the majority of DirecTV's HD programming, making the HD package worthless. If it's not HD, it must go.

Bye Bye Wii

Tacking on to that last sentiment, I sold my Wii and accessories. It was a neat system but playing it on an HDTV was painful. The Wii's 480p resolution on a 1080p display was unbearably ugly, not to mention a white console did not fit in aesthetically with my black equipment.

Going Blu

The next step was to add a Blu-ray player. After some research, I came to the conclusion that the best value for a Blu-ray player on the market right now is the PlayStation 3. If you are going to spend upwards of 300 for a good Blu-ray player, you might as well invest in a PS3. The software is upgradeable ensuring that it will always be able to play the latest Blu-ray disc profile. I opted for the 80GB 399 version and picked up Gran Turismo 5 Prologue while I was at it.

Paul's HD Home Theater System

Little known fact: Georgia Tech is working with Sony, Toshiba and IBM to promote and keep developing their cell processor, of which a 3.2GHz-equivalent variant is found in the PlayStation 3.

5.1

My first comments about the Samsung 50-inch plasma mentioned how the integrated speakers were sub-par and rear-firing, making for an unusual sound perception. A surround sound system is a must for any good home theater setup, however I did not want to spend too much money. I decided to stick with Samsung and purchase their HT-TZ512T system for under 400 USD.

Samsung HT-TZ512T Home Theater System

The main selling points of the 512T system are the inclusion of wireless rear speakers, iPod compatibility, an upscaling DVD player (5 disc changer), FM radio and XM-ready receiver. With 1200 watts of power, I find it to be a great value. However, it does not have many audio inputs, which led me to purchase a 3-way digital audio optical switcher.

Nyrius Toslink Selector
Nyrius Toslink Selector Switch

My optical audio cables have yet to arrive, but the switcher will connect the 512T receiver to the PS3, Vudu box and potentially the HTPC if I decide to get a sound card for it.

Samsung HT-TZ512T Home Theater System Unboxing
Samsung HT-TZ512T Home Theater System Unboxing

That being said, I have not listened to these speakers with a 5.1 source yet. I was adequately impressed with this system's sound quality with a 2-channel source with Dolby effects enabled. They have much more range unlike the HDTV's integrated speakers, and unlike the Logitech 2.1 computer speakers I sometimes used with the HDTV, the 512T system does not flood you with bass (even with the lowest setting on the Logitech Z-2200 2.1's, there was way too much bass). More on the sound quality when I setup the optical inputs.

The wireless rear speakers are a bit finicky. At the moment I can't get them to connect to the main unit, although they were working just fine for the past 2 days. I believe I need to do an "ID set" to get the speakers working on the same channel as the wireless transmitter in the main receiver. Initial impressions prove that the sound quality from the rear speakers is acceptable, but they have yet to wow me.

The overall build quality of the HT-TZ512T system is mediocre and screams of cheap plastic like an American car interior. My biggest issue with the entire system is the flimsy nature of the front left and right tall speakers. They're too light and move too easily.

The (almost) Finished Product

Paul's HD Home Theater System

Questions? What is your HD home theater setup like? Thoughts on the PS3? Previous Home Theater: How To: 100-inch Uber Theater on a Budget

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"Going HD: Part 3 (Blu-ray and Surround Sound)" by @Stammy

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