Home Theatre

Well, there're loads of articles, webpages, etc giving advice on how to start a home theatre system, so I don't think I have to reproduce the general conclusions. I'll try and add links to useful home theatre guides.

Anyway, the additions to my hi-fi system are:

  • Pioneer CLD-D790 ($599), wonderful 'purist' LD player from their older line
  • Sony SDP-EP9ES ($800), Reasonably priced. In between the more expensive Pioneer and the cheap n good Denon AVD-2000.
  • Audioquest Video 2 (used as AC-3 RF cable), JVC toslink cable (for Pro-Logic LDs)
  • 15 year old Yamaha Surround processor/amp - wow it still works (amp for rear speakers) Note: Replaced by my Quad 77 Integrated - actually overkill, but no idea what to do with it at the moment :)
    Mordaunt Short Ms05 (borrowed from my office system) on cheapo 120 cm surround stands

Perhaps its because my room is small; but normal 2 channel stereo + Subwoofer can really envelop the room with sound. So much so that I'm of the opinion but AC-3 adds only a bit (of course, I still consider it a worthwhile addition) to it. My primary source of satisfaction is still the great sound coming from the front 2 speakers. Still, I admit that Twister is cool with AC-3. Had to cut down the bass to my Ms05s -- the speakers were literally blowing air out of the anti-turbulence ports! (strong enough to blow out a candle)

Home Theatre Philosphy

I have lower standards for Home Theatre :) As long as it sounds like I'm in a cinema, I'm happy. Whats this about sounding realistic? Loud explosions in space? Soundstage, pace, rhythm don't mean as much as the impact of that next explosion. You could say one gets tired of crash-boom-bangs easily :- you're right, thats why at most I watch on average 1 LD a week.

Initial impressions of AC-3

Though everyone on the net seems to love AC-3 and says that it is wonderful, fantastic etc. But really, all this from 5.1 channels of information stuffed into 1 audio channel? Personally, I would say that AC-3 is very good at what it does... presenting movies. Dialogue is clear, all channels are well separated and theres loads of bass. However, there is a lack of the breathtaking clarity and transparency that one associates with Hi-Fi. In tracks where there is large-scale symphonic music (Twister's 'Stormchaser Medley' for e.g.), the music lacks transparency. I suppose thats where DTS, which is 4x higher sampling rate comes in.

AC-3 vs Pro-Logic

I've been listening to AC-3 vs Pro-logic versions of laserdiscs. AC-3 is via my AQ Video 2 into the EP9ES and Pro-logic is via a cheapo Toslink cable into the EP9ES. Anyway, for movies, AC-3 is clearly the way to go. IMHO, the superiority of AC-3 is not because of discrete rear channels but....

The Subwoofer Channel!

The sound quality of AC-3 vs Dolby Pro-Logic is remarkably similar despite the fact that AC-3 has like 384kb/s (i think?) for 5.1 info whilst pro-logic you get 2 digital channels (thats about 4x more bandwidth). Sure, there's a bit more reverberant space in Pro-logic, but otherwise theres not much difference between AC-3 and Pro-logic. Note:if I were commenting about hi-fi, the increase in 'air' and 'space' would be very significant to me; I just have different standards for movies :) Having said that, I would have to say that I haven't heard that many movies yet with great Pro-logic soundtracks. If the pro-logic soundtrack was very good, I'm sure the discrepancy when switching to AC-3 could be heard. Maybe I can force myself to borrow an AC-3 Evita?

But put on something like Air Force One and the effect of the Subwoofer channel is readily apparent. With the subwoofer effects, it sounds like a movie, without it, it seems like a TV program. Its not a matter of cranking up the volume; the 'gap' left in the low frequencies when switching to pro-logic is huge.

Whither DVD (as of June 98)?

One word: Wait.

  • DTS DVD players are just coming into the market. 4 x the bit rate of Dolby Digital. How do they do it? By removing all those stupid foreign language tracks of course :)
  • DVD audio players are due only in 1999. But first, they have to settle the standard, and thankfully, DVD audio will contain CD audio tracks, thus stealing a march on Sony/Philips' super CD format. So you can buy DVD audio discs to listen on your CD player until good DVD players come out.

If you're really desperate, I can recommend getting the Creative Labs Encore DVD-Rom Drive with Mpeg decoder. Its dirt cheap (considering you get 1 coupon for a free DVD subtract $40), can be used as a CD Rom drive (subtract $80 for not needing to buy a 20x CD Rom drive). Also, it seems that the computer world will settle on DVD standards faster than the audio folk will.

The Encore is not technically multicode, but who cares, always set it to code 1 - US. The regional coding is set during installation, so if you are a computer nut with multiple hard disks and know how to boot from different hard disks, you probably know how to do multiple installs each with different regional setting (but, really, setting it to code 1 will do fine).

Some home theatre links:
Eric's Hi-Fi haven General hi-fi/ht pages by a Singapore enthusiast