HDMI Switcher, No HDMI Audio, 3.1 Sound
Never Enough Inputs
I recently purchased a Toshiba 46-inch LCD TV, which has four HDMI inputs. Unfortunately, I need more than that. I own an Apple TV, Mac Mini, PS3, XBox 360, and Boxee Box, and I will soon get a Roku XDS player. I want to get an HDMI receiver that has at least six HDMI inputs and one or two outputs to accommodate all these devices. I have decent home theater speakers connected to an audio receiver, which I don't intend to upgrade at the moment.
So here's my question: What HDMI receiver would you recommend? I don't want to spend a lot on it, but I want something that gets the job done. My budget is around $150-$200.
What you want is called an HDMI switcher, not a receiver. This device accepts several inputs and sends the selected one to the output. HDMI switchers with more than four inputs seem to be fairly rareKey Digital, Accell, and DVIGear switchers all max out at four inputs.
I found a 6x1 switcher in your price range on CablesToGo.com, but the user reviews report lots of problems with it. Atlona makes a 6x1 switcher for $350 and an 8x1 model (pictured above) for $450, but I haven't tried any Atlona products, so I can't say how well they work. I don't like the fact that half of the inputs on both models are on the front panel, which would be unsightly with cables connected to them.
I just bought a Samsung 55-inch LED TV. I have a five-year-old 5.1 surround system that does not have HDMI. Am I screwed, or is there a work-around to get acceptable audio?
Charles F. Lawrence
I suppose it depends on what you call "acceptable," but no, you're not screwed. Does the Blu-ray player have a multichannel analog-audio output, and does the A/V receiver have a multichannel analog-audio input? If so, the way to get the best possible audio is to connect the player's multichannel analog outputs to the AVR's corresponding inputs. Then, connect the player's HDMI output directly to the TV.
If the player and/or AVR do not have multichannel analog-audio connectors, you'll have to use the coax or optical digital-audio connection from the player to the AVR. This will give you basic Dolby Digital or DTS audio, but not the enhanced quality of Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD. Will that be good enough until you get an HDMI-equipped AVR? Only you can decide that for yourself.
Is a 3.1 (L-C-R plus sub) surround configuration commonly supported by new mainstream A/V receivers? I'm interested in building a new home-theater environment, but I have little interest in the surround part. When I go shopping, I want to know if I have to pay special attention to whether or not an AVR has a 3.1 option.
All modern A/V receivers support this configurationin the receiver's setup menu, simply specify that you have no surround speakers. As far as I know, the AVR will mix the surround channels into the front right and left channels in this case. However, I wouldn't call it a "surround" configuration, since all the speakers are in front of you.
Why do you have little interest in the surround channels? In my view, they are very important, since they contribute to the overall sense of immersion. Virtually all movies and many TV shows use them, so without those speakers, you're missing some of what the content creators intended.
If you can't or don't want to have surround speakers to the sides or rear, I suggest you look into soundbars, most of which simulate a surround-sound experience using psychoacoustic techniques. I discussed this in another Ask Home Theater entry here, and Home Theater's soundbar reviews can be found here.
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