S/PDIF Wishes and HDMI Dreams

One of my long-standing dreams of home ownership has been to have a bitchin’ audio/video setup. I’ve probably had this desire for longer than I’ve had the desire to be a home owner, now that I think about it. Just for clarification – by “bitchin’ audio/video setup,” I don’t mean some $50,000 custom-made setup that is put into a specially designed room with amphitheater seating positioned on shock-absorbing pylons, or anything like that. While that would certainly be neat, that’s not really what I’m looking for.

What I want is a system where I can be enjoying either music or a movie/tv show/whatever in one room, and be able to move to another room and enjoy the same content, seamlessly. Moreover, I want this to be usable by multiple people, simultaneously. Here are the big bullet points for what I am after:

  • All rooms should be connected to a distribution setup
  • The distribution setup should send at least one HDMI and at least two S/PDIF signals to each room
  • HDMI feed should be attached to HD peripherals – DVD player, HD Satellite receiver, XBox360
  • Optionally, HDMI should be connected to a computer for MythTV/Hulu playback
  • S/PDIF feeds should be provided by a computer with some sort of remotely controllable music player
  • Keep A/V equipment as out of sight as possible

Historically speaking, the audio part was more important to me than the video part. Back in my apartment days, I only had one TV/receiver setup that could play back HD content, so moving to different rooms wasn’t really feasible. I did, however, have S/PDIF capable receivers in all three rooms of my apartment, so the audio part was quite achievable. I was able to run cables through the HVAC ducting between my office, bedroom, and living room, providing the necessary connections to make things work. However, my signal source left something to be desired. I was using the digital output of a Sound Blaster Live! card, split three ways, to drive the setup. It worked for the most part, but the thrice-split signal was a bit weak in the living room, and it suffered cut-outs when the signal would get too weak.

While not really willing to spend any cash to solve the problem, but very willing to dream, I started looking around for solutions. After poking around for a while, I came across a few possibilities. One device, the Sonifex RB-DDA6S, provided a full S/PDIF splitter/amplifier, but I was pretty turned off by the price. I came across a few other devices that would distribute both HD video and S/PDIF audio. I didn’t have much use for the video back then, but times have changed. Now that Erin and I are living in our large new home, the video part of the equation is much larger. We’ve got multiple HDTVs, multiple content sources to drive them (HD Satellite, DVDs, MythTV, XBox360s) and multiple rooms, so I’ve started considering video as a larger part of my dream setup.

HDMI is pretty much the only way I would go in terms of video. It yields the best quality, and has the smaller connector when compared with component video + S/PDIF. Being a digital signal, it’s harder to simply split it, but there are solutions to that. Earlier on today, while browsing on amazon.com, I came across this bad boy: the Intelix HDMI-2X8. This thing would satisfy pretty much all my needs in terms of video distribution (sans cabling, of course). Two distinct inputs (one HDMI, one DVI plus coaxial/optical S/PDIF), and eight HDMI outputs. That would allow me to feed in the output of the master HD content provider (my Onkyo TX-SR605, connected to the satellite and DVD units), and a computer, and have it display on pretty much any room the house. We’ve actually got 11 rooms (counting the garage) that we *could* run signal to, so it wouldn’t satisfy every need, but it would sure get things started. Seeing as how normal DVI-capable LCDs will display HD video content (sans audio, of course) with a HDMI-to-DVI cable, this could be quite handy.

I think its time for some more pondering on how I would best control this system… More to follow!

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