Sound Advice: Nothing beats an HDMI receiver

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 17, 2012 - 2:57 PM

Answers to your multimedia questions.

Q I read with great interest your recent column regarding HDMI receivers. We're using a Yamaha RX-V793 Dolby Digital AV receiver that is at least 15 years old. While it was considered good back then, I can't help but think we're not getting the maximum home-theater experience. We have an HDTV with a Blu-ray player and high-quality home-theater speakers.

What might we experience by switching to a new HDMI receiver?

A You'll find the new receiver easier to set up and use due to the HDMI connections, which require only one cable between components.

When you select a source on the receiver, it will play the sound through the speakers and route the video signal to the HDTV, a big convenience over changing inputs on the TV and the receiver. Most important for the home-theater experience, the new receiver will unlock the full sonic potential of your Blu-ray player.

Your receiver can only decode Dolby Digital soundtracks. Most Blu-ray discs have audio that duplicates the sound quality of the movie studio's master tapes. On a good sound system, the improvement over Dolby Digital is as big as HDTV is over standard television when comparing picture quality.

Such "lossless" audio on Blu-ray discs comes in three forms: Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and uncompressed PCM. All modern HDMI receivers can decode these audio formats. So upgrading to a new receiver means you should experience much better sound quality. Just be sure to select the lossless track in the audio menu when you play the movie.

How to stream music

Q I recently purchased the Pioneer VSX-1021 receiver. I anticipate using its AirPlay feature frequently to stream music to my system from my computer. I didn't realize that "built-in" means I need to buy a $150 Pioneer adapter for the feature to work. Is there a less expensive alternative?

A The VSX-1021 has an Ethernet connection that works with AirPlay. You can buy a powerline Ethernet adapter kit to turn an AC outlet into an Ethernet port. Just plug in an adapter near your computer and connect it to your router, plug in another one near your receiver and connect it to the Ethernet port, and you will be all set.

You can get an Ethernet adapter kit for well below $100. I've had good luck with Netgear models, which sell for $60.

If you want to go wireless, try Apple's AirPort Express, which plugs into a wall and connects to your wireless network. The AirPort Express unit has an Ethernet port to communicate with your receiver for the AirPlay feature. It sells for $99.

Submit questions and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.

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