I’ve had a few people asking me about my home cinema and audio set-up: how do I listen to Spotify, how do I watch movies, whether I have a Sonos system, stuff like that. So here’s an equipment and cabling run-down to satisfy your inner gadget geek.
I live in an Edinburgh tenement apartment, where the main living room is pretty big and has a small recessed area at one end. That’s where I have my PC and new Virgin Media Super Hub (with an average download speed of 28 Mbps, wahay). I have a pair of Mission 700 shelf speakers in there and an old Kenwood amp to drive them from the PC.
My main AV setup is at the other end of the room though, about 20 feet away from the PC. That’s just short enough to run network, audio and video cables from the PC without any signal degradation. So my cabling is:
From Virgin Media Super Hub:
- Ethernet cable to PC
- Ethernet cable to PlayStation 3
- Ethernet cable to Sony Bravia TV in bedroom
- Optical cable carrying audio to Yamaha amp
- HDMI cable carrying video to Pioneer PDP-508XD TV
- Component cable carrying audio to Kenwood amp
Yamaha DSP A2 amp drives:
- 2x Kef iQ5 main speakers
- 1x Kef iQ2c centre speaker
- 1x Tannoy mSub subwoofer
- 2x Tannoy Mercury m1 rear speakers
The Yamaha amp is about ten years old now but has just about enough optical inputs, and its Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 surround sound can still shake the room.
Listening to Music
If I’m sitting at the PC, I usually just listen to Spotify via the Kenwood and Mission speakers in the alcove. If I’m dancing about, I switch the audio playback to Digital Output. This sends the music down the optical cable to the main Yamaha amp, where I’ve set an input to bypass surround effects so that I can listen to the pure stereo through the two main Kefs. I also have a Marantz CD player connected via optical to the Yamaha, for those increasingly rarer moments when I want to listen to a disc.
So, I don’t have a Sonos or other music streamer because I don’t really need one.
To watch a download, I fire up the excellent PS3 Media Server app on the PC, switch on the Playstation 3 and use my Logitech Harmony One remote to switch inputs on the amp and TV. My PC is fairly beefy and can handle transcoding 1080p with ease, and I can stream mkv files no problem to the PS3 (when I had an Xbox I had to use mkv2vob to re-wrap mkvs as MPG). On the rare occasion this set-up fails (or if I’m having problems with subtitles), I switch to HDMI direct from my PC’s video card to the Pioneer plasma. This doesn’t carry audio, but I can use the optical instead (although this unfortunately is stereo only).
I use the Playstation for watching DVDs and Blu Rays, and a Virgin V+ PVR for TV stuff.
So, I don’t need any additional hardware media server box or NAS drive since the PC is close enough to be cabled to my main AV setup.
I plan to upgrade the V+ to a Tivo box soon (aka Virgin Media Powered by Tivo). Not so much for the Tivo functionality (although that’ll be nice), but for a larger drive for the PVR. The V+ only has a 160GB drive, which doesn’t really hold that much if you’re recording HD.
I’ve also been thinking to replace the Yamaha amp so that I can benefit from the newer Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD audio.