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A New Home A/V Receiver... does it simplify things?

Denon AVR-4310CII recently purchased a new A/V receiver, a Denon AVR-4310CI. My last receiver, an Onkyo TX-DS575, has really served us well (for 11 years) and still functions perfectly fine. I made the upgrade because I wanted to reduce cable clutter and to solve the we don't know how to turn on the teevee problem.

The Problem

The latter problem happens whenever you have individual components with separate inputs that are in a peer to peer type connection setup.. so to see a picture on the teevee and hear sound through the speakers-- you need to set the input of the monitor/t.v., the receiver and then make sure the satellite/cable box is right. Now multiply this by your other input devices and it can get confusing pretty quickly since each device is different. The solution to this is to use a more hub and spoke type of setup; all of the connections go to a central location then back out to the components. I like to use the receiver as the hub but you could also use the monitor/t.v. for this as well. Hence the Denon, it can act as an audio player and video proxy, so setting the receiver to what you want to watch can solve the multi-component problem.

In order to solve the cable clutter, I wanted to move everything to HDMI cables to eliminate the audio cables (and an optical cable splitter, which added even more confusion for the family). All of my components support either HDMI or DVI as an output. I would of course have to have a separate audio cable for the DVI device (an older Oppo DVD player) but the other two main devices, a Dish Network ViP722 DVR and an Apple TV have HDMI outputs.

The Journey

After hooking everything up and redoing the cables so that it wasn't a giant mess anymore, I fired up the system..

  • I play a HD/Dolby Digital recording the satellite box...
  • Picture looks great but why is the audio only coming out in stereo or DLPII? I mean I know the satellite box is configured to output PCM/DD.
  • I Play movie on Apple TV with AC3 track...
  • Great picture but again only stereo sound... dammit.
  • Open up the Denon manual.. (oh great here we go)
  • After reading the manual for like the fourth time, I realized that I had the receiver setup properly to play audio from the HDMI inputs.
  • Play a movie on the Oppo with AC3 track...
  • Everything is as expected, video looks good, audio is multi-channel Dolby Digital. Interesting.
  • Next I hook optical cables from the Apple TV and DVR to the Denon...
  • Still only stereo! WTF!
  • Open up the Denon manual for the fifth time...
  • Ah hah! There's a place in the setup that allows you to map the audio input to the video inputs separately. But everything looks right though...
  • I discover another place in the setup that let's you pick the preferred audio input for an input group.. the default setting is auto.
  • Once I choose Digital instead of "auto", the Denon uses the video from the HDMI and the audio from the Optical cables.
  • So the receiver allows you to have multiple audio sources attached to each "input" group but it doesn't automatically choose the better audio signal. IMHO, it would have been nice if the receiver chose the better signal as "auto" and then you could override that to be more specific but the mission was accomplished!

The Learnings

It turns out that a whole ton of components out right now do not push multi-channel audio over the HDMI ports. Maybe some of the latest Blu-ray stuff does, but my components do not. It doesn't even explicitly say what kind of signal goes over the HDMI ports in the owner's manuals for the components. Both say something like, PCM/Dolby Digital signals go over optical/coax but neglect to mention anything about HDMI. So now I know, unless it explicitly says what kind of audio goes over HDMI, I'm going to assume the crappiest.

I wasn't really able to solve any of the cable clutter problem by upgrading the A/V receiver due to how my components output audio over HDMI, but it does sound really good Smiling. As far as the, I don't know how to work the teevee problem, I think it's going to get a lot better. You push the TV button on the receiver's remote and you see and hear TV, push the DVD button and you're seeing and hearing the DVD. If only I could now consolidate the remotes! Sticking out tongue

p.s. Tonight I'm going to see if I can get everything to one remote.. I think I can.. but I'm pretty sure it's going to suck to do it.