OK given the pandemic, i”ve been spending alot of time at home. We have a dedicated gaming 4K HDR PC that I’ve used with a 5-channel Corsair Vengeance 1500 for years, but what if we want to make this into a mini home theater and have a dual use as a zoom center.
Well, with the core of the system we have:
- Alienware R8. This is running an Intel i9700 overclocked with an RTX 2080Ti. It is actually my backup machine while I wait for Zen 3 and build a 64 core monster with RTX3090 because, well you can. The card supports HDR and the board supports Optical and Digital video output
- LG B9. This is last year’s LG OLED that I got on sale in a January blowout. It too has native Atmos and HDR output as well.
- Energy Take 5 sound system. This is an old, but still good 5.1 satellite plus subwoofer
So how do you upgrade this system to be a home theater and Zoom center:
- Logitech Brio Pro. Yes, it’s expensive. Normally $199 list, and then unavailable. The pricing has come down to a semi-reasonable $230 on Amazon. The big reason to use this is that it supports Windows Hello so you don’t have to type long passwords. I’m spoiled by FaceID on iDevices (and Apple Watch unlock on Macs). The video actually works pretty well, but the microphone is terrible from far away.
- NHT Atmos Mini. Elevation speakers, they are up firing and you stick them on top of your speakers and they fire upwards. Yes, they are kind of expensive at $99 each, but they are super small and work with these tiny satellites.
- Denon AVR-X3700H. Ok, this thing is way overkill at $1100, but it has 9.2 sound. If you don’t need 7.2 then the AVR-S960H is $600 and is a great value.
So with all the these pieces, what could possibly go wrong so here are the problems and fixes I ran into
- Mark Your Cables! Screen Blanking fixed with HDMI 1.4 vs HDMI 2.0. OK, these are all so different but they look the same. I’ve had with the LG which kept blanking out and I could never figure this out. But now that things are stable, it’s pretty clear, you can get blanking. These are not marked on the outside so when you get a cable, you need to mark it. HDMI 1.4 is 10Gbps and supports 4K24 and 8 channels of sounds. So it feels like the cable is running out of spec ad. HDMI 2.0 is 18Gbps with 32 channels of sound (so it can run 9.2.11 and higher if you go crazy) and runs 4Kp60.
- Cable Matters HDMI 2.1 Cables. So net, net mark your cables when you get them. BTW, the new standard is HMDI 2.1 at 40Gbps and you can run 4Kp120 and 8K, so they are nominally more expensive and you can definitely argue that if you didn’t mark the cables in your parts box, you should assume they are all HDMI 1.4 and then mark these as 2.1 and use them.
- Run from USB C and Disable Logitech Drivers to get Brio running. OK, this is a horrible one I posted on before, but the Brio is a USB device. First of all, it can draw alot of power, so make sure to use the USB C port on your PC if you have one, but when I plugged into a normal USB 2.0 port, it gave me that message. This thing draws alot. Also, Plug and play does not work. It installs a 2017 Logitech camera driver and then Hello does not work. You have to disable that driver, then reboot the machine and then suddently in Device Manager, a Biometric devices works.
- Mounting high causes problems with Hello. When you put a little tiny camera at the top of a 55″ monitor, then the Hello setup doesn’t work. You need to stand up and get your face to within 2 feet of the camera. From then on though, it seems to work fine recognizing you from a distance. Also be aware don’t turn on higher security for Microsoft accounts as this disables the Picture login feature. Also there is this funky piece of plastic, you stick on top that acts as a physical camera block.
Getting the Denon to work with speakers. I’m a bit of a nerd on wiring, but painful experience is that this is a source of problems and shorts, so moving to banana plugs essentially eliminates that issue:
- GearIT 12AWG Speaker Wire OFC. While you can get any cheap wire, for that really polished look. I first tried Monoprice Monoliths, but they seemed to have some problems with interconnect and shorted out my amp! Using the $19 for 10-foot cable seems like a lota, but they have banana plugs and are 12AWG so very thick and are oxygen-free pure copper. Again, it probably doesn’t matter as much, but it is so much easier to plug in a cable then to do the wiring the hard way.
- Cable Matters Crimp and Twist Banana Plug. If you don’t want finished cables, then get these very simple crimp and twist which is a tool-free way to get any speaker wire to speak “banana plug”
- InstallGear 12AWG OFC Cable. If you don’t need premade lengths, so you are wiring behind a wall, then this works well. Having a hundred feet around is not a bad thing for sure.
Setting up a Denon
When you get the Denon, there is quite a list of setup to do:
- Connect the Denon to the television to the HDMI 2 ARC connector. Again make sure that you have HDMI 2.0 (preferably HDMI 2.1) cables to get there. The ARC means audio return so that in the default mode
TV, you can set it so that it uses the audio from this to play. It is not clear from the directions. it’s a little strange, but when you set the source to TV, then the LG uses the HDMI to send sound to the receiver. But when you are playing from another port, the HDMI turns around, it sends the display from the AVR and the audio as well.
- Change the name of the HDMI 2 input on the LG to
PC. This is realy important, it means don’t overscan and disable circuits so you have less input lag.
- Network setup doesn’t seem to work with passwords on the Denon or the LG. There is something wrong with my Unifi setup but I can’t figure out. So right now, I have to use an open AP (I know very insecure), but I don’t have the google-fu to figure out what is wrong. I suspect there is something about. The above post is about association errors for devices that are already on the network. What is happening now is the password after a long time just times out with an unknown error. Maybe a DTIM problem. The help is pretty useless. I’ve tried turning off all advanced features for instance and this doesn’t seem to help. Then there is a DHCP configuration problem with DHCP broadcasting
- Now go through the setup. The screens are actually clear if slightly low resolution. They take you through the setup of each speaker and the cabling so it is hard to make a mistake. The only confusing part is when they ask you if you have “Atmos Speakers”. What this means is that certain new speakers have front firing and up firing speakers.
- For the subwoofer, make sure to plug it into the section that has volume control. Some subwoofers control all of this from the AVR, but the Denon will actually help you set the level right manually in the next step.
- Then you assemble their little mike stand and plug the included mike into it and then position it in 8 places for it to do audio tuning. It takes about 15 minutes.
- Use HDMI ARC and not Optical. You can now fire up Netflix on the LG and run it. It should detect that there is ARC and then on the receiver should decode this. If it doesn’t work make sure the Sound Out is set to HDMI ARC. As an aside, I tried to use the Optical output at first, but although the documentation from LG says it should produce so called bitstream (that is it doesn’t decode and just sends it down to the AVR), but even though it is set to Auto it doesn’t work.
- Check to make sure Atmos is running. Now search for a Netflix movie that supports Atmos, for instance, OurPlanet. If it is working, the receiver should show
Atmoson the front panel.
Now comes the hard part, connecting your PC to the whole system, here are the tips:
- Make sure you have an HDMI 2.1 cable and you need a digital output cable as well. This is because the video card needs that connection and then the sound comes out of the motherboard. You need to go to input assign. I make the PC on Game as we normally use it for naming, then in the input assign, give it Digital 1 for instance and plug that into the digital input on the back.
- At this point, if you change the DVR Input to Game and then the TV input to HDMI 2, you should see the Windows screen!
- Change to HDR Color and Display to 125%. The screen will look *huge* so make these changes to get HDR color and also lower the display 125%. This should be about right.
- Make sure to have the latest nVidia drivers and things should work.
Windows PC for Atmos
Now you have to enable Windows to speak Atmos:
- For Games and for testing. You need to download from the Microsoft Store, the Dolby Access application. They are going to try to upsell you on buying a $15 Atmos for headphones, but this has nothing to do with real Atmos, you have to skip then and then confusingly, you need to click on the
Productstab at the top and you will see
Dolby Atmos for home theaterand you then update, then play some of the videos in this horrible upsell application and you should Atmos lightup on the AVR.
- Now go to the Microsoft Store and download Netflix and Amazon Prime Video and you get applications that you can run to see this content. Make sure on their Atmos content, you get it and HDR too. Right now I can get Netflix to work, but Amazon Prime only shows Dolby Surround.
- PotPlayer to play Atmos content. Ok this is a long road, but basically my favorite PC player of downloaded content, Kodi, does not natively support HDR or Atmos. I have switched to VLC but while this handles HDR, it does not handle Atmos, so onto yet another player call PotPlyaer (from Korea) which does both. I tried the native Windows player, but it stutters badly with networked content.
- Installing PotPlayer with Scoop and getting the Open Codecs. Ok this is a little nerdy, but I don’t normally download apps, I use either choco or scoop. When you do this, things go to the wrong place. So when you first start a UHD video, it will say no codecs and then prompt you to download
OpenCodecand it does, but it’s in the wrong place. So copy from
c:\Program Files\Pot Player\Modulesover to the Scoop location which is usually
~\scoop\bin\Pot Player\Modulesand you can see video.
- PotPlayer tweaking. You have to do a lot of work to get Atmos running. As a technical aside, Atmos is really Dolby TrueHD 7.1 with another channel that has hints about sound. So the trick is to get a player just to send this entire bag of bits to the AVR for it to handle the decoding. Basically you hit F5 to go to settings and then in the
Filter Control > Audio Decoder > Built-in Audio Codec/Pass-through Settingsyou will then get to another menu and on the right you want to select
default Pass-through muxerfor all the format. Then you go to
Audio> Speakers > Output > Pass-through after AC-3 re-encoding
- Using PotPlayer isn’t super simple, but you right click on the main pain and Open File is on top. You hit RETURN to make it go to full screeen.
Then a final nerd note, how to make sure it is all working for on disk files:
- PotPlayer displays what it it showing with the true codec names. So
AVC1is the name for the HD Bluray aka X.264 and
HVC1is the codec name of UHD Bluray aka X.265 and
- you should see
HDRif you are getting high dynamic range (this actually comes in many flavors from basic HDR10 to Dolby Vision to bleeding edge HLG for broadcast UHD to but that’s another post) so at the bottom if things are working right, you should see the icons AVC1 and then DTS-HD if you are geting Dolby TrueHD.
Best Atmos movies
Since you’ve spent all this time, what’s the best content for HDR and Atmos?
- John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum.
- Black Panther
- Avengers: Infinity War
- Hacksaw Ridge
- Baby Driver
Then dramas and comedies
- First Man
- La La Land
- The Martian
- The Hitman’s Bodyguard
- Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
- Ghostbusters (1984)
- Swiss Army Man
- Blade Runner 2049
- Ready Player One
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi
- The Fifth Element
- Ghost in the Shell