The Bandaid: The HDMI Sound Card

Ha! I lied; there's more.

No GPUs released in 2008 will support this protected audio path and thus we won't be able to get TrueHD/DTS-HD MA support from a GPU anytime soon. There is another option however: HDMI sound cards.

A couple of companies are working on sound cards with a built-in HDMI repeater, meaning there's an HDMI input, some logic to add data to the HDCP encrypted signal, and an HDMI output.

Your GPU would handle all video decoding and it would send its decoded but HDCP encrypted signal over HDMI, but instead of going to your display (or receiver or pre-processor) it would go next door to your sound card over HDMI (3dfx dongles anyone? At least these are lossless since they are digital signals... oh, hush, Monster).

The sound card would have an audio codec capable of ensuring a protected audio path and would handle all of the audio decoding/bitstreaming in the system. The audio from the sound card and the video from the HDMI input on the sound card would be combined, the HDCP repeated, and the new combined signal sent over HDMI to your receiver/display.

The HDMI spec allows for repeater support (as in devices that add something to an HDCP encrypted HDMI signal and pass along the new combined signal), so the HDMI sound card is really no different than sending HDMI to a receiver and then to your display. There should be no loss in quality or any other negative side effects if implemented properly.

ASUS and Auzentech are both working on these HDMI sound cards that should solve all of our HTPC problems. While both were supposed to be available over the summer, driver and software delays have pushed back both release dates to the last few months of 2008.

The Auzentech card

We have proof that the ASUS card was fully functional at Computex 2008; below are shots of the Xonar HDAV bitstreaming DTS-HD MA to an Onkyo receiver:

The test system

The Card

DVI to HDMI input, then HDMI output

It works!

We’ve got the ASUS card in house and are simply waiting for final drivers before testing it, so expect a review in the not too distant future.

I mainly wrote this quick guide to have something to link back to whenever I list 8-channel LPCM audio over HDMI as a feature. It’s not a typical PC feature like DirectX 10.1 or supporting SSE4, so it needed a little more of an explanation. And there you have it.

The Fix: 8-Channel LPCM over HDMI
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  • plonk420 - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - link

    you could rip the disc with the slightly expensive AnyDVD HD and play it with Media Player Classic...
  • sprockkets - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - link

    I've used mplayer on windows. Even without any acceleration, seems to play it very well. VLC is my next choice.

    Oh, we are talking about the 12GB video files here.
  • jnmfox - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - link

    PC hardware and Home Theater are 1a and 1b for my personal interests. Your article was well written (like almost everything on anandtech), basic enough to understand but detailed enough to give the needed information.

    I have my PC hooked up to my HT and considered getting a Blu-ray drive in my PC. But after looking into it I read about the problem you are describing. I ended up getting a PS3, I'm glad I did so I don't have to worry about all this junk (don't you love the fandangled content protection schemes they come up with ;)).
  • Demon-Xanth - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - link

    It seems that they were so gung ho on protecting their own "content" that they completely left their own customers out in the cold. Rather than giving the customers something easy to use and setup, they proceeded to require manufacturers to include numerous other (futile) hoops to jump through so someone that bought the movie can enjoy it.

    Hollywood, the problem isn't your paying customers. Quit taking pot shots at them.

    With the rise in HTPCs and that sort of thing the studios should've worked WITH manufacturers to create a solution, even if it's a low cost standalone HDMI output card (a la DVD decoder cards), to support BluRay and HD-DVD on day one.
  • kymas - Wednesday, September 17, 2008 - link

    This is exactly the problem: "Hollywood, the problem isn't your paying customers. Quit taking pot shots at them."

    People buying Blueray hardware or movies are paying to have their rights taken away and they are paying more for it due to the increased hardware and software cost to make these ridiculous protection schemes work. This is another example of content owners implementing a protection system that is at best a minor annoyance to the people actually stealing the content but is a significant detriment to their paying customers. Systems like this encourage paying customers to find alternative methods of acquiring the content they want or to just do with out.

    I have been a HTPC enthusiast for about four years, which was shortly after I purchased an HD TV. I love the flexibility and convenience the HTPC allows and I would also love to be able to have HD content on my HTPC. Unfortunately, even if I were willing to support Blueray (obviously I am not :) it is completely unsupported by the open source software I use and it is unlikely it ever will be. As far as I know there is no software currently available that would allow a Blueray movie to be transferred to a media server for play back on a HTPC or other computer/device. At this point my only hope for legally purchasing HD content is through Internet distribution, hopefully in the near future someone will provide consumer friendly HD content online or I will have to sell or scrape some expensive but useless equipment.

    Sorry for the rant but this stuff really irks me!
  • sxr7171 - Monday, September 22, 2008 - link

    If you chose an open source OS for your computing needs then I suppose Blu-Ray on PC is not in the cards for you. Have fun with your downloads.
  • Cincybeck - Tuesday, September 30, 2008 - link

    I'm pretty sure the open source program he's talking about is a DVD server/client software. That allows the DVDs to be ripped and stored on the server. This allows his HTPC to act as the client and seamlessly access his whole movie collection with out ever touching an actual disc. Just point and click. Or in case of some of the more advance setups I seen. Where there's an interface which shows a screen full of the DVD covers combined with a touch screen. All you have to do is flip threw the movies then press on the DVD cover and the movie automaticly begins to play. With out ever having to touch a mouse or keyboard.
  • nilepez - Sunday, September 21, 2008 - link

    Give me a break. Increased h/w costs? Blu-Ray drives are CHEAPER than DVDs were at this point in the the DVD life cycle. If you'd owned DVDs in 1997-1999, you'd know that.
    Onkyo's THX-Ultra Certified 905 receiver has been available for as little as $550.00, and it comes with more bells and whistles than 99% of the consumers will ever use.

    Software is a bit more, but prices will fall, as will the h/w, though given that prices are as low as $230 for a player, it's hard to understand why you're complaining about price....unless, of course, you didn't get into dvd until 2000-2001 when prices were much lower.

    My first DVD player (the dvd-414) was around 300.00 (and that was about as cheap as you could get in Q1 99).

    Here we are at roughly the same period with Blu Ray, and prices are at least 25% lower. Adjust for inflation, and the price of this tech is dramatically cheaper.

    Finally, it's really annoying when people pretend that DVD and VHS didn't have copy protection. The vast majority of people didn't have a way to copy video tapes and, until Dvd John wrote DeCSS, they couldn't copy DVDs.

    Conclusion: The ridiculous schemes ain't costing us anything. To take advanatage of blu ray, you'd have to buy a new receiver and drive, and both are available at prices that cheap compared to what they would have cost 2 years into the DVD life cycle.

    As for you linux based HTPC, AFAIK, there's no licensed software for playing DVDs on Linux either....that's why, in theory, DeCSS was written (which is illegal if you're in the U.S.)

    As for online HD, it'll happen in 10 or 20 years. Unless you have FTTH, you don't have enough bandwidth. Even if you have the bandwidth, it's unlikely that the place that sells the movie is going to have the bandwidth to fill your 40-50mb/s pipe.

    What you'll get is highly compressed video that isn't as good as blu ray. Inferior video and audio, inconvenient download times and you still have all the DRM you profess to hate. Sounds like a winner to me.
  • kymas - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - link

    I am afraid you have missed the point of the article and my comments which is HTPC's. I am well aware that CE Blu-Ray drives/players are cheaper than DVD drives/players were at this point in their life cycles ... I paid just shy of $800.00 for my first DVD player. It cost PC hardware manufactures more to produce a product that supports the "Security Features" of Blu-Ray because they have to add additional components to their hardware for that support and they have to pay to have their hardware certified before they will be granted the keys required for Blu-Ray playback. This situations is virtually the same for software developers as they need to add additional code to support the Blu-Ray security and pay for the certification process to receive the keys.

    I never said VHS or DVD did not have copy protection. I indicated that the security features of Blu-Ray prevent me from exercising my rights as a consumer and does very little to prevent the thefts it was intended to stop. At the time I wrote my previous comments I was unaware of the AnyHDDVD (sp?) program but like DeCSS this program is likely illegal in the US. It is very sad that people have to resort to using illegal tools in order to exercise their rights.

    As for your comments about online HD content, you are obviously unaware of upcoming transport technologies. You will be able to download Blu-Ray quality HD content to your mobile phone in reasonable times in less than 10 years probably closer to 5 years and wired technologies will be even better. You are correct that, at least for the near future, the bottle neck will move to the provider.
  • sxr7171 - Monday, September 22, 2008 - link

    Thank you. For once, someone who knows what he's talking about. The cost of admission at launch was half of DVD at $600 -> PS3 vs. $1200 -> Sony DVP-S7000 DVD Player in 1997.

    We won't be ready for true HD downloads for at least 5 years.

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