Ask Gizmodo: How Do I Make My Home Theatre Smarter?

Dear Gizmodo, I have a Denon amp/receiver which has just blown up and needs replacing (15 years old). It was connected to my TV, DVD player and Foxtel box with a 5.1 channel speaker system — I want to be able to maintain all of this, and reuse the existing speakers. In addition, I want to be able to bring the unit into the 21st century with wireless and music streaming. I would like to be able to add wireless speakers around the house and be able to control them via iPhone. Any advice would be welcome! Cheers, Glenn.

Home theatre image via Shutterstock

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Hey Glenn,

You're in the enviable position of being able to upgrade to a brand new receiver, and there are some amazingly high-tech ones available that fit your criteria. Your idea of adding wireless speakers is a bit more complicated, but with that out of the question for the moment, you would be pretty well served by a modern network-connected A/V receiver like Sony's STR-DN1060 or Onkyo's TX-NR545. The main appeal of an amp like this would be the fact that it can function as a wireless audio streaming device through services like Spotify Connect and Apple AirPlay and Bluetooth or Wi-Fi.

That would mean you'd be able to use your iPhone to cast music — including any local or networked iTunes audio library sitting on a NAS or PC — or other audio to your receiver, and play it through your 5.1-channel system. Having Bluetooth built in makes it hugely easy to add a device like a tablet temporarily to play audio off. In terms of wireless speakers around your house, you can buy specialised kits that let build a wireless link between an external speaker zone and your existing (or new) receiver, but they usually come at a significantly increased price.

To be honest, the easiest solution is to buy a receiver that supports a secondary zone or zones, and run appropriate gauge audio wiring through your ceiling into those other room(s) where you want to install secondary speakers. Of course, that means you'll have to own the house or apartment that you're installing the cabling in (also, ask an electrician!) — an alternative for a more temporary install is to run it along your wall or ceiling with a cover strip over the top. Wireless systems are convenient, but can cause minute additional latency — especially as a retrofit, third-party system — that might rob you of some of the enjoyment of an entire house full of sound.

If you want your receiver to access media from your network, you'll need one that supports DLNA. While retailers are always keen on pushing you into a package deal that they can make a healthy chunk of commission off, there's no substitute for actually getting into a store and trying one or three or five different receivers for yourself and seeing what sticks. Different interfaces and remote controls and complementary apps are always a deeply personal choice — that's why I love my Oppo BDP-103, which has a great Android app — and you might find that one particular brand just feels right when you try it.

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Comments

    I had considered a similar approach to what was suggested above (which is not bad advice by any means), however instead I have found home theatre/tv bliss in the following setup:
    - Dumb 2 zone receiver/amp (Rotel RSX1056), this doesn't even do HDMI
    - Xbox One + kinect, youtube app or xbox app on phones, tablets desktops allow you to control remotely.
    - Tv Tuner (or in OP's case, Foxtel Box) plugged into the HDMI in of the Xbox.

    The reasons why I find this the best media control setup I've ever had are:
    - Ease of control
    - Ease of set up
    - Voice control
    - Integrated TV tuner control (channel changing and EPG), however you will need either the xbox tv tuner adapter (~$35) or an tv set top box you may have floating around
    - No need to go digging through the couch cushions for the remote (just shout at it!)
    - No having to configure a learning remote like a logitech harmony (whilst the initial set up is quick, tweaking to get it right is a never ending chore).
    - As a bonus you can play games on it (I barely do).

    I have tried a plethora of android/linux and windows based media streaming setups across the years. When at other people's places who use the integrated software on their devices such as tvs or amplifiers, I find the interfaces ugly, slow (this is the most painful!), and hard to navigate.

    Just look into it and make up your own mind as to what suits you. (:

    Last edited 23/09/15 12:59 pm

    Not a bad idea if you want a clean, nice set up.

    I made a set-up using an old PC box from a workplace sell off. Cost me all up $100.

    Basically did this:

    - Clean install and put xbmc on to the system.
    - Put all my (legitimate!) digital copies on to the HD on the box. No need to stream over the wireless or have two computers going.
    - xbmc has a bunch of cool little extenstions that allows you to load and play different videos from different sources (iview, AFL.com, BBC).
    - Also can stream music if you have some digital copies.
    - (I heard from friends that) there are software sources that will automatically download and sort TV and movies. These can also be loaded on the box too and accessed from other PCs.
    - Plugged in $20 windows remote.
    - Plugged in some nice speakers.

    I have now also added a Chrome Stick for Netflix, Iview, youtube and my google play sub. Could use Plex to play videos if you wanted.

    Its now at a point where it runs without being touched. You can do some really awesome things if you like to fiddle.

    To be honest, it really comes down to a) how much you want to spend b) how much you are ready to fix yourself c) what kind of videos and movies you like.

    B

    I've gone the other way, and use Plex running on an oldish Mac Mini (Core2Duo) that outputs through my Pioneer 5.1 amp into a big telly. This setup has served us very well for the last 4 years or so. Can even stream music off the mac when I'm at work through my phone.

    The mini connects via HDMI so it outputs surround-sound and gives you all the catchup TV services (iview etc), YouTube and all the streaming stuff. We haven't needed an Apple TV as you can play anything you've bought via iTunes and with all the DVDs/BluRays converted to MKVs everything's in one place on the NAS. Plex also streams to tablets/phones (ios/Android) and any other PCs/Macs in the house. We drive it all using a Logitech diNovo Edge wireless keyboard, which has to be one of the best designed wireless keyboards ever, IMO. The setup takes a bit of explaining when the grandparents baby-sit, but swings-and-roundabouts.

    I'm not a huge fan of smart appliances as they never seem to "do it all", it seems easier to me to use a computer for smarts, and connect to "dumb appliances".

    My setup is a laptop with Plex installed, 2TB drive contains all of our digital movies, tv, music. Denon 5.1 amp and TV with Chromecast connected. I stream everything via Plex to the Chromecast, or can stream to any of our mobile devices too.

    I feel so trapped with my 7.1 HTIB right now :(. I could afford a decent receiver, or a shitty receiver and speakers. Unfortunately being HTIB means everything is a weird ohm, so all I could re-use directly during the upgrade would be the sub. Would be much easier if I could just buy an amp and then progressively upgrade the speakers.

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