All high definition sound starts at the source

Your high definition sound originates from either broadcast digital TV, digital pay TV, or from a disc you have purchased. One day, perhaps, it may also come from the internet, but that is for the future.

To enjoy the full range of HD sound, you will need at least two source devices:

1. A HDTV receiver
2. A disc player

HDTV receiver

Almost all standard definition TV is broadcast with two-channel stereo (or even mono) sound. But there are often high definition TV shows – especially movies – broadcast with full DVD quality 5.1 channel Dolby Digital surround sound. Along with the improved picture quality of high definition broadcasts, this is why you need a HDTV receiver.

That receiver may already be integrated into your flat panel digital TV, but a television usually won’t deliver surround sound itself. For that you will need a full surround sound system – with a home theatre receiver – and an optical digital audio cable to connect your TV to it. The cable takes the raw Dolby Digital ‘bitstream’ from your TV to your home theatre receiver, which then performs its decoding magic and delivers full surround sound to the five speakers and subwoofer.

If your flat panel TV doesn’t have an optical output socket (only the most recent models do) an external HDTV receiver – aka set-top box – connected to a home theatre receiver and surround speaker system will achieve the same result. Greater value is offered, however, by HDTV set-top boxes that integrate a hard drive for recording. Referred to as personal video recorders (PVRs) these offer all the sound and picture benefits of high definition free-to-air broadcasts – and in the case of Foxtel IQ2, Pay TV programming – plus the convenience of easy recording.

Just imagine, you’re watching the TV and the kids start rioting at the other end of the house. Press the ‘Pause’ key and the live TV broadcast will do just that – pause – while you go and sort out the problem. Come back, press ‘Play’, and you haven’t missed a thing.

Or you really want to watch that show on Wednesday night, but you know you have that meeting then. Press the ‘Guide’ or ‘EPG’ (Electronic Program Guide) key on the remote, page through to Wednesday night and select that program. Press ‘Record’ and your HD PVR will schedule a recording for you.

While the EPG in most HD PVRs presents the standard scheduling information transmitted alongside the digital free-to-air TV broadcast, others such as the Tivo media device go a step further by providing advanced functions that make searching for and archiving programs easier. The nice thing about all HD PVRs, though, is that both the picture and the sound quality is identical to the original broadcast. If that Wednesday night show was broadcast with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, that’s what you’ll get when you play it back.

GadgetGuy tip – sound options on your TV

Many high definition flat panel TVs do not provide an optical audio output for sending 5.1 surround from HDTV broadcasts to an outboard home theatre receiver and speaker system. If yours is one of the recent model televisions that does, however, be sure to dig around in your TV’s setup menu to make sure it is actually delivering the Dolby Digital soundtrack instead of converting it to some other (stereo) format. Check out your TV’s manual on how to do that.