Lets have a discussion about speakers and home audio & surround sound in your Smart Home and Audio/Video design.
In my opinion, this is the number one cause of client frustration with system design. But there’s good news, it’s easy to avoid if you understand how it all works.
First we need to understand there’s potentially 3 sources for sound in any system:
1. Home Audio Speakers
2. Surround Sound Speakers
3. TV Speakers
Home Audio & TV Surround Sound Signals Are Very Different
Understandably, homeowners are looking for ways to save money on their systems. Audio is one of the places most people try to save, and it’s easy to see why. Say for example we put two Home Audio speakers in your great room. It seems logical to have those speakers double as your TV speakers.
It’s a big room. You need more volume than the TV has built-in. You don’t want to spend money on a surround sound, and you already have two Audio speakers in the room. It’s seems like the obvious solution. Just have the Audio speakers double as your TV speakers. It’s perfect, right? NOPE.
Actually, it’s a big headache, and you’ll be very disappointed with the outcome. What you have to realize is that Audio signals come in many varieties. You have Mono signals, Stereo Signals, Surround Signals, etc.
Say I want to play a movie from my Blu-ray player to my two home Audio Speakers. The Blu-ray is sending out a 5.1 Audio Signal, but your Home Audio system only supports a Stereo signal.
In order for the Home Audio speakers to double as the speakers for your Blu-ray, the 5.1 Surround signal, has to be ‘Down Mixed’ to a Stereo Signal. A process that requires more expensive hardware.
The Cheap Solution Is Just That
So the cheap fix, that most Clients don’t like once they understand, is to force every video source for the room to only send out a Stereo Signal. So lets be really clear about what’s happening when we do this.
We’re taking a Blu-ray player, and saying ‘Blu-ray, you are only allowed to send out a Stereo Signal. That’s it. You can never send out a surround signal, even to the movie theater.’
You’re probably wondering, well then how do I get a surround signal to my Movie Theater? You buy a second Blu-ray player that’s dedicated for the Home Theater.
It doesn’t stop there. Most video sources no longer support RCA outputs for stereo signals. They send the audio signal through the HDMI cable, which usually goes through a Surround Receiver.
So in order to get Stereo out of your cable/satellite receivers, Apple TVs, etc, you have to purchase older models that still have RCA outs. And like the Blu-ray, you have to tell these older models they can only send out a Stereo Signal.
If you want to be able to rent a movie from the cable/satellite receiver, or from the Apple TV, and play it out in surround to your Home Theater, then you need to have additional units that are dedicate for the Theater.
I hope as you’re reading this, that your head is spinning a little bit. What a pain right? Yes, it’s totally a pain, and it’s super aggravating if you’ve just spent a lot of money on a nice new Smart Home and Audio/Video system.
What Is The Solution?
Well there’s a couple things we want to do in your system design to make this experience better for you.
1. Keep Home Audio & TV Surround Sound Separate – If you have a room where you want more sound for the TV, and Home Audio, put two sets of speakers in the room. A dedicated set of Home Audio speakers, and a dedicated set of Surround Sound speakers.
2. Use Secondary Surround Sounds Systems – Surround Sound systems have a Surround Receiver. The surround receiver is able to process the audio signal before sending the signal out to the surround speakers. So whether the signal is Surround, or Stereo the Surround Speakers will play.
3. Use TV’s that Support Down Mixing – In rooms where you want more sound, but don’t want a full surround sound, use TV’s like Sony that support Down mixing. This means the TV can take a surround signal, down mix it, and use its own speakers, or play to a 3 Channel Sound Bar. No Surround Receiver is needed for processing.
Look, Home Audio and Surround don’t have to be complicated. When the system is well designed, it works really really well. It’s easy, it’s reliable, and it just works. But you have to understand how these different Audio Sources, and Audio Signals interact.
Anymore, when we design systems for Clients, we won’t allow Home Audio speakers to double as TV speakers. We’ve found it’s just not worth the headache at all.
By keeping the Sound systems separate and dedicated, the system works, and the user experience is very enjoyable. It’s the only way to go.
If you’ve had experience with this before, we would love to hear your comments.
Matt is a co-founder and lead systems designer for TYM LLC. His smart home and audio/visual designs have won three “Home of the Year Awards” from Electronic House & CE Pro magazine, and two awards from the Consumer Technology Association, including "Home Theater of the Year", and "Custom Smart Home of the Year".
Matt is a golden State fan.