HTPC - Is a sound card needed?


I am building my own HTPC for the first time. The components I have picked out are listed below:

PCPartPicker part list:
Price breakdown by merchant:

CPU: Intel Core i5-3570K 3.4GHz Quad-Core Processor ($189.99 @ Microcenter)
CPU Cooler: Cooler Master GeminII S524 77.7 CFM Sleeve Bearing CPU Cooler ($32.92 @ Amazon)
Motherboard: MSI Z77MA-G45 Micro ATX LGA1155 Motherboard ($89.99 @ Newegg)
Memory: Patriot Intel Extreme Master, Limited Ed 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($31.99 @ Amazon)
Storage: Crucial M4 64GB 2.5" Solid State Disk ($69.99 @ SuperBiiz)
Case: Silverstone SST-LC10B-E-USB3.0 (Black) HTPC Case ($106.99 @ Amazon)
Power Supply: Raidmax 530W ATX12V / EPS12V Power Supply ($38.99 @ SuperBiiz)
Optical Drive: Asus BC-12B1ST/BLK/B/AS Blu-Ray Reader, DVD/CD Writer ($56.23 @ Amazon)
Total: $617.09
(Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)
(Generated by PCPartPicker 2012-12-21 12:39 EST-0500)

I have a Denon 2112CI AV receiver that can decode most anything I have on my NAS. However, how does the HTPC work with audio? Are there options to simply "passthrough" any and all audio to the receiver? This HTPC will be permanently connected to the Denon, so I don't want to get a sound card if I don't need one.

However, it's important to me to preserve all of the audio in the files/media I play. For blu-rays, loss-less media files, FLAC audio, etc... I would like the audio to pass through raw to the Denon receiver for any decoding and playback. OR, if it makes more sense, have my HTPC decode all audio (losslessly) to LPCM for simple playback through my Denon.

I'm not an "audiophile" but if I'm going to do this HTPC build right, I'd like to do it right from the start. Most important for me is to have the best audio/video experience playback from lossless media from my NAS. I have pretty good speakers driven off my Denon.

Any help is appreciated! If you think a sound card is needed or recommended, can you please suggest some your recommend?

5 answers Last reply Best Answer
More about htpc sound card needed
  1. You don't need a sound card if your motherboard has optical audio out, which will hook up to your receiver. What types of audio outputs does your mobo have?
  2. Don't use optical audio out (spdif). It only supports 5.1 Dolby Digital, 5.1 DTS, or 2-channel LPCM. No 5.1 or 7.1 uncompressed or even lossless formats.

    You definitely want to connect your computer to your receiver via HDMI (for both audio and video). I believe that the Intel HD Graphics 4000 does allow passthrough of compressed or fully decoded audio streams (Dolby Digital TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio, LPCM) (6 channel or 8 channel). Believe it or not, this depends on your graphics card more than your sound card.

    Have a look at this article. A must read before you start buying components.
  3. Yes! Sorry I missed this, but I do intend (and prefer) having a HDMI out from my motherboard directly to my Denon receiver. So, if I have this configuration with solely the Intel HD Graphics 4000, I should be OK to passthrough everything I have? Including all the DTS and Dolby formats?

  4. Best answer
    Yes. Passthrough should be fine. Keep in mind that not all compressed formats can be sent over hdmi (even if your decoder can decode them. ex FLAC). These will have to be decoded and sent as LPCM.

    Here you can find an explanation of the compressed audio formats that can be sent over hdmi.

    Of course, passthrough also depends on the software you use to play your media. I believe Cyberlink PowerDVD and Arcsoft TotalMedia for blu ray playback have a passthrough option but you have to explicitly enable it. For h.264 compressed files with lossless audio streams, I would recommend that you look into ffdshow (a direct show filter) along with media player classic - hc.

    Here is a blog post that will guide you in setting up your htpc with the best audio setup.

    Hope all of this helps.

    P.S. You may also want to ask this question on an audio related forum like hydrogenaudio forums.
  5. Best answer selected by lespaul00.
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