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Surround Sound Stumper

[UPDATE December 10th:] It looks as though I may have found a solution to this little problem!

We have a slight digital media puzzle that I'm hoping the IMAGinES community could help solve.

As part of our effort to reduce the overall volume/weight of furniture we're hauling to Cairns, Vickie and I recently bought a set of 5.1 speakers. Their overall weight is lighter than the combined weight of our twenty-year-old Marantz speakers and amplifier, and they'll take up much less room once re-packed.

Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to getting surround sound from my DVD player and Xbox for a while. Right after we purchased the set, though, I realised that it doesn’t have input ports for digital, just a pair of regular RCA stereo inputs and a set of RCA 5.1 inputs.

This presents some problems.

While my immediate reaction was, “buy a digital receiver”, most are amplifier/receiver combo units. As the new sub-woofer itself is amplified - it powers itself and the satellites - this causes concern that a receiver would blow our new speakers through double amplification. And while the obvious solution would be to just get a receiver and an un-powered sub-woofer, I’m still attached to the (rather large) subbie we just bought. With our upcoming move, dollar outlay is also a serious consideration.

The Cazman’s suggestion that we could try his Extigy external PC sound card has me suddenly thinking that I could try building a small multimedia PC that could accept digital input and put 5.1 surround out via the three regular headphone socket-style audio outputs. As a bonus, I could put a wireless card into it and hook it up to our wireless LAN, so we can send any (legally) downloaded music to it. The problems are how I’d control the PC without a monitor and keyboard, and the know-how required to build and set it up.

Ultimately, here’s what I want at the end:

  • Un-amplified conversion of two S/P-DIF optical outputs, or one optical/one coaxial (my Xbox's Advanced AV Pack can output optical only, while the DVD player can output coax or optical), to a single RCA 5.1 surround input.
  • As little dollar outlay as reasonable.
  • As little control-fiddliness (for want of a better phrase) as possible.

I consider the ability to play audio files across our home stereo, without need for a keyboard-and-screen setup, an optional bonus.

What do you reckon?

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We did something similar.
Set up a win98 PII as a multimedia server.
Put PCAnywhere, Mame and WInAmp in the startup directory.
We hard wired a old AT keyboard to some buttons, that controlled FF, RW, stop and play.
Loaded copies of PCAnywhere on both My box, and multimedia box, and whenever we wanted to make changes, just controlled the desktop through there.