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Chapter 4. Playing with Hardware >  Connect Your Console to Your Home Theater

Hack 40. Connect Your Console to Your Home Theater

With your AV receiver selected ( [Hack #38] ) and your speakers connected ( [Hack #39] ), it's time to connect your console to your home theater. All three of the current generation of consoles have slightly different approaches, so we'll tackle them one at a time.

4.7.1. Sony PlayStation 2

Sony's PlayStation 2 is not only the most popular console, but also the longest in the tooth of the three major consoles. It offers you the most modern connections, with Firewire, USB, and even component video with the right cables. Unlike the Xbox and GameCube, there is also a Toslink digital output jack conveniently located right on the back of the chassis.

As for the Playstation 2, from the outside, it looks like a sexy and capable temptress. At the end of the day, looks are all it has. In game, the PS2 produces Dolby Digital 5.1 output only in some cut-scenes. Unless you have money and digital inputs to spare, it just doesn't make sense to connect your PS2 using the digital output.

If you use your PS2 to play DVD movies, you might have a good argument to hook up that digital output. This is one mode in which you can take advantage of Dolby 5.1 surround because it is on full-time. Sadly, the PS2 is a lackluster video machine and does very little with DVD movies. We'll talk about some alternatives in [Hack #41] . Until then, stick with the standard analog RCA audio hookup for 95% of the PS2's full capability.

4.7.2. Microsoft Xbox

The Xbox a versatile piece of kit, all Dolby Digital, all of the time. If you have the goods to support it, a digital connection is essential. You will need to buy some extra equipment, but there's a big payoff.

Of the two available options, I recommend the Microsoft Xbox High Definition AV Pack (http://www.xbox.com/en-us/hardware/highdefinitionavpack.htm), which allows you to connect Component Video to your HDTV along with a Toslink hookup for digital audio. The kit doesn't include the digital Toslink cable, so be sure to pick one up. The Monster Cable Products (http://www.monstercable.com/monstergame/) Gamelink 400 X video kit and their Lightwave 100 X Toslink audio kit is the high-end approach. If you don't have a high-definition television, Monster also sells an S-Video kit (Gamelink 300 X) that incorporates a connection for the audio kit as well.

After connecting your Xbox to your A/V receiver's digital input, don't forget to activate the Dolby Digital 5.1 output on the settings menu. Once you've done that, you'll have surround sound all night long.

4.7.3. Nintendo GameCube

Nintendo has, as usual, gone its own way. The GameCube uses a new type of surround processing called Dolby Pro Logic II, an update to a venerable older format. Pro Logic II produces a surround experience that is very close to Dolby Digital, but it requires only two-channel analog source material. You don't need to connect your GameCube with a digital (optical Toslink) cable; you're free to use a normal set of RCA audio cables. All of the GameCube audio/video cables on the market today incorporate these, so you need no extra cables to coax the best possible sound from your GameCube.

There is a catch, however. Pro Logic II is a fairly new development in the surround-format world, and only fairly recent A/V surround receivers contain appropriate decoding circuitry. Here's the good news: this decoding circuit is newer but not exclusive to the most expensive models of receivers today. Nearly every new receiver, including inexpensive entry-level models, have Pro Logic II decoding chips. The other good news is that any two-channel stereo-encoded material will benefit from having an A/V receiver with a Pro Logic II decoder. You'll hear all of your CDs, stereo VHS movies, and games from any stereo gaming system in surround sound with this kind of receiver.

4.7.4. Conclusion

When you consider all of the ways in which you'll use a great surround system, its advantages are many. A properly set up sound system will provide you audio cues that will help your gameplay and enhance cinematic moments in games by producing an epic soundstage. Not only is surround sound an improvement for gaming, it provides an immersive environment that can take you and your friends away to a different world for a while— that's what great games and movies are all about.

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