If you have followed the home theater PC space for the past few years, you would have noticed it is getting more attention from several big name players such as Intel, NVIDIA, ATI, ASUS, Auzentech, CyberLink and several others. They are all working pretty closely together to improve not only the video experience, but also the audio experience for your movie watching enjoyment.
ASUS was the first to introduce a PC audio card to the market that was able to send a lossless bitstream audio stream from your Blu-ray movie to your standalone amplifier. Why is this important? Hollywood movie studios and the industry in general are very protective of their content and made it rather difficult to get the best audio experience on a computer. Without bitstreaming, HD audio is usually down-sampled to a much lower bit-rate (normally around DVD level quality) and that's like a kick in the balls to the savvy and tech aware consumer who buys the movies on Blu-ray and don't get the full HD experience which they pay for.
This type of audio pass-through represents the best possible audio quality one can attain from their home theater setup by sending a direct and lossless audio stream to your ears, well, speakers (via your amp) over a digital connection - that being a HDMI 1.3 cable and above. So, with products out on the market to work around these limitations, folks with home theater PCs (HTPCs) were able to experience full HD audio quality with TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio (MA) codecs just like high-end standalone Blu-ray players do nowadays.
That, however, meant that the consumers would have to reach into their consumer pockets once again and find their wallets and pay for a separate audio card (such as the HDAV 1.3 from ASUS) when really their motherboard's onboard audio was technically capable of the task without the 'infrastructure' to do it. The good news is that last year AMD announced that its Radeon HD 5000 series of video cards would all get bitstream audio support. AMD has been working with CyberLink who make the popular movie playback software called PowerDVD to get this up and running. So, not only does the video card provide your HTPC with 3D gaming capabilities, but also a premium audio experience.
CyberLink has recently launched PowerDVD 10, which is the Taiwanese company's latest version of the movie playback software and we were recently given a copy to try out. MSI were kind enough to send over one of their Radeon HD 5750 video cards a while ago, too. So, what does all this mean? A quick and dirty Radeon HD 5000 series HD audio bitstreaming guide!