New Roku with Old Gear

roku-express

New Roku with Old Gear: a reader asks…

I would like to have the ability to use a Roku Express + on my old TV which is hooked up to a home theater system & DirecTV. My TV is a Samsung: Model LTN1735 S which does not have HDMI only RCA video in, S Video, & RCA component (480i). My home theatre system is a Sony DAV-HDX265 which does have HDMI And the DirecTV box is model HR24-100 this also has HDMI. In addition to this there is a RF modulator with a channel 3-4 slider selection switch that the DirecTV tech had to hook up to the home theatre system in order for it to be used for audio with DirecTV. Would it be possible to use Roku Express + or another Roku product or any other streaming product in this mess that I have? My main goal is to have the ability to stream Netflix & Amazon Prime video using my existing setup.

Sony_DAV_HDX265_DAV_HDX265_Home_Theater_487203

While your receiver (online manual here) does have an HDMI OUT port on it, that’s only for connecting to an HDMI IN port on a television. Your old TV doesn’t have that capability, so you’re significantly downgrading the video signal from any modern source (DirectTV or the streaming apps on the Roku Express). Also, your old home theatre ‘receiver’ isn’t capable of taking digital input from any external component. Hence, that tech guy had to degrade the audio for the home theatre system to match its 2-channel stereo input availability.

Normally I’ll suggest ways for folks to be able to use their existing equipment, but in this case, it makes much more sense to me – it’s time for you to upgrade your ancient home theatre system. You are happy with paying monthly for HD digital content (DirectTV, Netflix and Amazon Prime video), so I’d think you’d be willing to make a one-time expense to upgrade your home theatre system so you can use that digital content. So first, I would suggest you replace both the TV and the home theatre receiver for digital capable equipment. The cost isn’t huge, and you’ll get your money’s worth for that digital content you’re paying for.  Here’s some example replacements:

TV: that 17″ TV is shaped in the old-style 4:3 aspect ratio and only takes analog video input. Displaying HD content on it would entail downgrading the HD video to analog and reshaping the widescreen (16:9) content to fit your 4:3 TV. That means either black bars across top and bottom (and a much smaller displayed screen), or cutting off the left and right sides to fit widescreen on your TV. New digital/HDMI-capable televisions are very low-priced, and you needn’t suffer with a very small screen size anymore.

widescreen-tv

Did you know that you can get a replacement TV with widescreen (16:9 display) and HDMI input capability for under $80? Such as this one from Amazon.com. Or a bigger/better one for $120. Either of these have a widescreen display screen (the aspect ratio for most HD content these days), and can accept digital input (HDMI). Of course, for just a bit more you can get a much bigger screen, assuming you’ve the space for it. Watching HD programs on a small 17”-22” TV monitor is much less enjoyable than a larger screen size, but if you’re used to the small screen (and don’t have room for a larger screen), then you probably are going to be fine with either of the above replacements.
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sony-home-theatre-receiverReceiver: Your old receiver was never intended to handle modern digital components. Manufacturers typically were able to sell these limited-use home theatre systems for less money, but those times have changed. Nowadays you can get a nice multi-HDMI input-capable receiver for a reasonable price. Such as this one for $150 from Amazon.com and you can use that with your existing speakers. You could even connect an HDMI cable from the old receiver to the new one and use it as an external component to your home theatre system.

There are much nicer systems out there for not much more money, for example a nice Onkyo system for $250 that includes new speakers and subwoofer. There are advantages to getting all-new, matched equipment – the speakers are probably better than the ones you have which will give you better surround sound separation for a better, more immersive home theatre experience. I’d couple that with a much larger television for that truly immersive experience.

If you’re dead-set on working with your existing equipment, then you’ll be ok with the low-quality of your viewing (and listening) experience. That means continued standard definition TV, and ersatz surround sound. Your existing ‘receiver’ probably has ProLogic circuitry built-in that takes a 2-channel stereo signal and expands it to send audio to all your surround sound speakers. That’s not true surround sound, but may be good enough for you, particularly as you have a very small television screen anyway and are probably in a small room sitting close to the television. So you’ll need a converter box to take that awesome digital video and audio and down-convert it to standard definition. Few consumers are going this route, so there aren’t a lot of choices in the conversion box department, but here’s one:

Tendak HDMI to RCA Converter $40 from Amazon.com. This little box has a single HDMI input port (to plug in your Roku Express), and has RCA jacks on the other side to plug a yellow RCA cable to the TV, and the red/white stereo audio cable pair to the receiver.

You’ll need a USB power brick and cable to supply power to the converter box (for stability in use). Remember that your video will be as low quality as you’ve been experiencing with your DirectTV, and the audio will not be true surround sound. You may have to fiddle with the audio output settings on the Roku Express to get the right audio output. You may also have to fiddle with the settings on your receiver to get the audio to play out through your surround sound speakers.

The same advice above applies whether you’re using the Roku Express, any other Roku device, or any other modern streaming video device (Apple TV, Chromecast, Fire TV, etc.). All these modern devices use high definition digital video and Dolby digital audio. That’s not to say that all content you watch on these devices is going to be at that standard. Old TV shows and old movies were filmed in much lower display resolution and lesser audio quality. Some even in the old 4:3 aspect ratio (just watch old Star Trek TV show episodes for example). If you compare that quality of video with current movies on your current equipment, the new movies and such won’t be any better quality than the old stuff. That’s not a factor of the Roku, but of your old-style television and primitive surround sound home theatre system.

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My recommendation is that you’ve gotten your money’s worth out of that old system, and it’s time for modernizing your viewing experience. You won’t regret it.

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