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I have a Dell E521 tower, but it's probably similar on other machines with integrated sound capabilities. The new display (TV) I connected has poor sound quality through it's integrated speakers, so wanted an alternative, but am unsure as to if I will need powered speakers or not.

Here is what the computer's output looks like (source):

integrated sound input panel image from a computerintegrated sound input descriptions for a computer

Currently, I have my old TV getting sound from output "6" (line-out). That works fine since that TV has good speakers. But line-out to the new TV sounds bad due to it's crummy speakers.

So my question is can I just buy a surround sound speaker kit and have it work? The room is fairly small, so I don't need a lot of watts, but I just can't tell if the output from the computer is intended to drive the speakers directly without being powered (having an integrated amplifier function).

FOLLOW-UP

I bought a surround sound system that had a panel with 1/8" input jacks: surround sound system panel

I connected green, black, and yellow with 1/8" jumpers provided with the amplifier. But as explained in the accepted answer, much of the time I'm just getting stereo, which is expected, as the underlying audio generation does not provide the extra channels.

  • With that particular setup (not spdif/hdmi), you can get surround from many things such as games, provided you set the drivers to surround, and the game supports it. – Yorik Apr 12 '17 at 14:20
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"Yes" you will need to have speaker setup that includes an amplifier.

The #4 output sounds like it is "spdif" out, but it looks like it is a 1/8 inch jack. Normally spdif is optical or RCA, so if it is SPDIF, you will need a 1/8 to RCA adapter. Most/many home-audio surround kits only accept optical and HDMI, some will also have an SPDIF-RCA option, but most will not have a bank of analog connectors to accept e.g. outputs 6,8,& 9 for 5.1 surround which most computers have.

The problem is, unless you paid extra for dolby surround muxing over spdif, you will only get surround from the computer using the multiple outs or if the audio is already pre-baked surround with pass-through mode (like in movies DVD/netflix etc). This means games will only be stereo.

So you need to dig around the specs of your computer, the #4 output may not be spdif, and you may need to look at a surround kit for computers rather than home-audio.

  • Note: regarding surround over optical: even if the chipset supports it in their literature, if the OEM board maker did not pay the license, it is probably not enabled on the board. – Yorik Mar 31 '17 at 21:39
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These are all line-level outputs. They're meant to be used with an amplifier.

The channels are as follows:

  • Green: Front
  • Black: Back
  • Orange: Sub/Center
  • Silver: Side (7.1 only)

These colors are standardized. There is no digital output.

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