in which i explain my system setup

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(do not attempt if baby. i screencapped this from a bon appetit episode where claire was taking over brad’s show ‘it’s alive’)

Hi. I’m Doc. I have chronic pain and chronic fatigue syndrome, which means that I can’t just store game consoles in closets and pull them out and set them up and whatever, because by the time I’m done, I’m usually too tired to do the things I wanted to do.

I have a dream. This dream is simple: hook all my consoles up to my tv, record or stream my gameplay, and share this gameplay with friends who can talk to me as I’m playing it on voice chat. Do this while outputting to three separate audio devices, so I can simply turn knobs and not constantly change audio devices in Windows.

In a perfect world, the setup would probably look something like this: me in a studio on a couch somewhere. Guests and I could sit down with two high-quality lavalier mics, our gaming devices would be hooked into a central nexus, like a Denon receiver that doesn’t add lag, and we’d split the HDMI signal between our TV and streaming PC. The PC would take our mic audio and our video signal and push that out to whatever streaming service works best for us. Easy peasy.

But… we don’t live in a perfect world. My friends live all around the world, which means that we need to play online, and my house setup… well… it’s not super conducive to gaming how I’d like.

So, let’s talk about the problem.

Internet-side:

  1. So, since my friends aren’t physically present with me, we need a way to take their audio and allow me to hear it and put it on stream. In the perfect world scenario, I hear my friend because they’re next to me and talking. Online, we’re going to use Discord.
  2. Streaming via Twitch introduces a pesky problem of lag. When my friend Kuishen is streaming, there’s a 5–20 second lag between when he says something on Discord and when he says it on Twitch. Obviously, we need to be able to talk without super lengthy delays, so when I’m streaming, I need a streaming service that isn’t so laggy. That’s what Mixer is for. Way more tolerable! Near instantaneous!
  3. There’s a slight complication that my friends can’t watch the stream without hearing me and themselves twice, which can be super irritating, since all audio needs to be on the stream for people who aren’t in the discord call. I don’t know how to address this problem.
  4. …except when we’re streaming on Discord from our PCs, but then we’re only streaming to people who are actively logged into a voice call with us, and the quality is low without a bunch of people actively paying to boost our server. I think we’re at 720p right now. So basically, yeah, public streaming? Gotta be Mixer. And I’m okay with that.

Okay, so, what, we just use Mixer? Not really that big an issue, right? Well… when I streamed Final Fantasy VII today, people could barely hear my buddy Bulk, who was on Discord with me, even though he was really loud in my own headphones. Weird. Not sure what’s up with that.

But then we have another huge problem: my home.

Location-Side:

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This is a very awful MS Paint drawing of my apartment, which is small. You will notice that this is not an optimal setup for streaming, and a lot of my problems would be solved if I moved everything into one room. Unfortunately, my apartment is too small for me to do that, and I am, as mentioned, disabled, which means that I can’t rearrange all this furniture by myself even if I was.

On the right top area, you’ve got the living room, which is where I’ve got my game consoles. Also, I’ve got a couch and a loveseat, both marked with an S for Seat, because I made this drawing in MS Paint and you can’t stop me. You can also see the TV up there.

On the bottom left, you’ve got the Office, which is where I’ve got my computer, which is where the recording happens. I’ve also marked the Bedroom and Kitchen because why not.

Those green lines are wi-fi signals, and the red line is the fact that they DON’T WORK. The reason? This apartment is insulated out the wazoo. Now, there’s a huge advantage to this, which is that my neighbors are impossible to hear, but it also means that wi-fi signals from wireless game controllers simply don’t work, never mind stuff like the Wii’s motion controls, Kinect, or anything like that.

It’s not feasible to simply take a lengthy HDMI cable to my monitor and every single controller for every single console and wire them all into my office. Just think of how much cable management would need to happen; I don’t even know if extension cables would work for consoles like the N64.

Basically, when I’m streaming on my PC, I can do it all in my office.

When I’m streaming from my consoles? I have to do it all in the living room, with a wireless headset that somehow can reach into the living room and a similarly capable wireless mic for Discord chats, an audio cable that goes into the line in input on the wireless headset so I can hear it, and a single HDMI cable to the capture card.

Now, if I had a lot of money, I could simply build a second computer, put my capture card in it, and leave it out in the living room, but I can’t justify a second desktop PC purely for capturing video. I’d run into some power managements issues too, but whatever. For my normal gaming these days, I use a wireless Astro A50 I got on clearance for way, way less than they’re supposed to cost (idk it was like $50 instead of $250 or something), and it has a line-in that sounds nice… but… remember how I said that wireless signals from controllers really suck in other rooms? Well… the Astro A50 has the same problem. If it had a great signal, then I could just do the line-in to the A50 to monitor the game and Discord, and the HDMI would take care of the rest.

But it doesn’t.

So, one option is to find a better headset. I tried the Steelseries Arctis 7 (again, got it on a crazy good deal that’s well below its normal price point), and while it has great wireless audio out from the PC… the line-in sounds really, really fuzzy? (I also tried a Sennheiser wireless headset but it broke up a lot, so I returned it).

So, as far as I can tell, I don’t have a simple, out-of-the-box solution to this problem.

So Let’s Look At The Map:

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Consoles go to Onkyo, which takes HDMI to a splitter. One signal goes to the TV via HDMI. The other signal goes to a second splitter, known as STR. Why do I have that? Well, let’s just say the Onkyo adds HDCP to any HDMI signal, even if my console is set to NOT do HDCP. So STR solves that problem. :)

STR sends via HDMI to PC.

At the same time, a 3.5 mm jack comes out the front of the Onkyo and goes into the headset. But if we do that via a conventional wired headset, we can’t hear Discord!!

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So, I tried something else.

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After doing a lot of searching, and getting some bad advice, I picked up a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 and a Behringer Ultra-Compact 4-Channel Stereo Headphone Amp.

Initially, my plan was to use a stereo line mixer and mix the 3.5mm audio out from my sound card with the 3.5mm audio out from my Onkyo sound system, merge them there, then pipe all that into the headphone amp, which I’d then send to my desktop speakers, my Astros (for when I’m PC gaming), and the Steelseries (for when I’m using wi-fi in the other room).

(again, trying to be frugal with this stuff! the onkyo’s something I’ve had since like 2013 and I got it dirt cheap, so I think the actual most expensive item in the entire chain was the focusrite, everything else I made sure to get on discount or pricing errors, or wasn’t that expensive to begin with, like I think the behringer was $30. this is a project i’ve been working on occasionally for years. I think if I just went to a store and bought this all it would be ridiculously expensive)

This empowered me to listen to multiple devices without constantly swapping them in Windows, monitor a game as I played it, and listen to my friends on Discord! Everything I wanted! Except…

Like I said, the Steelseries sounds awful through its line-in port. I don’t know why.

If I could somehow magically make that work, then… boom, we’re done, it’s all fixed. But it didn’t work.

So today, I swapped out the line mixer for the Focusrite USB interface that I’d purchased a long time ago. Figured, hey, what I’ll do is two separate audio outs inside the Windows PC. I’ll use the USB interface to take the line audio into windows through USB, and I’ll merge desktop audio with the Windows audio, then send all of that out physically to my headphone amp, which goes to the Astro and the Speakers, and also to my Steelseries headphones via the usb dongle.

But how would I do it?

Miracle software.

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Voicemeeter

Voicemeeter is basically a virtual audio interface. It’s supposed to let you take multiple inputs and outputs and mix them and send them out as you want.

I actually used it for years back in like 2015–2017, but somewhere along the way, no matter what I did, I’d leave my computer for a bit, come back, and the audio would be distorted. I’d have to constantly restart Voicemeeter or even my computer, and it just got too annoying. So I moved to the Astro A50 and their base station solution, and when everything was lodged in a very tiny room in my parents’ house, it worked because it was all close together, but I only had Astros for audio. No speakers.

I tried again recently, but no matter what I did, the audio came out all distorted. I gave up.

Today, I tried again.

I uninstalled Voicemeeter Banana and Vcable, which I didn’t remember having installed. I then installed Voicemeeter Banana again. I fiddled around with the settings. I tried to get the mic port on the back of my sound card to take the 3.5mm line from the Onkyo. That didn’t work. I could get it, but it sounded really bad, and… for some reason, no matter what I did, it absolutely would not, under any circumstances, send audio out to my Steelseries. It also hard froze whenever I touched the line jack on the PC.

Oh… kay?

So it crashed. I started it up again, by typing “Voicemeeter” on my start menu.

Voicemeeter came up.

Not Voicemeeter Banana, Voicemeeter.

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Note how it looks different?

???

It worked.

When I say “it worked,” I mean, I could hear, crystal clear, through the steelseries headphones and my speakers. I have no idea how or why. But it worked.

But the audio quality from the sound card was poor, so I swapped it out for the Focusrite.

Problem with the Focusrite? Those ports are mono.

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This is an image I found explaining it.

Basically, only one channel of audio is getting through, when I should be getting two. When I turn my head in a game as a person talks at me, it should be like they’re moving around me. That’s not really what’s happening.

But, hey, you can click a button on Voicemeeter and force the output to come through two headphones. It ain’t perfect, but I mean, at least I’d be hearing everything… right?

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For some reason, it was like I was getting the back channel of a surround sound system. I could hear the music mix and the NPCs really loudly, but in cutscenes, when Cloud or Tifa were talking, or even basic PS4 sounds?

Nada.

But I put up with it, figuring I’d solve it later.

Turns out there was another problem.

My buddy, Bulk, who I was test streaming with? He was so quiet no one could hear him. When I turned him down on Discord, he went up on Mixer, but was still too quiet to hear. When I turned him up, he became impossible to hear.

I don’t even know.

And then, for some reason, without me doing anything after I ended the stream, Voicemeeter sent all the Desktop audio output through a different Voicemeeter output but still sent the Focusrite USB interface through what I’d had selected, so I couldn’t hear any Windows sounds but I could still hear the FFVIIR music playing in the background.

Cool.

Cool, cool, cool.

The frustrating thing is… I’m so close! I’m so so so close to being able to, like, livestream Glover for N64 one day and Days Gone for PS4 the next an Hulk: Ultimate Destruction on my Mountain Dew Xbox the day after. I’m so close to being able to capture all these cool things and play them while talking with my friends about them, both for streaming and when I just feel like butts and want to game on my couch instead of my work chair.

Where I’m At Now

So, for some reason, Voicemeeter and Voicemeeter Banana are both installed. When I uninstalled one, neither appeared. I restarted. I reinstalled Banana. I restarted again. Both Banana and Voicemeeter are back now, their settings are the same as they were from before I uninstalled them, and Banana will do audio for the sound card (ONLY MME: Soundblaster Z) but not the headphones (any: Arctis 7 — Game).

Voicemeeter will do MME: Soundblaster Z, but only MME: Soundblaster Z. If I try the other Soundblaster Z options available, then all audio sounds glitchy and corrupted — even through the headphones.

By the way, in Voicemeeter NOT-Banana, I can do the headset, which I have to run as WDM: Arctis 7 — Game. If I run KS, I get mono audio through one ear, and if I run MME, it lags behind the speakers.

So: Voicemeeter, the basic version, will run MME: Soundblaster Z and WDM: Arctis 7 — Game.

That’s good.

But!

I’m left with three problems.

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  1. For some reason, my Discord friends are too quiet on OBS. These are my OBS settings. Mic 1 is pulling from my XLR mic and I had Mic/Auxiliary Audio 2 set to grab my desktop audio, I believe, which is why people were able to hear my friends on Discord. I think turning this off today is when people were no longer able to hear Bulk, but before I turned it off, Bulk said there was a ringing or buzzing on my stream. When I disabled it, I didn’t have the problem anymore.
  2. There was that whole “returned to my PC and suddenly didn’t have any desktop audio at all because for some reason it all started inputting through a different Voicemeeter setting without me touching anything?” I don’t know how to guarantee that won’t happen again.
  3. I’m getting audio through the Scarlett that appears to be losing some of the audio. I assume this is a side effect of the Mono setting. Now, the Scarlett 2i2 has two inputs on the front. Would it be possible to split the 3.5mm audio before it gets to the Scarlett, then send each channel into the 2i2 and use it to mix them and send via USB? Or should I do what my good twitter friend Syama suggested and pick up a Yamaha AG03?

So.

tl;dr, I want to take all my video from my consoles thru HDMI and make it go to both my TV and my HDMI-fueled capture card. I want to play the games on my TV, which cannot be in the same room as my computer, because the capture card introduces lag and controllers cannot reach into the room with the TV from where the PC is. I need to be able to use Discord from my PC and the game audio from the jack on my receiver, which means I need a wireless headset, but only one of the headsets I’ve tried has worked so far due to my house’s impressive insulation. Somehow, I need to mix PC desktop audio (from discord) and an external aux source (my receiver). I also need to be able to send this all out through an audio cable into my headset amp, which lets me control the volume of my speakers and PC headset (not the streaming one previously described) separately.

Crazy, right?

I do some freelance work, game design consulting, and I’ve worked on games Hardspace: Shipbreakers and created games like Adios and Paratopic.

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