How to listen to your Smart TV’s Apps in surround sound

A couple weeks ago, I talked about how A/V receivers are avoidable if you really don’t want one.

This post is for the rest of us — the people who love our surround sound and like having a quality A/V receiver, but we also have a smart TV with cool apps of its own.  If you’re like me, all your components (Blu-Ray player, game system, cable box, etc) plug into the A/V receiver, which sends the video to your HDTV while sending the audio to your external speakers. That means the apps built-in to the HDTV aren’t connected to your good surround sound speakers. The apps have to use the crappy speakers built into your TV. What’s a sound-loving techie to do?

Have no fear. There is hope.

IMG_0244

A digital audio out port.

The good news is that if your TV has built-in apps then it also probably has a “digital audio out” port (see photo). Most brands have been including digital audio ports on their HDTVs for years, so even older sets should have one. Bonus points if your digital audio port can send out a full Dolby Digital 5.1 signal (refer to your TV’s manual for any possible limitations on its digital audio port).

Note #1: These methods are good for getting any sound off your HDTV and back to your receiver.  For example, your HDTV may have an over-the-air antenna built-in that you like to use.

Note #2: When using your TV’s digital audio out port, you’ll also want to set your TV so that it will send out a “fixed” audio signal even when the TV’s internal speakers are muted and/or turned off (as they should be).  See your TV’s manual for this. There’s usually a menu setting for this.

IMG_0245

An analog audio out port.

Note #3: If your TV does not have any kind of digital audio port — and you’ve really, really looked for it — it might still have analog audio outputs (see photo). These can work too, but the sound won’t be as good. And if you’re really desperate, you can use your TV’s headphone jack to get audio back to your receiver, but you can forget about any kind surround sound at this point.

Method #1: Treat your TV as a separate audio component

Simply plug your TV’s audio-out into an empty input on your receiver (preferably one set aside just for audio, like the CD input.) When you use your TV’s built-in apps, just set the receiver to that input.

The upside: You can do this with just about any receiver, even a really old one.
The downside: It’s a pretty crappy solution. You won’t be able to use the TV apps concurrent with video from your cable box or blu-ray player. You will only be able to see video provided by the apps themselves. For Netflix and the like, that’s not such a problem, but for others, it might be.

This method is okay if you have a newer TV but an older receiver.  This is also the method to try if your TV does not have a digital audio out port. (If you only have a headphone jack, use a headphone-to-RCA adapter to connect it to an empty analog input on your receiver — no surround sound, but it should still be better than your TV’s built-in speakers.)

All the methods below are preferable to this one, if possible.

Method #2: Use your receiver’s “TV” input port.

If you have a new-ish receiver, it may have a port set aside specially to receive audio from your TV.

IMG_1529

Note the digital audio jack labeled “Optical (TV)” in the center of the picture.

This port should play nicely with your Smart TV. I say “should” only because every manufacturer has their own idea of how things ought to work.

Method #3 Use an assignable digital audio port on the receiver.

Look to see if your receiver has at least one audio port labeled “assignable.”

IMG_1531

This receiver has two assignable ports. Most receivers only have one, but one is all you need.

If so, you’re in luck. This is my preferred way to get sound from a Smart TV. Again, you’ll need your manual to see exactly how it’s meant to be used (and how to set it up), but the basic gist is this:  Connect your TV’s audio-out port to an “assignable” port on the receiver.  You then set your receiver so that whenever you switch to a particular HMDI input, instead of using audio supplied by the HDMI cable, it’ll use the audio from this port instead (which comes from the TV).

Note:  If you connect your TV to the receiver via component cables (and not HDMI), this method might not work.

Real life example:  On the receiver in my family room, I noticed that there’s an assignable digital audio port that goes with the SAT/CATV HDMI input.  I plugged the digital audio output from the TV into that port.   The sound from my DirecTV box now travels via HDMI through the receiver to the TV… and then that sound keeps traveling back into the receiver.  When I’m watching TV, the audio doesn’t sound any different.  But because the sound is technically coming from the TV and not directly from the DirecTV box, whenever I load up the Netflix app built-in into the TV, that sound plays through the speakers, too.  Make sense?

Method 4: Be the first person in America to actually use your receiver’s Audio Return Channel (ARC)

Technically, the most current HDMI standard comes with the ability retrieve sound from your TV automatically. It’s called ARC. If you have both a relatively new TV and a relatively new receiver, this could be your best (and easiest) option.

IMG_1530

Note the letters “ARC” on the HDMI-out port.

The set-up is dead simple: If you have both a TV and a receiver that supports ARC, a single HDMI cable between them can send information bidirectionally.  In other words: It can send video from the receiver to the TV, but it can also send audio from the TV to the receiver. No special set-up required. Just one cable.

Receivers with this ability will have the word “ARC” next to its TV output.  HDTVs with this ability will have the word “ARC” next to one of its inputs.

Not only is ARC intended to send audio signals from your TV back to your receiver, but it’s also — theoretically — able to send remote commands, too, though I haven’t been able to test this ability myself. At the least, you’ll probably need a TV and receiver made by the same company, and the company will have to make sure to include the necessary firmware that’ll make this happen. If I were you, I’d be happy just getting the audio to work right.

Note: ARC functionality isn’t limited to TVs and receivers. Some soundbars feature the specification, too.

Also worth noting: Older HDMI cables might not work with ARC. If both your TV and Receiver support ARC and but things aren’t working, you might want to try a new HDMI cable.

If your TV’s digital audio port only sends out a stereo signal (as many do), ARC could be a way to get full 5.1 channel surround sound back to your receiver.

ARC is supposed to kick in automatically once the TV and receiver sense each other, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep your TV and receiver manuals handy. This is a relatively new standard, which means some companies might be implementing it differently. (i.e. You might have to go into the menus and turn the feature on.)

For further reading about ARC, you can check out this piece at HDGuru.

So there you go. Four ways to get sound from your Smart TV back to your receiver. Bon chance.

—————-

UPDATED DECEMBER 15, 2014 —  If, after reading this, you think you might need a receiver, here’s some I think represent a good value. All are under $500 (as of this writing) and all feature ARC (mentioned above). 

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35 thoughts on “How to listen to your Smart TV’s Apps in surround sound

  1. Pingback: Over on the tech-only blog: | buchnotes

  2. Great article! After reading it, I verified that both my TV and receiver supports HDMI ARC. Not being sure what this meant, I had read somewhere to use those ports, so I already had everything hooked up properly. It was only a matter of going into my receiver’s setup and turning the capability on (it defaulted to off) and, presto, the TV’s smart app sound goes through the receiver now. The humor is that the installer I paid to help me put in the new TV and receiver told me not to use the smart app feature of the TV because you could not get the sound through the receiver, but to use the blu ray player’s capability instead. I am glad I ignored his pathetic advice.

    • Steve, Both my TV and Reciever have ARC. My receiver is a denon 2113. Can you let me know what I should be turning off and on to be able to get audio of my smart apps onto my speakers. Thanks.

    • I had these same audio issues. So i bought the optical wire and it still won’t push the smart tv apps sound through the reciever. Brand new TV, brand new reciever, all new wires. Whats the prob?

      • I recently bought a Samsung UHD TV Smart TV and am using Yamaha receiver with 5.1 surround.
        I had to install the optical cable from TV to Yamaha receiver and then set your receiver to
        Audio-1 so you can then hear Netflix ! Good Luck

  3. None of these solutions worked for me. My dilemma? I have an older receiver but digital audio out on my TV. I bought a gizmo that allows that digital signal to convert to analog, which allows me to run the TV audio out to my receiver via the RCA plugs so that anything that I watch on the TV comes out of my receivers speakers. EXCEPT my smart TV apps including Netflix. I have read several articles explaining why this is but, I don’t understand a word of it. What am I not understanding? Thanks!

    • Based on my experience with digital-to-analog converters, it’s usually copyright protection that keeps things from working properly, especially when it comes to audio. For example, as a piracy deterrent, digital media devices (HDTVs, cable boxes, DVD players, etc) will frequently cut the audio if they think someone is trying to use digital-to-analog converters to circumvent the digital content protection encoded in most media these days, even if that’s not what you’re doing at all. (Sadly, smart devices can be quite dumb in this regard)

      That could be what you’re experiencing. Sometimes a fancier digital-to-analog converter can get around that limitation, but those might cost as much as a new receiver.

      I’ll think about this one, but sadly, without being able to fiddle around with your specific equipment, I might not be able to come up with a solution that’ll work. I hate telling people to get new equipment unless they absolutely have to, but that may be what you ultimately have to do in order to get your TV’s built-in Netflix to play through external speakers. You might need to get a new receiver or a Netflix device that comes with analog ports.

      • Thanks. But again everything works with my converter including my blue-ray player and HDTV, just not apps on my HDTV. A Philips BTW

  4. I cannot get any sound through my receiver when using netflix app from my samsung un55f6300. I am using ARC HDMI input and I tried an optical cable to the receiver. Do I need to change any settings on the tv, app or stereo? If anyone can help let me know. My receiver is a denon X400

  5. Great article. Very helpful. I’ve managed to get Netflix from my Sharp Smart TV to play in 5.1 through my receiver using ARC, but the same can’t be said for the Vudu and Hulu Plus apps, also on my Smart TV. Can’t figure out why one works and the others don’t.

  6. Thank you so much Eric! I couldn’t get Netflix to play through my receiver (Yamaha) on my new Samsung smart tv until I read your article and realized both my tv and receiver have the HDMI ARC as well. I had to go into settings on my receiver and turn on that HDMI ARC feature, make sure my receiver was plugged into the HDMI ARC port on my tv, and bingo, I had sound thru my receiver for Netflix! No one had told me about this. Thanks again!

  7. Great article Eric, I learned a lot, and it was very clear. Method 2 works for me, but I tried method 4 with the ARC capability (tv, receiver, and hdmi cable have the capability), I activated ARC on both the tv and the receiver through the set up menus, kept my receiver on the hdmi channel, and it does not work: I still get the sound from the directv, with the image of the tv app (Netflix, YouTube, etc.) I have no idea why this does not work 😦

  8. I need a little help. Have one of those older AV receivers that is actually a very good unit. Have a new Smart TV that I have effectively connected to the receiver and my sound system…with one exception I get no audio from Netflix. This was true for all the apps until I hooked up the digital optical cable and ran it thru a converter and connected to the receiver with standard RCA connections. Every app has sound except Netflix. Neither Samsung or Netflix can answer why this is happening. I need a tech guy to tell me why I can not get audio thru the speakers with Netflix. PS the audio does come thru the TV speakers. Thanks for any advice

    • Whoops! Eric may have answered this back in January. See posting above. Guess I’m stuck getting a new receiver despite the fact the one I have is truly one of the best models ever put out by Onkyo!!

      • Just another interesting follow up. I was uncomfortable with the whole idea that maybe Netflix was somehow blocking a digital conversion even though I know digital controls do exist. Anyhow, I went back to the Samsung TV and looked over the menu items and found out I could change the Audio Format which I did from Dolby Digital to PCM. Well, that worked! I now have full audio with Netflix through my speaker system. If there was a degradation in sound quality, it’s beyond my level of detection. Stuff like this blows my mind.. Neither Samsung nor Netflix even addressed this solution in their trouble shooting algorithms. If this was healthcare it would be like a patient being tested, poked, prodded and fed needless medications when all the while no one bothered to turn the patient over to find the actual wound!

  9. Great article, I own a 2014 Panasonic TV 2013 Onkyo receiver now I can listen to my chromecast @ 5.1 Dolby sound. It took me a week to find this article but I’m sure glad I did. Of course I had to spend about 15 minutes reading my receivers manual, going thru the settings, turned on hdmi Ctrl (RIHD) and set ARC to auto. Who knew it would be that simple. I think now I somewhat understand this ARC technology.

  10. Hello Eric

    I have a panasonic 65vt60 and a denon avr2313 to which I connected 5 B&W m1 speakers. I want to be able to

    a – use Netflix app on my TV and but want the audio from the surround soundB&W speakers
    b – able to use Chromecast and cast youtube videos to the TV but want the audio from the surround soundB&W speakers

    Can somebody suggest a solution.

    Also, for other components (cable box, media player and blu ray player), I have a conventional setup where the components are connected to the receiver via HDMI and one HDMI cable goes from the receiver to the video in of the TV. This works well and I want to keep it the same way while being able to do the items above (Netflix and Chromecase on surround sound).

    Thanks in advance for your help.

    • I’m not personally familiar with either of those products (TV and receiver), but from what I’ve gathered online, both of them are ARC-compatible (see above for my explanation on ARC — Audio Return Channel). Looking at the Panasonic owners manual online, it looks like HDMI 2 is the recommended port on the set for connecting to a receiver. I tried to find the proper menu setting to make sure that ARC is enabled, but I can’t find a reference to it online. You might need to look at the “digital audio” section of the on-screen menu to see if any such settings exist.

      Anyways, hooking the TV’s HDMI 2 port up to one of the receiver’s HDMI output (i’m told they both support ARC) and look for the setting on the denon to make sure that ARC is enabled (I tried to find the manual online, so I can list the exact setting, but I can’t find one, sorry!). Once ARC is enabled on both devices, they should automatically make the sound “handoff” (from TV back to receiver) whenever you use a smart app like Netflix.

      On the TV’s digital audio selection setting, you might need to switch between “Dolby Digital” and “PCM” to get the best results.

      And if ARC isn’t working for you at all, no matter what you do. You can always fall back on the TV’s “optical audio out” port. Hook up to a free port on your receiver, then whenever you want to hear the TV’s smart apps in surround sound, just switch the receiver to the input that corresponds with that port.

      Hope this helps!

  11. The trick on Samsung TVs is that only one of the HDMI outputs has ARC. On mine it is HDMI 2. Of course the installer used HDMI 1. And nothing in the manual about this stuff at all. Puzzle solved–works great!

  12. Eric, Is there any problem in using both an HDMI and a digital optical cable to get sound? How does the TV know which cable to use as sound? it seems it is the only way to get sound from my smart TV Apps and my Satellite TV to work on my surround sound. Both are wanting to use the ARC input on the receiver but I only have one ARC input on my receiver. I have a Samsung 7150 smart TV.

    Thanks!

    • Most TVs, at least in my experience, will send out sound via the digital optical port no matter what, unless you specifically go into the settings and turn it off.

      I guess it’s theoretically possible that a brand might disable the optical port if you enable ARC or some other way to get sound off, but if that’s the case, then just don’t turn on ARC (or whatever the brand specifically calls it). Again, I wouldn’t think that would be a problem, though. I would think that by default, most TVs would send audio out of all ports available…

  13. My new Samsung Smart TV is connected via HDMI/ARC to my AV Pioneer receiver. The TV can turn ON/OFF the receiver, and the TV can steer the receivers volume.
    Problem is, that after turning both products off via the TV remote control, the receiver is turned on by itself the next day!
    How is that possible?

    • Without having that exact equipment to toy around with, I’d have to speculate… It could very well be a subtle incompatibility between how Samsung and Pioneer handle their “smart connections.” Or the Pioneer could be getting a rogue “power on” signal from another remote control somewhere. Or another device in the entertainment system is somehow triggering it. Or maybe the Pioneer is never going off at all, it just appears to be turning off at the time, but isn’t really.

      Considering the number of people online complaining about how different brands work together, I’m tempted to go with the first thing I mentioned. So long as the problem doesn’t actually affect the AV system’s performance (i.e. when you hit power button on the remote, only the things that are turned off will turn on, the pioneer stays at it is), I wouldn’t go crazy trying to fix the issue. Because you can definitely go crazy trying to figure out stuff like that (and never get any answers).

      That said, if having the pioneer “on” when other stuff is on “off” is messing things up — because you need to grab the pioneer remote to keep things in sync — then I’d look for a setting that’ll just keep the pioneer on all the time. That’ll create the fewest headaches, especially for other people who use that TV. Good luck!

  14. Thank you very much. I will do as you suggested.

    The Pioneer turns fully off. Thus it cannot be operated from an iPhone app via lan/wifi, until it is turned on by itself, manually or via the TV.

    The really irritating problem left is that the TV again and again jump in internal speaker mode. But I dont think there is a way to force the TV to stay in receiver sound mode?

    Best regards.

  15. Brilliant, really helpful article, thank you so much, you’ve solved my problem. Option #2 worked for me, using a TOS link lead connected to the digital optical port from my TV to AV receiver, then setting the TV to AV and likewise on the AV receiver gives me great sound through my speaker system. It takes just a few seconds each time to switch over but as I mainly use Smart TV for films it’s not too onerous. I no longer have to listen through the TV speakers for listening to APP’s. Very happy, thanks.

  16. Very helpful article. My TV has the HDMI/Arc input which I have connected from TV to cable box. I have digital optical from receiver to cable box. What do I need to do to get sound out of my surround system for the Smart apps. Little confused here.

    • It sounds like you have two options: 1. Connect the digital optical from the TV’s output to one of the inputs on the receiver, and use that setting for “TV Sound.” 2. If your receiver has an HDMI out port with ARC, you can connect that to the TV, and if ARC is enabled on both devices, that should automatically send audio both ways as needed. (I say “should” because if they are different brands, there’s no guarantee it’ll work, but I’d definitely try it out, see what happensl).

  17. My receiver is about 10 years old. No ARC. I have digital optical going from TV to the receiver. I have sound but no surround sound. When I plug the optical from the receiver to cable box I do get surround (but not in smart apps) What else can I do? Feel like I’m missing something easy. Is there a way to speak with you? Thanks!

  18. Thanks alot for the info its simple n straight forward helped me save the hassle of connecting optical cable unnessarily to my first home theatre system denon awr-2200 and tannoy tfx 5.1 + uhd48 samsung tv..

  19. Eric: Thank you for the excellent information. I believe I’ve done what I could, however, the following is my scenario: Samsung TV HDMI(ARI) to Consolidated Communications cable box; digital out cable to digital out converter box to Sony STRDE423 Receiver (not new) audio in with RCA (red/white) cables; audio is fine for TV. Like others, Netflix plays through the TV with Sound set to TV; when set to Audio Output…no sound at all from TV or Receiver. My guess is I need a new receiver with ARI. Let me know your thoughts.

  20. I bought new lg tv version 55uh850t in jan 17. And i have bose home theatre 520 soundtouch system. Now the problem is when i share any video to my tv the sound does not come from my home theatre but when i switch to internal speaker of tv then sound is coming from tv. I have already connected a hdmi cable from tv(arc) to home theatre. But when i am using optical cable then sound is coming through my home theatre. This is the problem with only mobile sharing video to tv. Not with other connection. All are working fine. Pls give me a solution.

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