Connecting a Soundbar to Your HDTV

October 17th, 2013 · 15 Comments · 3D HDTV, HDMI, News, Reference Materials, Sound Bars, Surround Sound Systems

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Today’s thin TVs (both LED LCD and plasmas) leave little room for speakers. The result: limited frequency response, terrible dynamic range, very poor bass, and very little overall volume. The solution: connecting a soundbar or a sound system.

Sales wise, soundbars are the most popular choice today, as they come in a wide range of prices and widths.

There are several ways to get the audio from the HDTV to the soundbar. We examine the advantages and disadvantages of each after the jump.

HDMI is a single connector that carries audio from a source to the soundbar. The cables are inexpensive, $5.79 for a  Amazon 6.5 foot Cable, and easy to connect. A single cable can carry up to five channels of audio plus bass for a subwoofer-equipped soundbar.

Getting the audio from the TV or source box (cable, satellite, Blu-ray etc.) can be accomplished in several ways, depending on the specific television and soundbar.

Method “A”

Method “A” uses HDMI Audio Return Channel (ARC). It’s found in many name-brand HDTVs. Simply stated, it turns one to the HDMI inputs on the TV into an HDMI audio output. For example, if you have four HDMI jacks on your television, and one is labeled ARC, that is the one you would use to run an HDMI cable from the TV to your soundbar. It is a digital connection and can provide up to 5.1 Dolby Digital to a soundbar. Well, 5.1 if the TV is able to output it, and the soundbar can handle it (not all can, more on this in a moment). In addition, all the switching is performed by the TV via its own remote control. For example, choose HDMI input 2 and that source’s audio (such as a cable box) will be sent automatically to your soundbar.

The one stumbling block is the number channels the TV can output through the HDMI ARC connection. For example, current Samsung TVs send only digital stereo (2.0) via ARC, while 2013 Sony and Panasonic TVs can pass up to Dolby Digital 5.1. If your soundbar is stereo-only, this isn’t an issue. If the soundbar (or surround sound system) is capable handling additional channels, it might only get 2.0 from certain TVs.

If a soundbar has an HDMI input, the TV’s HDMI ARC-labeled HDMI jack will behave as an audio output when connected. The downside is you give up an HDMI input on the TV (so 4 becomes 3 HDMI inputs and 3 becomes 2). For more on ARC, read our article HDMI Audio Return Channel (ARC) for your HDTV Explained.

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 Method “B”

A number of soundbars (and surround sound systems) have HDMI inputs and outputs. These can be connected to your source box(es) and process the audio (the number of channels it can handle depends on the source and the sound systems capabilities). When the soundbar has multiple HDMI inputs, you can use it to switch sources. These soundbars are also equipped with an HDMI output, with which you send video to your HDTV.

Method “C”

Many soundbars are equipped with a digital audio input. Today most use an optical input called Toslink. Most brand name TVs have digital audio optical “Toslink” outputs. All Toslink-equipped HDTVs will output digital signals up to Dolby Digital 5.1 that originate from the display’s built-in tuner and Internet streaming functions (if they are part of the display’s feature set).

Many HDTVs will also send digital audio from a connected HDMI source, but this feature is not universal. Check with the manufacturer to learn if it permits audio from connected sources to be fed through its Toslink output.

There can be a coaxial digital output on the TV and input on the soundbar, which is an RCA-type jack. These have fallen out of favor by most TV and soundbar manufacturers. If your soundbar has only a coaxial digital audio input and the TV only has an optical Toslink digital audio output, converters like this one can be used to convert optical to coaxial digital.

 Method “D”

Good old analog audio, using two RCA-type jacks found on almost every HDTV connected to two RCA type jacks on the soundbar. This is stereo only, and is the lowest quality source. Generally, this is what you will find on inexpensive, entry level soundbars. We don’t recommend this type of connection if you can help it. Depending on the TV manufacturer, you may find the analog output will only pass audio from the display’s built-in tuner.

Buying Suggestions

Sony HT-CT660 46-Inch Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer $345.93 Amazon

Sony HTST7 HD Sound Bar with Wireless Subwoofer $1298.00 Amazon

SONOS PLAYBAR TV Soundbar and Wireless Speaker for Streaming Music $699.00 Amazon

LG Electronics NB4530B 47-Inch Slim Sound Bar With Wireless Sound Bar and Bluetooth $299.99 Amazon

Samsung HW-F850 2.1-Channel 310 Watt Soundbar $970.39 Amazon

Harman Kardon SB 30 5.1 Soundbar and Wireless Subwoofer $799.00 Amazon

Philips HTL7180/F7 Fidelio SoundBar Home Theater (Pair, Black) $799.99 Amazon

Pioneer SP-SB23W Andrew Jones Soundbar System $399.00 Amazon

All of the listed Soundbars are sold by Amazon direct . They stand behind their sales. Note: prices are correct as of posting and may change at any time, please verify with our links; Currently, most states do not collect sales tax on Amazon orders with the exceptions of AZ, CA, GA, TX, KS, KY, NJ, NY, ND, PA & WA. You always must pay sales tax (in states that collect it) when buying at a brick and mortar store.

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15 Comments so far ↓

  • jim

    I have a jvc sound bar connected to a 4k 55 in Samsung TV. I have Tv on external speaker but no sound coming out. The screen shows speaker is working but still no sound. I took the sound bar down to Best Buy and tried it on the same TV as I have at home. Worked right away. There appears to be only one digital line from bar to TV. Is there other connections??

  • Pete hopkins

    Hi I have a Sony brava kdl 37v300 and
    A humax free sat box, and connected a Sony sound bar ht ct80 but it only works on hd channels any suggestions, thanks

  • jack

    I have a new Samsung curve tv, Samung sound bar and Samsung Blu-Ray connected via HDMIARC all working OK.

    How can I get Optimum Music Channel thru the soundbar with the tv off?

  • Colin Mackenzie

    Have a cello sound bar that only has jack to audio twin plugs which fits great to sky box but can’t connect to Luxor flatscreen . Would a jack to hdmi work ?

  • Charlie

    I have a new Samsung 60″ LED HD TV and a new Samsung 400 Series 2.1 channel soundbar with wireless subwoofer but I cannot get the TV to recognize the Soundbar ? the blue tooth works, what to do ? I just bought these from Best Buy yesterday

  • Reese

    This article leaves a false impression. The impression it gives is that all HDTVs can output a 5.1 optical stream. This is patently incorrect.

    Many, including Panasonic, do not output a 5.1 Dolby signal from their Toslink optical output.

    If the Soundbar is optical input only, (as many are, including Bose, Speakercraft, ZVOX, etc.) in order to get Dolby Digital 5.1 to be recognized by the Soundbar, you must use a low cost HDMI Audio extractor to split the signal so that the 5.1 audio can be recognized by the soundbar.

    Low cost fix – but a dirty little secret of the Soundbar industry. I use the ViewHD adapter with success.

  • Arthur

    Is there an advantage to connect the audio optical cable output from a HD cable set top box to the optical input of the sound bar rather than from the HDTV?

  • Ted Phillips

    I have a Sanyo FVD5833 TV and an Energy Power sound-bar by Klipsch. The TV has a single digital audio out… the sound-bar has analog left and right inputs. the TV does not have optical out. Help!

  • damien

    I have a seiki 60 inch that does not have an optical audio spot. I connected it to a Samsung sound bar but it plays through both TV and the sound bar and it echos. Tried lowering the sound on the TV with the volume on the sound bar all the way up but doesn’t work.

    Contact Seiki customer service at 855-MY-SEIKI for help.

    HD Guru

  • Bogdan

    I have an sony blu-ray who only has coaxial output, how can I use it with a soundbar if the soundbar it doesn’t have coaxial input ? If I have an hdmi from blu-ray to TV, and an optical cable from soundbar to TV, this will work ?

    Depends on the TVs some send the audio from HDMI sources to the TVs optical output, others don’t.

    An alternative is a Coaxial to Optical Digital Audio Converter The link will take you to Amazon. It sells for $17.32

    HD Guru

  • D

    I got a lg smart tv with a Samsung soundbar wireless bass with hdmi hook up but no sound comes out.

    As we do not know model numbers or the type of connection and sources your best bet is to call Samsung Customer service at 1-800-Samsung. and they can walk you through connecting and verify the soundbar is working properly.

    HD Guru

  • shane

    I’ve got an LG sound bar with an optical audio input only. I want to play music through it only from a dedicated tablet pc. Bearing this in mind, I want to supply the sound through the headphone jack. I got on of those £2 adaptor things and it didn’t work, I found out through google that I need a converter instead but when I search ‘3.5mm analogue Jack to optical audio converter’ I get the same cheap adaptors or optical to analogue converters.

    Is what I’m planning possible and if so can someone point me in the direction of the right converter please.


  • Bobby

    I have the Samsung 550. Connected cable hdmi to sound bar hdmi to tv. Great but when i watch netflix (smart tv) I don’t get sound thru sound bar. Is there a way to get sound from tv to sound bar?

    Samsung responds: We’re assuming he is talking about Netflix in the TV. If so, then yes, it’s in the TV and 5.1 sound will come out the optical. The one drawback to my suggestion (connect cable to TV, let the TV route the cable audio to the Optical cable) is that you’ll only get 2.0 to the soundbar from cable (you’ll still get 5.1 from Netflix).

    It won’t matter much, because it’s a 2.0 soundbar, but will make switching easier. The soundbar stays on the same input.

    HD Guru

  • Will

    …surprised no mentioned was made of the ZVox line of soundbars. Is this because they are more of a sound “base” stand than a true soundbar?

  • Eclecticats

    Am I correct, did you leave out a way to attach the soundbar?

    I have mine attached wireless.
    The soundbar and the subwoofer are both connected wireless. All I did was plug them both into the wal, put them on and bingo!, I have sound, and great sound.

    We omitted it for a number of reasons. Bluetooth is a lossy format, and we believe folks want superior sound by using the other connection methods. It is generally found on the higher end televisions though we know of no list that would identify which TVs include it.

    Finally we believe bluetooth connection is more suitable for getting music from a smartphone or tablet to a soundbar.

    HD Guru

    HD Guru

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