How to Connect Surround Sound to TV Without HDMI?

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When people are buying new devices, especially audio and video equipment, they usually think that their features are the most important thing. The better the specs, the better the audio/video reproduction. However, there’s one thing that we all often neglect and that is the wiring. Using proper cables can significantly improve performance and provide you with more pleasure.

One of the greatest achievements of modern technology, at least when it comes to audio/video equipment, is the introduction of HDMI cable. It has been with us since 2002 and many of you are probably using it constantly, especially when it comes to connecting your home theater speaker systems to a receiver or TV, but do you actually know what it is and how it works?

Why Is HDMI So Important?

HDMI stands for “high-definition multimedia interface” and it can be defined as a standard for digital transmission of uncompressed audio and video data. The progress achieved in developing HDMI technology over the years is expressed by the number that follows the name “HDMI” and it goes all the way from 1.0 to the latest 2.1 and the amazing HDMI ARC.

The whole point of using HDMI is to replace several cables that transmit either audio or video data with a single cable that can do both at the same time. Newer versions have gone even further – they even have an Ethernet channel and can transmit 3D data using only one cable. No mess, no clutter – only great quality. Pretty amazing, don’t you think?

This is exactly why HDMI is excellent, or should we say the best option when it comes to connecting a home theater system to a receiver, TV, BluRay player, gaming console, etc. Actually, there’s an even better solution – HDMI ARC. This little fella can do even more – it can additionally reduce cable clutter in your home. Wonder how?

HDMI connection is the best way to connect all of your audio/video equipment together

HDMI connection is the best way to connect all of your audio/video equipment together

Let’s assume that you have most of your sources (gaming consoles, STB, DVD players, etc.) connected to your AVR via HDMI cables. Then, you have a single HDMI cable connecting your AVR to your TV. The cable connects the HDMI OUT port on the receiver to the HDMI IN on your TV. Your AVR receives all the audio and video signals, separates audio from video, then sends audio to the speakers and video to your TV. It’s a nice and clean setup. 

Now, let’s assume that you have some video source connected directly to your TV via HDMI (a Blu-ray player, for example). Your TV is still connected to the receiver, but the connection goes from the receiver’s output to your TV’s input. So, unless you use one more cable (either optical, coaxial or some analog cable) to connect one of the audio outputs on your TV to the corresponding audio input on your receiver, the sound will come out of your TV’s speakers. And your TV speakers are simply not capable of creating any surround sound experience. They are poor-quality speakers and you need the audio to go to the receiver and then to your home theater system

Luckily, with an HDMI ARC cable, you’re going to need only that one cable that goes from your TV to your receiver and this cable will transfer audio from your TV to the receiver using the same connection that transfers video content from the receiver to your TV. Naturally, this only works if both – your TV and your receiver support HDMI ARC. There should be an HDMI ARC OUT port on your receiver and an HDMI ARC IN on your TV.

HDMI ARC connection enables two-way communication between your TV and your receiver

HDMI ARC connection enables two-way communication between your TV and your receiver

Speaking about home theater systems and considering that our topic is related to surround sound, we believe it can’t hurt to say a few words about these just so the following parts of the article are clearer.

A Few Words About Surround Sound

Surround sound is an audio technique used to enrich sound depth and fidelity, which is achieved by creating a speaker system in which each speaker represents a different channel. The surround sound effect is achieved mostly through the distribution of speakers in a room, by their position. The technique was first used in cinemas but it has become so popular that many people wanted it in their own homes and, thanks to the appearance of home theater systems (HTS), this has become possible and, in some cases, quite affordable.

Depending on one’s preferences and, of course, budget, it is possible to choose between two types of home theater systems:

Custom-Made Home Theater Systems

When we say custom-made, we don’t think that you’re supposed to create it from the scratch; we want to say that you get to choose the number and type of speakers you want to combine in one system. Each and every part of the system, including amplifiers, receivers, speakers, and subwoofers) can be bought separately. The only important thing is to find the speakers and other equipment that create great synergy when used together.

However, you don’t have complete freedom in this case as there are some limitations. For example, the minimum required number of speakers that can be considered a home theater system is 6 (5.1 system that consists of five speakers and one subwoofer). This basic system usually consists of one subwoofer, one center speaker, front left, front right, surround left, and surround right speakers. Such a system can be further upgraded to 7.1, 9.1, etc. by adding rear speakers, ceiling speakers, etc.

Whatever system you choose, you have to know that its setup requires some serious knowledge about audio equipment in general (in order to match the speakers and receivers/amplifiers properly) and about room acoustics (to choose the speaker size that will deliver the right kind of sound your apartment/house).

All-In-One Home Theater Systems

This is the second type of HTS and is also known as “home theater systems in a box”. As you have probably already guessed, these are much simpler than the previous type because all the speakers come in one package and you don’t have to look for the matching receiver. The only thing expected from you is to connect them to the included receiver.

HTIBs come pre-paired - everything you need is packed inside one box

HTIBs come pre-paired – everything you need is packed inside one box

Some home theaters in a box include only a soundbar and one subwoofer (wireless or wired) that is used to improve the bass reproduction. They don’t deliver true surround sound but rather some kind of virtual surround sound effect. Either way, they are more budget-friendly and easier to use than real surround sound systems. In some cases, these soundbar-based systems may also include two wireless or wired surround speakers, which brings you one step closer to true surround sound. 

Soundbar-based surround sound systems

Soundbar-based surround sound systems

How to Connect Surround Sound to TV Without HDMI?

So, now that we have explained the basic working principles of home theater systems and HDMI cables that are crucial for achieving surround sound, we have got to a point where we’re supposed to explain what to do in case you don’t have or can’t establish the connection via HDMI cable.

Truth to be told, it’s extremely hard to imagine that any of the devices that are supposed to handle surround sound doesn’t have the necessary HDMI ports, regardless of the type of receiver or home theater system, because there’s probably no TV or receiver nowadays that doesn’t have these ports. However, it is more likely to have a broken HDMI cable so let’s imagine that you are in this situation: the guests are coming to watch a movie, you realize that your HDMI cable is broken and you start panicking and wondering what to do.

If you start searching the Internet, you will find several options, and using RCA cables is one of them. However, we won’t be discussing it here. Why? Well, because RCA can’t be used to deliver surround, only stereo sound.  So, RCA is a viable option if you are not looking for surround sound. 

But how to get surround sound?

The only and the best thing to do here is to use digital/optical cable (aka TOSLINK cable). It’s simple, fast, and it provides quality connection and audio reproduction. You simply take one end of your digital optical cable and insert connect it to the digital optical output port on your TV. Then, you take the other end of the cable and insert it into the digital optical input port on the receiver connected to your surround sound speaker system.

Once the cable is connected, you should open the settings menu on your TV and select digital optical input as the source required to hear the surround sound. The next step is to select the movie you want to watch and hit play.

That’s pretty much all, folks. Enjoy!