Hdmi surround sound: HDMI ARC and eARC: Audio Return Channel for beginners

HDMI ARC and eARC: Audio Return Channel for beginners

One of the best and yet least-understood HDMI features is ARC, or Audio Return Channel. It’s a feature that enables you to simplify your system and is compatible with most TVs, receivers and soundbars.

In its most basic form, ARC uses an HDMI cable to send audio from a TV back to a receiver or soundbar. That means you can use a single cable for both audio and video — for example, from the Netflix app built into your TV or a connected game console, and then use your TV for switching.

The eARC standard, which is a part of HDMI 2.1, improves on the original in a few key ways including supporting Dolby Atmos, and we’ll discuss this in more depth shortly.

Do you need ARC?

To be fair, many people don’t need ARC. If you only listen to audio using your TV’s speakers and don’t have a receiver or soundbar, then the feature is superfluous. The point of ARC is to send audio created by or switched through your TV to an external audio device, namely a soundbar or receiver.

And because the sound on most TVs is terrible, we strongly recommend getting at least a soundbar to improve the TV experience. Check out our how to buy a soundbar guide and soundbar vs. speakers for more.

If you have a soundbar or receiver of fairly recent vintage that has HDMI, it probably has ARC, too. Here’s how it works.

On the left is a traditional non-ARC setup, requiring an HDMI cable from an Xbox to be connected to the audio system, another to send the video to the TV, and an optical cable to send the TV apps audio back to the audio system. With ARC, the HDMI cable connected to the TV can send the TV audio back to the audio system. A two-way street, if you will.

HDMI Licensing/CNET

Can you use ARC?

Check the HDMI connections on the back of your TV, soundbar, or receiver. If the HDMI port has ARC, it should be marked as such. Both your TV and the soundbar or receiver must have ARC for it to work.

Note the tiny ARC label on the HDMI Out of this receiver. An HDMI-equipped soundbar would look similar.


eARC and HDMI 2.1

The latest version of the HDMI interface is HDMI 2.1, and it offers numerous important changes including support for higher resolutions. Relevant to us in the context of this article is eARC, or enhanced Audio Return Channel.

While Dolby Atmos can be passed over regular ARC today (via Dolby Digital Plus) eARC offers improved bandwidth for higher-quality Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio streams, including Dolby Atmos.

The new format also has lip-sync compensation built-in. This feature was optional in ARC but is now required. This lets you more easily line up the sound with the visuals, something that has always been an issue in the modern TV era.

HDMI Licensing

To take advantage of the new features, both pieces of gear must be eARC compatible. Fortunately, eARC is available in far more gear than just high-end 8K TVs. From 2019 onward, compatible devices include the Sonos Beam, the Yamaha RX-V6A and the Sony X950. The format is backward-compatible with ARC, but don’t expect to stream Atmos through an older TV. Even though most new TVs don’t need the other features of HDMI 2.1, manufacturers can implement most useful portions of HDMI 2.1, such as eARC.

You probably don’t need new HDMI cables for eARC. Older cables with Ethernet, either Standard or High Speed, will work. The new Ultra High Speed cables will work as well, of course. But chances are your current cables have Ethernet and you didn’t even know it, so they’ll probably work, too. N.B.: In order to take advantage of some HDMI 2.1 gaming features, such as Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and 4K 120Hz, a high-speed cable is needed or you’ll simply get no signal.


Most HDMI cables should work with ARC. Plug one end of the HDMI cable into the ARC-capable HDMI input in your TV and the other into the ARC-capable output on your soundbar or receiver.

There are basically two main ways to connect a system using ARC. For our purposes, we’ll assume you have: a TV, a receiver or soundbar, a Blu-ray player and a game console (Xbox or PlayStation).

Again, note the ARC label on the HDMI connection that would connect to the TV. In the first option below, you’d connect all your sources to the soundbar, and just run the one cable to the TV. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

 1. Using the TV as an HDMI switch: Connect the Blu-ray player and game console to the TV, then connect a single HDMI cable from the TV to the soundbar. The TV becomes the central hub of your entertainment system.

This setup lets you use your TV’s remote to switch between the Blu-ray player and game console sources, and in most cases, you can use your TV’s remote to control the volume.

The potential downside of this setup is you might not be able to get 5.1 or higher surround sound. This is more of a problem if you are using a surround receiver instead of most soundbars (which typically can’t playback 5.1). We’ll discuss this more in the “Issues with 5. 1″ section.

2. Using a receiver or soundbar as an HDMI switch: Connect the Blu-ray player or game console to the receiver or soundbar, then a single cable to the TV. Some budget soundbars might not have enough HDMI inputs for all your sources, in which case you’ll have to use Setup 1.

In this setup, your receiver/soundbar is the central hub of the entertainment system. You will switch between your sources and adjust the volume using your receiver/soundbar’s remote. You’ll only use your TV’s remote to turn the TV on, and access any apps built into the TV.

HDMI CEC control

Another HDMI feature is called CEC, or Consumer Electronics Control. Nearly every company has their own name for it, including SimpLink, Anynet+, BRAVIA Sync, and others. In theory, CEC will let the remote from one piece of gear to control another, as long as they’re connected with HDMI. For instance, in Setup 1 above, your TV’s remote can adjust the volume on your soundbar.

However, there’s no guarantee it will work, especially across different brands or ages of gear. If there’s any aspect of ARC setup that’s going to cause you agony, it’s this. You might not be able to realize the dream of using one remote, unless you get a universal remote control. If it doesn’t work, though, Google might help. It could be as simple has having to turn on your gear in a certain order. But in the end, this control aspect just might not function.


The last setup step is making sure your TV and soundbar/receiver knows to send or look for the audio being sent over the Audio Return Channel. If you’ve got everything connected correctly, and it’s not working, time to dive into the settings. It should be fairly obvious in the setup menus, but if not, all owner’s manuals are on the manufacturer’s website.

One last thing to check. If everything else seems correct, but you’re still not getting audio, or you get audio with some sources but not all, check the audio output settings on the TV or the problematic source. Look for a setting that lets you change “bitstream” to “PCM” or vice versa. Switching to the other might clear up the issue.

Some soundbars like the Vizio Elevate offer Dolby Atmos sound over eARC, as well as a second (or in some cases third) HDMI input

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

Issues with 5.1

As great as ARC can be, there is one big issue: 5.1. Technically, TVs aren’t allowed to send 5.1 audio over HDMI. In other words, if you’re watching a movie on Blu-ray with 5.1 Dolby Digital or DTS and it’s connected directly to your TV (Setup 1, above) your receiver might only be able to get 2.0 audio. TVs that can do this are said to have “5.1 passthrough. ” This restriction helped lead to the creation of eARC which we’ll discuss shortly, but it enables external speakers to playback both 5.1 channel and Dolby Atmos.

Some existing TVs can still do 5.1 while other TVs will output 5.1 via the optical output, but not ARC. Our friends over at Rtings.com have an extensive list of what TVs do what, though it only goes back to 2017.

Keep in mind that this issue is only relevant if you have a 5.1 source, like a Blu-ray player or game console, and you’re trying to send that device’s audio via ARC from the TV to a receiver. If your TV doesn’t support 5.1 passthrough, you can either connect that source to the receiver directly, or you can connect the TV and receiver with an optical cable. Optical cables don’t carry Atmos, however.

Connecting a source like Blu-ray directly to the receiver/soundbar has another benefit: Doly Atmos, Dolby True HD and DTS Master Audio. If you have an older TV these higher-fidelity formats can’t be sent over ARC. But they will be able to with eARC.

ARC reaction

On paper, ARC is a great way to simplify your home theater system. The reality is… complicated. Read any user reviews about any product with ARC and there will be issues getting it to work. Depending on the age of your gear and complexity of your setup, getting ARC running and staying running can be frustrating.

Our advice for most people is to connect your sources to your receiver or soundbar, if they’re capable, and only use ARC to get audio from your TV’s internal apps. Not every system will work like this, not least if your soundbar doesn’t have enough HDMI inputs. However, with infinite setup possibilities, we can’t offer perfect idealized advice. Connecting directly to your audio device will, in theory, offer the best chance for the highest quality audio.

Also, even though optical cables and connections are disappearing, they offer a more traditional way to connect audio that might offer fewer issues, at the expense of some sound quality and theoretically less simple usability. 

Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he’s written on topics like why all HDMI cables are the same, TV resolutions explained, LED LCD vs. OLED and more.

Still have a question? Tweet at him @TechWriterGeoff, then check out his travel adventures as a digital nomad on Instagram and YouTube. He also thinks you should check out his bestselling sci-fi novel about city-sized submarines and its sequel. 

How to Set Up Surround Sound

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Imagine watching your favorite movie or playing a thrilling video game and feeling as if you’re right in the midst of the action. That’s the immersive experience a well-set-up surround sound system can offer.

The problem is setting up a surround sound system is daunting for some, especially if you’re new to home audio systems.

You may need help with where to place your speakers, how to connect everything correctly, and how to balance your sound for the optimal audio experience. But fear not, because this guide is here to help.

In this step-by-step guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know and do to set up your surround sound system.

I’ve got you covered, from arranging your speakers for the best sound delivery to troubleshooting common issues.

So, without further ado, let’s turn your audio experience up a notch and dive into the world of surround sound.

Key Sections

Before You Start: What Equipment Do You Need?

Before embarking on your surround sound setup journey, you must have all the necessary equipment. Here’s a basic list:

  1. Speakers: A typical surround sound system has five speakers (front left, front right, center, rear left, rear right) and a subwoofer, also known as a 5. 1 system. However, your system may have more speakers, such as in a 7.1 or 9.1 or a Dolby Atmos layout like a 5.1.2 or 7.1.6 system.
  2. AV Receiver: This is the heart of your system. The receiver is responsible for receiving and processing the audio signal from your source (TV, DVD player, etc.) and sending it to your speakers.
  3. Speaker Cables/Wires: You’ll need enough cable to connect each speaker to the receiver. The exact length will depend on the layout of your room and speaker placement. Some setups may also have the option of using wireless speakers, meaning you won’t need wires for some (or all) speakers.
  4. Audio Source(s): This could be a DVD player, Blu-ray player, game console, streaming device, or even your TV. It’s where the audio signal comes from.

In this guide, I will discuss installing a surround sound system using an AV receiver – my preferred way, which will give you the most flexible setup.

However, there are other ways of getting surround sound without using a receiver. This is where some people get confused and give up on the idea!

But it’s not so hard, so don’t despair.

Surround sound system comparison table

Whichever option is best for your situation, the fundamentals of setting up surround sound are the same, so this guide should help clarify the finer points for you.

Step 1: Speaker Placement

Carefully unpack all the speakers and think about where you will put them. The placement of your speakers is crucial to getting the best surround sound experience.

Here is a general guide on where to place each speaker in a 5.1 system:

  1. Front Left and Front Right Speakers: These should be placed at an equal distance from the central listening point (usually where you’ll be sitting to watch TV or listen to music) and should form approximately a 30-degree angle to the left and right of this point.
  2. Center Speaker: This should be placed directly in front of the central listening point. If you’re using a TV, the center speaker is usually placed above or below it.
  3. Surround Left and Right Speakers: These should be placed behind the central listening point, ideally at an equal distance from it, and should form approximately a 110-120 degree angle to the left and right of this point.
  4. Subwoofer: The subwoofer can be more flexible in its placement because the low-frequency sound is less directional, but a common spot is in the front of the room, off to the side of the TV. I like to place it somewhere between the front left and right speakers, but don’t sweat it if you don’t have the space.

Use speaker stands or wall mounts for optimal performance. Speakers work best when secure and on a surface that doesn’t resonate with the sound vibrations.

Step 2: Connecting Your Speakers to the Receiver

After placing the speakers, you must wire them to the amplifier.

Take your time and ensure you wire them correctly with the same cable connecting the positive and negative terminals on the amp and speaker.

If not, the sound will be out of phase and won’t sound great.

Of course, if you have wireless speakers, you won’t need to use wire.

Here’s how to do both:

For Wired Speakers:

  1. Identify the Terminals: On the back of your receiver, you’ll see color-coded terminals or ports for each speaker. They are usually labeled: FL (Front Left), FR (Front Right), C (Center), SL (Surround Left), and SR (Surround Right) to correspond with each speaker. The subwoofer is usually a separate RCA output labeled Subwoofer or LFE.
  2. Prepare the Speaker Cable: Strip a small section off the end of your speaker wire to expose the metal conductor. Be sure to keep the positive (often red or marked with a ‘+’ sign) and negative (usually black or marked with a ‘-‘ sign) wires separate.
  3. Connect the Speaker Cable to the Speaker: On the back of each speaker, you’ll see similar terminals to the ones on the receiver. Connect the positive wire to the positive terminal and the negative wire to the negative terminal.
  4. Connect the Speaker Cable to the Receiver: Connect the other end of the speaker wire to the corresponding terminals on the receiver. Again, positive wire to the positive terminal, negative wire to the negative terminal. Ensure the correct speakers are wired to the corresponding terminals.
  5. Connect the Subwoofer to the Receiver: the subwoofer usually requires a single coaxial RCA cable from the receiver’s RCA output to the sub’s input.
  6. Tidy the Cabling: Only use as much wire as you need to run comfortably between the amp and speaker. This makes it easier to keep the room looking tidy. Hide the wires behind cabinets, rugs and furniture where you can, or consider using cable clips or painted conduits. You can also route the cable behind the wall, but this requires top-notch DIY skills – or a paid professional!

One problem with AV receivers is there are so many connections. But it’s not so hard once you take it section by section.

Here are the main parts on the back of a receiver:

Rear connections of an AV receiver

For Wireless Speakers:

  1. Power up Your Speakers and Receiver: Make sure your wireless speakers and the receiver are connected to the power source and turned on.
  2. Pair the Speakers to the Receiver: This process can vary depending on your specific equipment, but generally, you will go into the settings menu on your receiver, look for a section related to wireless speakers, and follow the prompts to pair each speaker. Refer to your receiver and speaker manuals for exact instructions.
  3. Confirm the Connection: Once your speakers are paired with the receiver, do a quick sound test to ensure they’re correctly connected, and the sound from each speaker is balanced. You can do this through a built-in speaker test function in the receiver settings.

Step 3: Connecting Your Audio/Video Sources

Your audio and video sources, such as your TV, DVD player, game console, or streaming device, must be connected to your receiver to send audio signals to your surround sound system.

Here are the general steps to wire your audio/video sources:

  1. Identify Your Connection Types: Look at the back of your receiver and your source devices to see what kind of connections they support. Common types include HDMI, Optical (also called Toslink), Coaxial, and RCA (red and white RCA inputs).
  2. Choose the Best Connection: HDMI is the best choice for most modern devices because it can transmit high-quality audio and video. If HDMI isn’t available, optical and coaxial are good choices for audio-only connections, while RCA is generally used for older analog devices. Older video equipment may use component or composite video connections which don’t pass audio, so you will need to make a separate connection for the sound. If you know you’ll need to use an older video type, make sure your AV receiver has these inputs. Newer models are removing these, and many only have HDMI.
  3. Connect Your Source Devices to the Receiver: Connect one end of your chosen cable to the output port on your source device and the other end to the corresponding input port on your receiver. For example, if you’re connecting a DVD player via HDMI, you would wire the HDMI cable to the HDMI out port on the DVD player and to an HDMI in port on the receiver.
  4. Assign Inputs (if necessary): Some receivers require you to assign or label the inputs you’ve just connected. For example, if you connected your DVD player to the HDMI 1 port on your receiver, you might assign that port the label “DVD Player.” This helps you easily select the right source when using your system. Most receivers are already marked with everyday device names, so if you use the right inputs, they will already be set up with the correct terms. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter. It simply makes using the system more straightforward.
  5. Repeat for All Source Devices: Repeat the process for each source device you want to connect to your receiver. This might include your TV, game console, DVD player, Blu-ray player, or streaming device.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So, maybe this simple wiring diagram will help if you are completely lost.

This is the basic wiring for a 5.1 home cinema system with an AV receiver:

Connecting a 5.1 home theater system with an AV receiver

Step 4: Configuring the Receiver

Once you’ve connected your speakers and source devices, it’s time to configure your receiver. This process optimizes your surround sound system for the best possible audio experience.

Here’s how you can manually set up the receiver:

  1. Access the Receiver’s Setup Menu: This is typically done using the remote that came with your receiver. Look for a button that says ‘Setup’ or ‘Menu.’ Press it to access the setup menu on the receiver. Switching on a new receiver for the first time will automatically start the setup process in most cases.
  2. Speaker Configuration: Look for a section related to speakers or audio in the setup menu. This is where you’ll tell the receiver about the speakers you have connected. You’ll specify the number of speakers, their location, and sometimes their size (large/small). You should select ‘small’ in most situations, regardless of your speakers’ size. Otherwise, the receiver won’t use the subwoofer for very low frequencies. Follow the prompts or refer to your receiver’s manual for clarification.
  3. Speaker Distance: Some receivers allow you to input the distance of each speaker from your primary listening position. This can help improve the timing of sound delivery for a more cohesive surround sound experience. Measure from each speaker to where you mainly sit, and enter the results on the setup page, making sure you are using the correct units.
  4. Speaker Crossovers: The AV receiver’s crossover setting redirects low-frequency sounds to the subwoofer, reducing strain on the amp and optimizing sound quality. Set the crossover based on the speaker’s ability to reproduce low-frequency sound, starting around 80 Hz and increasing to 100, 120 or even 200 Hz for smaller speakers. Check each speaker’s specifications if you need more clarification. However, don’t set the crossover too close to the lowest frequency your speaker can deliver. You should put it a good deal higher to allow a smooth transition between the speaker and the subwoofer. Otherwise, you will leave a frequency hole where you will miss crucial sound information. If in doubt, move it higher rather than lower.
  5. Speaker Levels: Here, you’ll adjust the volume level of each speaker to ensure a balanced sound. This is often done using a test tone that the receiver plays through each speaker individually. You adjust the volume of each speaker so they all sound equally loud from your primary listening position. If you do this manually, you can use an SPL meter or an app on your phone to measure the decibel level at your listening position. This will compensate for slight distance differences where you can’t position the speakers equally.
  6. Audio Formats and Modes: Lastly, check the receiver’s settings related to audio formats and surround sound modes. Modern receivers often support various formats and modes (like Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, Stereo, etc.), which you can select based on the content you’re watching or listening to. Set most formats to ‘Auto,’ meaning it will automatically use the matching sound mode for the audio type. The exception is if you want to use an upscaling processing mode like Dolby Surround to play standard 5.1 audio over your larger 5.1.2 speaker layout.

Automatic Room Calibration

Many modern receivers come with built-in automatic room calibration software, making the setup process even easier and (possibly) more accurate.

This software uses a special microphone (usually included with the receiver) to measure a series of test tones at your primary listening position. It uses this data to automatically set the speaker levels, distance, and optimal equalization for your room’s unique acoustics.

The equalization provided by the room calibration system is the main reason for using the automatic setup process supplied by your device. All the other data points, like distances, levels and speaker sizes, are easy to do.

But fixing problem areas in your room’s acoustic response will impact sound quality more than almost any other part of your setup – including which amp and speakers you use.

And while you can install external devices to equalize the sound yourself, this is only recommended for enthusiasts who want complete control. If in doubt, stick to your amp’s automatic configuration platform.

To use this feature:

  1. Position the Microphone: Place the calibration microphone at your primary listening position at ear level. Some receivers come with a tripod for this purpose, or you can use a camera tripod if you have one.
  2. Run the Calibration Software: In your receiver’s setup menu, look for an option related to automatic calibration (it might be under names like Audyssey, YPAO, MCACC, or AccuEQ, depending on your receiver’s brand). Select this option and follow the on-screen prompts to start the calibration process.
  3. Stay Quiet and Let It Run: The calibration process typically involves the receiver playing a series of test tones through each speaker. It’s essential to keep the room as quiet as possible during this process, so the microphone can accurately measure the sounds. Some systems require just one reading at the main listening position, while others provide more accurate results by measuring the room from several locations. The software will tell you what to do.
  4. Review the Results: Once the calibration process is complete, the receiver will automatically adjust your settings based on the measurements it took. It’s a good idea to review these settings to ensure they make sense (for example, the speaker distances should roughly match your actual speaker distances).

Unless you use room treatment techniques to fix problem frequencies in your room’s response, the equalization provided by the automatic room calibration can make or break the sound you get in your room.

But, while automatic room calibration can be very helpful, it might not always be perfect, especially in rooms with challenging acoustics.

Changing the crossover settings in a Denon AV receiver

Therefore, most people should use the automatic room calibration software in their AVR first, let it do its best to fix problem frequencies, and then manually fine-tune the speaker sizes, crossovers, distance and levels in the setup menu.

If you are more knowledgeable about home cinema and hi-fi or want to learn more about room acoustics, you can use software like REW (Room EQ Wizard) to measure your room’s frequency response. 

You can then use an external EQ unit to modify the audio before it reaches your subwoofer. The low-end frequencies are usually the main areas you must fix to get a clean and balanced sound.

Step 5: Testing Your System

Now that you’ve set up and calibrated your surround sound system, it’s time to put it to the test. This will allow you to see how well the system performs and make any necessary adjustments.

Follow these steps:

  1. Select a Test Source: Choose a high-quality audio or video source that uses surround sound. This could be a Blu-ray movie, a video game, or a streaming service that supports surround sound formats. The test source should ideally cover a wide range of sounds, including dialogue, music, and sound effects.
  2. Listen and Watch: As you play your test source, sit in your primary listening position and pay close attention to the audio. The dialogue should come primarily from the center speaker, the main action sounds from the front speakers and ambient or background sounds from the rear speakers. The subwoofer should produce deep bass sounds without overpowering the rest of the audio.
  3. Check for Balance and Immersion: The sound from all your speakers should blend seamlessly to create an immersive sound field. No single speaker should stand out as being too loud or quiet compared to the others. Also, the sound should feel like it’s surrounding you and coming from the appropriate direction.
  4. Make Adjustments If Necessary: Return to your receiver’s settings and adjust if something doesn’t sound quite right. You might need to change the speaker levels, balance, or other settings. If your receiver has a manual EQ (equalizer) setting, you could also tweak this to fine-tune the sound to your liking. Although, if you use the automatic room calibration, this will usually do a decent job of fixing the major problem areas.
  5. Test with Multiple Sources: Different source devices and types of content can sound different on your system, so it’s a good idea to repeat the testing process with several sources. You might need to make slight adjustments for each one.

Setting up a surround sound system can be complex, but the results are well worth the effort.

By following these steps, you’ll be well on your way to a fantastic audio experience that truly immerses you in your favorite movies, TV shows, music, and games.

Related article: 12 things about surround sound speakers you should know

Step 6: Troubleshooting Common Issues

Even if you are careful with the setup process, you still might face issues with your surround sound system.

Here are solutions to some common problems:

1. No Sound from One or More Speakers

  • Check Connections: Ensure all speaker wires are securely connected to the speakers and the receiver.
  • Check Receiver Settings: Ensure the receiver is set up to send sound to all speakers. Sometimes a speaker might be inadvertently set to ‘off’ in the receiver settings.
  • Test the Speaker: Connect the speaker to a different output on the receiver to see if it works. If it doesn’t, the speaker might be damaged.

2. Sound is Distorted or Not Clear

  • Check Volume Levels: If the volume is too high, it can cause distortion. Try lowering the volume to see if the sound quality improves.
  • Check Speaker Placement: Speakers placed too close to walls or corners can cause sound reflection, leading to distortion. Try adjusting the speaker placement.
  • Check Cables and Sources: Poor-quality cables or a low-quality audio source can cause sound distortion. Try a different cable or source to see if the sound quality improves.

3. Sound Doesn’t Seem to ‘Surround’ You

  • Check Speaker Placement: If speakers are not positioned correctly according to your listening position, the surround sound effect may not be optimal. Refer back to the speaker placement guide in Step 1.
  • Check Sound Format: Ensure the content you’re playing supports surround sound, and your receiver is set to the correct sound mode.
  • Calibrate Again: If you used automatic calibration, try manual calibration for better results.

4. Subwoofer is Overpowering or Too Weak

  • Adjust Subwoofer Level: Most receivers allow you to adjust the subwoofer volume separately. Try turning it up or down to achieve a more balanced sound.
  • Check Subwoofer Placement: Experiment with different subwoofer locations. Moving the subwoofer just a few inches can make a big difference in sound quality.

Related article: Tips to fix your surround sound problems

Main Takeaways

Congratulations on setting up your surround sound system!

You’ve taken quite the journey, moving from understanding the components of the system, positioning the speakers and making the right connections to configuring the receiver, testing and troubleshooting any issues.

It may seem like a lot, but each step is crucial to creating the immersive sound experience that makes your favorite movies, music, and games come alive in your living room.

Remember, the art of achieving the perfect surround sound is a balance between following guidelines and adjusting to your room’s specific acoustics. Feel free to experiment with different settings or positions until you find the sweet spot.

Now your system is set up, it’s time to enjoy it.

Gather your family for a movie night, invite friends over for a game session, or sit back and lose yourself in the immersive sound of your favorite music album.

That’s what a surround sound system is all about, after all.

Keep this guide handy for future reference. You’ll find it helpful if you run into any issues or decide to upgrade your system’s components.

And remember, technology continues to evolve, so stay curious and willing to learn.

Here’s to great sound and countless hours of audio enjoyment!

Frequently Asked Questions

If you want some quick and easy answers, here are some common questions about setting up surround sound.

What Do You Need for a Surround Sound System?

The main thing you need for surround sound is an audio system that supports multichannel audio. Most sound systems are stereo, with two speakers. However, for surround sound, your speaker system will need at least five speakers.

The main ways of getting multichannel sound are buying an AV receiver, an all-in-one home theater system, or a soundbar system that supports surround sound.

You then need to connect the audio output of your TV, DVD player or cable box into the sound system.

How Do You Hook Up Surround Sound to Your TV?

If you want to connect your TV to a surround sound system, your TV needs to have an audio output. On modern TVs, this will usually be an optical digital audio output or an HDMI ARC connection.

Once you have identified your TV’s audio output, you need to connect this to an audio system that supports surround sound. This might be an AV receiver, an all-in-one home theater system or a soundbar system.

For a step-by-step guide, go to how to connect speakers to your TV in 5 easy steps.

How to Hook Up Surround Sound Speakers Without a Receiver?

If you want surround sound but don’t want to buy an AV receiver, you should buy a soundbar system that supports surround sound – or a home theater system that comes complete with an amplifier and all the surround speakers.

Can You Get Surround Sound Through HDMI?

Yes, HDMI supports the multichannel audio formats used in surround sound – such as Dolby Digital, DTS, Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby Atmos. The easiest way to get the surround sound audio from your TV using HDMI is to use a TV and sound system that supports HDMI ARC.

How to Connect Surround Sound to a TV Without HDMI?

If your TV doesn’t have HDMI, you will need to look for a different type of audio output. Many TVs have optical or coaxial digital audio outputs, while older televisions may only have a stereo analog output.

Whichever type your TV has, you can connect this audio output to a surround sound speaker system.

Alternatively, if you are using a cable TV box or DVD player, you can connect the audio outputs to your surround sound system instead.

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About The Author

Paul started the Home Cinema Guide to help less-experienced users get the most out of today’s audio-visual technology. He has been a sound, lighting and audio-visual engineer for around 20 years. At home, he has spent more time than is probably healthy installing, configuring, testing, de-rigging, fixing, tweaking, re-installing again (and sometimes using) various pieces of hi-fi and home cinema equipment. You can find out more here.

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HDMI 2.0b –

Standard Information

Cables are boring, but if there’s one cable that stands out from the crowd, it’s HDMI. While many TV owners may know the technology simply as the weird flat plug that makes the TV plug and play, HDMI is always on the move. All-in-one digital connectivity has created many ways to prepare hardware for the expanding world of audiovisual technology around us, enabling innovations such as 4K Ultra HD and 8K, the latter of which will be the next big step in TVs, even if for some time it will not be the de facto standard. As HDMI prepares for another leap forward, we are currently taking a half step forward in the form of HDMI 2.0b.
The best news: As with previous transitions, and unlike the upcoming HDMI 2.1, HDMI 2.0b doesn’t require cables other than the ones you’re already using. The
HDMI 2.0b is based on HDMI 2.0a, which used several features over the previous HDMI 2.0, including a display technology called HDR. Designed to dramatically improve the contrast between light and dark images for a more realistic picture, HDR has quickly become a must when buying a new TV.

The Basics
As we’ve written before, the main reason for moving to HDMI 2.0 is that 4K Ultra HD TVs require much more bandwidth to reach their full potential. Because 4K Ultra HD is four times the resolution of 1080p, the former HD standard, it needs more bandwidth to process the extra data going back and forth. Even more. HDMI 1.4 supports 4K resolution, yes, but only at 24 or 30 frames per second (fps). This works well for movies, but is not suitable for games and many TV broadcasts that require 50 or 60 frames per second. Additionally, HDMI 1.4 limited 4K Ultra HD content to 8-bit color, although it is capable of supporting 10-bit or 12-bit color. HDMI 2.0 fixed all that because it could handle up to 18 gigabits per second – just enough to provide 12-bit color and video up to 60fps. Ultra HD is one thing, but today’s TVs strive to impress our minds with even greater realism, producing richer whites and blacks – it’s like Tide washing powder on your TV, making everything brighter, which is what HDR is all about. All Sony, Panasonic, LG, Samsung TVs use some version of HDR technology. HDMI 2.0b adds another option to the HDR menu with support for HLG, the version of HDR that is preferred for live TV broadcasts.

Don’t throw away your old HDMI cables
As mentioned above, HDMI 2.0b doesn’t change anything about the size, shape, or wiring of HDMI cables. If you buy new HDMI 2. 0a compatible devices, your existing cables will work just fine. And since HDMI 2.0b is backwards compatible with older versions of HDMI, you should be able to seamlessly connect your old Blu-ray player and/or AV receiver to a brand new HDMI 2.0b capable 4K Ultra HD TV. What’s new in HDMI 2.0b? Object Surround Sound The HDMI 2.0 update in 2013 made 32 channels of uncompressed audio possible. If that sounds like overkill, well… it might be for some. But don’t talk about it to the surround sound gurus in Dolby or DTS. The latest Dolby Atmos surround sound format supports up to 64 channels of theater surround sound, allowing your home theater to play back 11.2-channel sound. It’s called object-based surround sound, and it allows you to mix individual objects so that they move across a multi-speaker hemisphere completely autonomously. The Dolby version includes configurations that offer two to four speakers that can emit sound from the ceiling or bounce sound from the ceiling off the floor for an epic blast of immersive sound. There are several receivers from brands such as Marantz, Onkyo, and Pioneer that are Atmos compatible, as well as custom-designed speakers from Pioneer and others that mount speakers on special cabinets to pick up sound from the ceiling.
Not to be outdone, DTS has also introduced its own future object-based surround sound system, called DTS:X. The system is designed to be compatible with many of the same components as Dolby Atmos, and for now also offers a maximum of 11.2 channel. However, DTS:X provides even more flexibility than Atmos, including the ability to use up to 32 different speaker configurations available. Is it a coincidence that the available speaker configurations for DTS:X are equal to the same number of channels allowed by the current HDMI protocol? We think not.

In case you didn’t know, your remote is magical!
The transition to HDMI 2.0 brought standards that required the inclusion of certain control features for a standard language spoken by devices called CEC (Consumer Electronics Control). So your remote control can probably control a whole host of other devices without requiring you to pick up an encyclopedia of four-digit remote control codes and dial in a bunch of button combinations. With CEC, connected devices can also send commands to the TV. For example, a connected Chromecast can tell the TV to turn on and switch to the correct input by simply streaming content from the smartphone to the Chromecast without requiring a remote at all. Another protocol innovation, the HDMI-ARC port, greatly simplifies audio connections. In the past, if you wanted to send TV audio to a soundbar or A/V receiver, you needed an optical cable (in the ideal world) or at least a set of analog RCA cables. Using the HDMI-ARC port on a TV that comes with almost all new TVs, a single HDMI cable can receive audio and video from an external source and send audio back to that device, which is why ARC stands for Audio Return Channel. This is very handy if you have a streaming device connected to the optional HDMI port, or if you are using one of your TV’s built-in apps.

What else can it do?
Although it’s been a while, it’s important to know that the HDMI 2.0 update made it possible to simultaneously deliver multiple video streams to multiple users on the same screen – just imagine what that could do for video games! And while HDMI 2.0b is only a minor update when HLG rolls out en masse, the improvements available in pictures make the update seem much bigger. HDMI is evolving, and innovative system design will continue to allow us to use new technologies and modern equipment while keeping the old. HDMI 2.1 is just around the corner and is set to bring a whole host of new benefits, including 8K TV, but for now, HDMI 2.0b has got you covered!


SHIELD TV supports Dolby Digital (AC3), Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC3), Dolby ATMOS, Dolby TrueHD, DTS:X and DTS Core audio over HDMI. Dolby audio can be decoded into the appropriate format for your TV. DTS audio cannot be decoded and is transmitted directly via HDMI.

To enjoy surround sound, use an AV receiver or TV that can decode it.

NOTE If your HDMI AV receiver or TV does not have the ability to decode these streams, you may not hear sound at all.
NOTE Make sure the firmware on your receiver is up to date. In some cases, this may resolve compatibility or audio/video issues.

(I) Recommended installation: SHIELD AVR TV

  1. Connect your SHIELD TV to the receiver using an HDMI cable.
  2. Connect another HDMI cable from the HDMI OUT jack on the receiver to your TV.
NOTE If your TV supports 4K or HDR, use HDMI 2.0.B compatible cables to connect the AV receiver to the SHIELD and to the display. Your AV receiver must also be HDMI 2.0 (HDCP 2.2) compatible.

(II) Sound system or legacy AV receiver: SHIELD TV AVR

WARNING: This configuration should only be used if your sound system or AV receiver does not support 4K, HDR, or Dolby Vision. Sound system must support Dolby Digital
  1. Connect SHIELD TV to your TV with an HDMI cable.
  2. Connect TV and receiver with SPDIF (optical) or HDMI-ARC cable.
  3. In section Settings > Device settings > Display and sound > Advanced audio settings > Available formats select Manually set and disable all Dolby formats except AC3.


SHIELD can turn your TV/AV receiver on and off using HDMI-CEC. This can be configured under Screen and Sound > Power Management .