Another Firestick Issue

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Another Firestick Issue: a reader asks…

Hello I am unable to listen to audio from my Firestick through my stereo receiver. EQUIPMENT: Onkyo TX-8140 2 Channel Network Stereo Receiver (purchased 2018) with Klipsch speakers (the Onkyo has no HDMI ports); Samsung QN4360RAFXZA 43” QLED 4K Q Series Ultra HD Smart TV with HDR (2019 model); Amazon Firestick 4K (2022). DISH Hopper. CONNECTIONS: Dish -> Samsung TV via HDMI 1; Samsung TV -> Onkyo for audio via optical cable (Optical port 2 (TV/Tape); Firestick -> Samsung TV via HDMI 3. PROBLEM: We can use the Onkyo to listen to the DISH broadcast coming through the Samsung TV, but only get a kind of buzzing static when we switch to the Firestick. Specifically, with Samsung TV input set to Dish, audio is good through either the Onkyo (Samsung TV sound output set to Optical), or through the Samsung TV speakers (Samsung TV sound output set to TV Speaker). However, with Samsung TV input set to Firestick, audio is good only through the Samsung TV speakers (Samsung TV sound output set to TV Speaker). With the Samsung TV sound output set to Optical we get the buzzing static through the Onkyo. Is there a way to make this work? Will we have the same problem if we use a sound bar for audio instead of the Onkyo?

First off, thanks for all the detailed information about your situation, that makes it much easier for me to craft an answer to your situation. If you had used the search bar on this website, a simple search for “firestick” would have yielded 10+ relevant articles I’ve written in the past about using a Firestick with a TV and receiver. But I get that each reader’s situation is unique, and it may be difficult to parse the commonality of issues dealing with home theater equipment.

For your particular situation, it’s most likely that the digital audio output settings on your Firestick are not compatible with the digital audio input requirements of your receiver. I found your Onkyo online manual here, and your TV’s online manual here. Page 22 of the Onkyo manual shows that your audio system can only handle PCM digital audio input. You’ll need to go to your Firestick’s Audio settings and change the output – it’s likely set on Dolby Digital Plus and you’ll need to change it to PCM. Most likely, your TV is already set to output PCM sound since your Dish audio is working, but you can check by looking at this section of the TV’s manual which shows you how to change the output audio format on the TV.

I’m guessing (based on the information you provided) that this is the most likely solution to your issue. The other issue that could be at play here is HD Copyright Protection (HDCP). This is circuitry that’s built into all home theater equipment as an anti-piracy measure. While intended to stop piracy of commercial movies, TV shows etc., it can often make things more difficult for home owners connecting their equipment.

The Firestick is very finicky about HDCP – more than most other home theater equipment. That means home users may have to try multiple times and ways to make a connection work. See this article for a deeper explanation of HDCP. In short, your Firestick must “see” all connected pieces of equipment when it’s first physically connected to your system in order for it to verify and authorize protected content from passing to that other equipment. This means you have to first establish the chain of connectivity before you plug in the Firestick:

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  1. connect the optical cable from Samsung TV to the Onkyo receiver (you’ve done that)
  2. set the Samsung TV to use the HDMI input where you’ll be connecting the Firestick
  3. set the Onkyo receiver to use the optical input coming from the TV

Once that’s all done, you can first connect power to the Firestick (the MicroUSB cord connected to the wall outlet/power supply) and then plug the Firestick’s HDMI into the Samsung TV’s HDMI input port (same as #2 above). When first connected to equipment, the Firestick will initiate HDCP “handshaking” and see both the Samsung TV and the Onkyo receiver and authorize both to play protected content. You should be good to go at this point, and can switch sources back and forth. Your Firestick will remember things until it loses power (say from a power outage), then you might have to repeat this procedure.

Note: do not use a USB port on either the TV or the receiver to provide power to your Firestick, only use the power adapter Amazon provided. Most home theater equipments’ USB ports are only for source input, not for powering devices.

For my readers, regarding the commonality of issues about the Firestick and all home theater equipment, there are three primary principles at play here that cause problems for many people:

  1. HDMI cabling for the most part only works in one direction, e.g., from a source (such as a Firestick) to a destination (such as the TV). Connecting an HDMI cable from the TV to an audio system won’t magically send all sound from the TV to the audio system. There is a feature called HDMI ARC (audio return channel) but that only works in limited situations.
  2. Home theater equipment made by different manufacturers follow some general standards for interoperability, but there is a lot of variance in these standards and you often have to work harder at getting different pieces of equipment to work together when using different brands versus using a system that’s all from one manufacturer. Standards include different types of digital audio (Dolby Digital, PCM, etc.).
  3. All home theater equipment has circuitry built in for HD Copyright Protection (HDCP). This circuitry attempts to stop piracy of protected content by electronically verifying all pieces of equipment when they are connected. Intended to stop piracy (such as connecting a handycam to your receiver and recording a commercial DVD movie), it often makes things harder getting these different pieces of equipment to work together.
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Lastly, I have to note that you’re using a Firestick (and a Smart TV) that are capable of rich, digital Dolby 5.1 surround sound, yet you’re using a 2-channel stereo audio system. Your last sentence mentioned possibly using a sound bar. The advantage there is that you’ll get much richer audio. A sound bar can’t fully replace a full 5.1 surround-sound audio system, but uses speakers that bounce sound around the room so you get a surround-sound effect without having to place speakers all around the listening area. Paired with a separate sub-woofer, you can get a very theater-like audio experience.

If you decide to use a sound bar instead of the Onkyo stereo audio system, be sure to disconnect your Dish and Firestick (and any other sources) from your TV, then connect the sound bar to your TV’s optical output port, and power on both TV and sound bar. then connect your Dish HDMI, and test out the audio, and finish off by first switching the TV’s input to the port you’ll use for the Firestick and then plug in the Firestick. That way the Firestick will “see” your TV and your sound bar and HDCP verification will work. Samsung has a handy setup guide here – if you changed your TV’s digital audio output format (to PCM) you may have to switch to the format needed by the sound bar.


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