TV Audio Snafu

tv-and-receiver-port-imagesTV Audio Snafu: a reader asks…

I have a home theater system and a flat-screen TV. I’ve been trying to get the sound from my TV into my receiver but am having no luck. I’ve got a pair of RCA cables (red and white tips) and have tried all the various ports on both the TV and the receiver and can’t get it to work. What am I doing wrong?

Without knowing brand and model numbers of your TV and home theater system, I can only make some guesses and general information and advice. Feel free to use the comments area to give me more specific info and I can look up your manuals online and tell you which ports to use.

One thing you need to recognize is that for the most part, audio signals travel in one direction. Take a close look at the ports on the back of your TV and the ports on the back of the receiver. What you’re looking for are the words IN and OUT. I’m just guessing, but likely all the RCA ports on the back of your TV are marked IN, so they can only receive audio signals, not send them.


digital-tv-ports-image-image-from-panasonicdotcomThe best metaphor I can come up with is that an OUT port is like your voice, and an IN port is like your ear. Your ear can’t speak, and your voice can’t hear. So you can only connect an OUT port to an IN port, in the direction you want the audio signal to travel.


Those red and white RCA cables you were trying? Those are intended for analog sound signal transmission, not digital. Each one carries one channel of sound, so the red/white cables will only give you 2-channel, stereo sound. You have a surround sound home theatre system, likely with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. The only way to get that kind of sound to your surround sound speakers is with a digital audio cable. Caveat: in some situations, connecting your receiver and TV with an HDMI cable can get the sound to your receiver using a method called Audio Return Channel (ARC).

Your receiver may be equipped with one or both types of digital audio input. Hopefully your receiver has the same type (Optical or Coaxial) as your TV. If that’s the case, you need the appropriate type of cable in the length needed to reach from TV to receiver. If your TV has one type and your receiver has another, you’ll need a converter box, such as the Toslink Optical to Coax/Coaxial Digital Audio Converter (from at for $15). Don’t forget you’ll need both an optical cable and a coaxial cable, although any RCA type cable will work.

digital-audio-cable-typesCoaxial digital audio uses a single cable with RCA plugs on each end. Usually the tips are colored orange or black. Full Dolby Digital 5.1 signal can flow through this type of cable. Despite what audio system salespeople will tell you, any cable with RCA plugs will work, even either the red or white part of a 2-channel cable set. Where the higher-priced digital audio coaxial cables have is likely more and better shielding, which in some cases can help keep radio frequency interference (RFI) from disrupting the signal.

Optical cables are preferred, but you should be aware that they are more delicate than coaxial cables because they have a fibre-optic cable inside instead of wire. Be careful not to bend such a cable too tightly, and take care inserting it into the port on your TV and on your receiver. Jamming it in can break the shutter or worse.


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