There are two primary schools of thought when connecting a sound bar speaker to your television. The first, is that your television is the source for all connected devices (or you simply don’t have an abundance of sources). The second is that the sound bar is the place where all connected devices should be fed (both audio and video). Depending upon which route you choose, the set up and configuration of your sound bar speaker will vary greatly. This isn’t an issue with the “right” or “wrong” method, but rather an issue with how you intend to use your sound bar speaker in your entertainment system. Best of all, it’s simple—you don’t even need any power tools. Let’s jump into both methods, and I’ll discuss the pros and cons of each.
Using Your Television or Your Sound bar as Your Media Hub
With newer TVs including 4 or more HDMI inputs, and at least one or two component video inputs, it’s quickly becoming easy to make your television the destination for all your media sources. Doing this means that you would connect your Blu-ray player, streaming media device (Roku, AppleTV, Chromecast, etc) directly to the television. Then, you can pull audio from the television via its optical digital output. This is not only convenient, it’s logical and plays to the strengths of the modern television. This also means that you can utilize a sound bar that is fairly simplistic in nature—one that doesn’t require HDMI switching or a ton of inputs.
The problem, of course, is that many people have their flat panel TVs mounted on a wall. When this is the case, it’s often that only a single HDMI cable has been run to the television within the wall. Running additional lines becomes a real pain if not downright impossible. When this is the case, you will likely want to utilize a more sophisticated sound bar that can handle multiple HDMI inputs and which will switch the incoming video to a single HDMI output. Now let’s look at the procedure for doing both methods and what might be some common things you’ll need to know to undertake either one.
Connecting Devices through Your Television
As mentioned above, this method is primarily for people who have a table-top-mounted television and who can get easy access to the rear inputs of the TV. The idea here is that you are connecting all of your devices through your television. Fortunately, modern TVs allow for the optical digital cable to output the audio from all inputs, including analogue and HDMI. That means that you can watch everything you want on your television, including external sources as well as your digital antenna or streaming media services, and output all that audio to a much better sound system.
Since we’re talking about sound bars, the advantage in this configuration is that you don’t need a sound bar that handles a lot of sophisticated inputs. Instead, you can focus on sound quality and the features you may need or want—like Bluetooth audio or an integrated radio. This also lets you shop solely for sound quality if that’s your #1 priority (and it should be!)
Here’s what this type of connected system will look like:
Connecting Devices through Your Sound bar
The other connection alternative is used with more feature-rich sound bars that feature HDMI switching. With these devices, you can interact with a wall-mounted television more easily, since you only have to connect a single HDMI cable from the sound bar to the television. So if you already have your TV mounted on the wall and you want to get better sound than what is offered by the TV speakers, this is probably the method you’ll end up using. One really great advantage with more advanced sound bars and modern TVs is that you can use the ARC (Audio Return Channel) feature of HDMI. This lets audio actually return to the sound bar on the same HDMI cable that connects the sound bar video output to your TV. So while audio and video can travel along HDMI from the sound bar to the television, when you select the HDMI input which is connected to the television, you’ll get audio from any source the TV happens to be playing. That includes streaming content from Netflix, Spotify and other sources.
You can use a more sophisticated sound bar even if your television or sound bar doesn’t support ARC. To do this, you’ll just need to connect the optical output of your television to the optical input of the sound bar. Now you can enjoy all of the sources you’ve connected to the sound bar and anything coming from the TV will come in via a single cable (one that is fairly easy to pull if you still need to run it from your gear to the TV).
There are some potential hangups with some of these connectivity options, so here are a few things to watch out for:
- There is only one ARC HDMI input on a television, so don’t assume that just because you connected the TV to your sound bar via HDMI you’ve got everything all set to go. Find the input labeled “HDMI ARC” and make sure it’s the one you’re using.
- You may need to configure the TV to use “external speakers” in order to activate the digital optical output of the television. With some TVs that output is always active, but with others you need to make sure you’re telling it to convert all audio to that output.
- If you run out of HDMI inputs on either your television or sound bar, keep in mind that you can often accomplish the same thing by using an optical audio output. The idea is to get everything connected however you can. If you can’t do it all via HDMI, that’s OK—just make sure you can configure the system to easily switch inputs to the source component you want to hear.
Wrapping It Up
We highly recommend getting a sound bar if you want to upgrade the audio coming from your television’s speakers. While there’s no substitute for a full 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system, sound bars have come a long way. With wireless subwoofers, Bluetooth audio, and tons of inputs, these devices are now more powerful and better suited for modern living rooms. If you’ve got aesthetic or financial reasons for not wanting a full-blown surround system, then a sound bar is a great compromise. And who knows, it might just get you hooked enough on good audio to convince someone to let you upgrade that system down the road to something that will really shake the house!
Are you looking at a sound bar? If you are, let us know what considerations you have when picking one out. Is sound quality your number one concern? Or is it something different? Let us know on Facebook or comment below and join in the discussion.