Sonos Playbar and Surround Sound

by Volker Weber

A few people asked me whether my TV is sending 5.1 sound to the Playbar. Frankly, I had no idea. I just knew the sound was great so I never bothered to check, why it was great. The concern is that the TV downmixes the signal to 2.0.

Time to test. We test so you don't have to, remember? ;-)

I downloaded this video from Dolby. Then I set the Samsung UE55ES8900 S/PDIF out to Dolby Digital and played the video. The other choices are PCM and DTS NEO 2.5.

I can clearly hear all six channels coming out of the correct speaker.

Well, this is the TV without peripherals. Currently I don't need any. The TV has three receivers for cable (TVB-C), digital terrestrial (DVB-T) and digital satellite (DVB-S). It plays through DLNA, from USB, and it has streaming clients from YouTube, Vimeo and services like MaxDome.

However the user manual for my TV states:

When the TV is receiving a DTV signal, the TV will send 5.1 CH sound to the home theatre receiver. When the source is a digital component such as a DVD / Blu-ray player / cable box / STB (Set-Top-Box) satellite receiver and is connected to the TV via HDMI, only 2 CH audio will be heard from the home theatre receiver. If you want to hear 5.1 CH audio, connect the digital audio out jack from yourDVD / Blu-ray player / cable box / STB satellite receiver directly to an amplifier or home theatre.

I am hearing 5.1, because the TV never receives the signal through HDMI. This looks like an HDMI restriction. You can work around that by managing your sound separate from the video. Throw TOSlink cables from the TV, from the Bluray, from the DVD / Blu-ray player / cable box / STB to a switch, and from there to the Playbar. Ben Rose recommended this box to me.

Repeat after me: DRM is bad for the customer.


Hallo Volker,

ich habe mir auf deine Empfehlung hin das 5.1 Sonos Komplettpaket bestellt. Da ich vorhabe die Verkabelung Unterputz zu verlegen, wollte ich dich fragen, ob ich beim Playbar irgendwas beachten muss. Soweit ich alle Fotos und Videos ausgewertet habe, zeigen die Ausgänge nach unten, wenn der Playbar an einer Wand montiert wird. Würden die Stecker unten rausgucken, wenn man die Kabel unmittelbar hinter die Ausgänge in einem Loch verschwinden lässt?

Danke, Yves

Yves Luther, 2013-02-15

Du kannst die Playbar in zwei Richtungen montieren. Stecker oben und Stecker unten. Und ja, die Stecker lassen sich hinter der Playbar verbergen. Siehe hier:

Das ist die Rückseite und die Unterseite. Sonos verkauft eine Wandhalterung, die Du genau über das Loch montierst. Dann führst Du die Kabel von der Rückseite auf die Unterseite und von dort durch das Loch.

Volker Weber, 2013-02-15

Super, danke für die Info.

Letzte (evtl. dumme) Frage: Kann der Playbar aufgrund seiner Ethernetanschlüsse eine Bridge ersetzen?

Yves Luther, 2013-02-15

I just checked the manual of my Sharp Aquos TV (LCxxLE635) and it states that audio of external devices connected via HDMI is being converted into 2 channel stereo format. Bummer!

"Der optische digitale Ton von einem externen Gerät wird in 2-Kanal-Stereo ausgegeben, wenn das Gerät mit einem HDMI-Kabel an den TV angeschlossen ist."

So in case you want Dolby Digital output (5.1) from i.e. your Apple TV, PS3 you need to buy one of those converter boxes.

Markus Dierker, 2013-02-15

This is a license restriction from DVD/Blu-Ray. Volker may want to say the DRM sentence. Now thats why they created HDMI ARC - Audio Return Channel. In this way its allowed, and for some time all better TV's have a single ARC enabled HDMI Port. That's why my Soundbar has HDMI in.

Volker Jürgensen, 2013-02-15

Yes, my TV has this. I wondered why I need it.

Volker Weber, 2013-02-15

Wonder why the Playbar doesn't have HDMI then. This seems like a severe restriction :-(

Stefan Tilkov, 2013-02-15

Well, what a bummer.

Feeding my Sony Bravia with Apple TV, Sky and Playstation.

Adding another box to my setup just to get the sound into the Playbar is a no go.

Order cancelled ! Very disappointing.

Oliver Barnet, 2013-02-15

@Oliver Barnet, are you sure with the Bravia not able to do this? I have one too (a more recent one, Bravia KDL-40HX750) and there is at least nothing contradicting in the handbook of it. I did not find any more information, but some forum posts hint that the Bravias (at least the more recent ones) are able to pass through Dolby Digital from HDMI-In to Optical-Out.

Andreas Fonferek, 2013-02-15

I just tried something I did not try before. Played a trailer from AppleTV. Goes out as stereo to the Playbar. BUT: Playbar upmixes the video and all six channels are playing. This sounds quite impressive.

Volker Weber, 2013-02-16

Just looked at the sound menu. It offers to choices from four:

_ Dolby Digital
X DTS Neo 2:5

PCM is just stereo. Dolby Digital and DCS are not available. DTS Neo 2:5 is shown as unsupported in the Sonos Controller.

Now I need to investigate whether Sonos could provide DTS Neo 2:5 as a software update.

Volker Weber, 2013-02-16

In the sound menu of the Toshiba TV, You may select among the following options:

> Automatic

Automatic includes:
Dolby Digital -> Dolby Digital
Dolby Digital Plus S -> Dolby Digital
HE-AAC -> Dolby Digital

No statement about the signal transferred to the S/PDIF optical out.
Will it play 5.1???

Maybe I'll just order the Playbar and test it...

My Toshiba LED TV (40VL743W) has an ARC HDMI port. How would this help in connecting the Playbar?

With A/V receivers as the central hub, I'd connect all sources to the A/V receiver.
Video would be passed to the TV.

With the Playbar, the TV set would be the hub for the audio signal.
If the S/PDIF output will - like in the Samsung case - offer Stereo only for other HDMI devices connected to the TV, the Playbar would be castrated to deliver 5.1 only on the TV set's internal sources. Many users (like me) prefer specialised boxes (e.g. DVR).

What about a new Sonos product: A/V Sound bridge. Basically You connect the HDMI sources to it (like, the bridge would transfer the sound to the Sonos speakers wirelessly.

Sven Bühler, 2013-02-16

Just ensure you check the optical output carefully. Many TVs will output Dolby Digital, but it will only contain two channels of information (2.0) not six (5.1).

Ben Rose, 2013-02-16

"Played a trailer from AppleTV. Goes out as stereo to the Playbar. BUT: Playbar upmixes the video and all six channels are playing. This sounds quite impressive"

It's likely the AppleTV device will downmix to 2.0 using Dolby Prologic 2 encoding. This will provide a surround channel, hence it can sound surprisingly good.

Prologic always was impressive, just got usurped by DD5.1.

Ben Rose, 2013-02-17

So, mein Einstieg in die Sonos-Welt ist gemacht, die Playbar hat ihren Platz gefunden.

Bin sehr angetan von der Playbar. Ein kleiner Wermutstropfen ist, dass mein Toshiba 40VL743 nur Stereo ausgibt, wie ich nun testen konnte. Falls es jmd. interessiert.

P.S. Ich weiß nicht, was die Playbar mit dem angelieferten Signal anstellt, aber es klingt verdammt gut und sehr räumlich schon in der Minimalkonfiguration. Auch die Basseffekte sind besser als erwartet. Der Sub ist kein Muss zum Glücklichsein.
Günstiger Nebeneffekt ist, dass ich wohl meine alte HiFi-Anlage bald aus dem Wohnzimmer verbannen kann. Und meine bessere Hälfte kommt mit der PB auch gut klar.

Sven Bühler, 2013-03-19

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