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Stereo vs 5.1 Confusion

  • 15 April 2017
  • 4 replies
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I am utterly confused and need advice of 5.1 playback on my Playbar.

I bought a Playbar and hooked it up to my TV and realized when i checked the settings in the Sonos App it says Stereo. I do not plan on getting any other Sonos products for the TV. I have a TV that will not output 5.1. So here is my dilemma and I would be sincerely appreciative if someone could answer this for me!

My set-up is very simple I have a ps4 and a directv box. Both have optical cable connections in the back. When i directly connect the play bar to either source it says I am getting Dolby Digital 5.1. However when I connect my playbar just to the TV using an optical cable it says stereo.

So my question is there really a difference in sound quality ? I see people using optical/hdmi splitters to get 5.1 sound but if I do not plan on getting any other speakers and just plan on using the Playbar will it make a difference in sound quality thru the ps4/directv in stereo vs 5.1 ?
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Best answer by AtterKing 15 April 2017, 12:55

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4 replies

Userlevel 4
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You've partly answered your own question here. As your TV doesn't pass through 5.1, when the PlayBar is connected directly to the TV it will only play PCM (Stereo). When you connect either of your devices direct, they seem to be configured to output DD5.1, hence the Songs App will show this.

If you're not planning to introduce any rears and/or a Sub then I'd suggest giving both methods a try. See if you can notice any difference. Should you think there's any benefit in having a 5.1 signal direct to the PlayBar, you can always buy a cheap Toslink switch.
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Thanks for getting back to me and answering my question. My TV is wall mounted and would require me running new optical cables because the current ones would not be long enough to make it to the switch. Before I do that I was looking to see if anyone has done this and noticed a big performance improvement before I go thru the trouble. Any other users do this and notice a BIG difference ?
Userlevel 5
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I was in the same situation as my Panasonic does not support 5.1 optical passthrough, but does support 5.1 passthrough via HDMI ARC.... you can get HDMI ARC Optical Extractors which take the ARC signal and convert it to Optical, but the one I tried did not work for me as the TV did not seem to detect it was an ARC connection and still only passed stereo... others have been more successful, so it could be down to my TV or the extractor I tried. In the end i had to go with a Optical Switch with a remote to change the sources (kinda sucks, but my only option to get 5.1)

Now, as for noticing a difference between stereo and 5.1 feed to a playbar without sub or surrounds, yes there is a perceived difference to me, whether it is better or worse would be subjective, but there is a different soundstage / EQ.... I prefer the Dolby Digital feed personally.... but that is not to say the stereo feed is any worse, just different.

I initially thought it may be due to the centre channel being added as the stereo will only be Left and Right plus any DSP.... but may be wrong.

So if you ARE looking to add a Sub and or Surrounds... i would try to move to a 5.1 feed solution, but if you are not .... then i am not sure it is worth the extra effort.... YMMV as they say
As regards the hassle of switching sources on the optical switch, I use a Harmony Touch programmable remote. Not cheap, but it has "activities" that you program in. So, for example, "Play Blu-ray" switches the TV and Bluray player on, sets the input to HDMI2 (the BR input) and flicks my optical switch to the BR optical. Sadly, it does not yet have a "fetch me a beer" option.