Columbia ISA
Audio – Video

How to connect a DVD player

How Do I Get SURROUND SOUND From My DVD Player?

Your DVD-Video disc will be the source of the surround sound. Most DVD-Video disc commercial movies today contain Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound and may contain DTS surround sound audio. Some discs do not contain surround sound, only 2-channel stereo.

Your DVD player will read the disc, video and audio, but the DVD player in all but a few cases, has to send the audio bitstream out from the player for processing by other devices such as a soundbar or audio/video receiver in order to decode and attain surround sound. What are these few cases? Some expensive DVD players can have built-in decoders in which case the audio can be decoded into multiple channels and sent to a receiver for amplification only and then out to the loudspeakers. Most DVD players are not that expensive and do not have decoders in them. Therefore you must connect a digital audio cable from the DVD player to an audio/video receiver (AVR). This cable can be digital coaxial or optical. Some DVD players only have a RCA coaxial jack (usually orange) and some may only have an optical jack (usually black) or yours may have both jacks. You only need to use one or the other. Newer DVD players may have HDMI outputs. HDMI can also be used for surround sound connection to soundbar or audio/video receiver. HDMI can handle 6.1, 7.1 audio while coaxial and optical can only handle up to 5.1 audio.

DVD player rear panel

Once the audio data is received by the AVR, it can be decoded and amplified and sent out to the various loudspeakers in a surround setup. Always check your DVD player setup. This is done with a SETUP button on the remote control. Some DVD players may use the DISPLAY button if they do not have a SETUP button. Select the AUDIO menu and hilight DIGITAL AUDIO OUTPUT or the like, and set BITSTREAM ON. Consult your owner's manual here for instructions on how to setup your particular player.

You may only be able to select your choice in the LANGUAGE SELECTION of the main menu for "English Dolby Digital 5.1". DVDs do not default automatically to Dolby Digital 5.1. Each time you load a DVD, go to the DVD's setup menu and click on "Audio Setup" or on "Languages" if there is no Audio Setup option and choose "Dolby Digital 5.1."

Depending on the age of the disc, the "Audio Setup" on the DVD menu may give you several choices: "5.1 Channel Surround Sound" or "Stereo Playback." New DVDs may offer "Dolby Digital 5.1" and "Dolby Digital 2.0," the latter being stereo. Some of the disc menus offer only "Surround Sound" or "Stereo" options.

You should go to the DVD player's menu and set the bitstream for Dolby Digital. You will need to refer to your DVD player's owner's manual to find out how to set this for your particular DVD player.

The single digital cable connector--either a plain coaxial cable with RCA male plugs on each end or a Toslink optical connector, carries the entire Dolby Digital 5.1(and dts if its available) channel data stream to the Audio/Video receiver. It also carries a digital "flag" that signals your A/V receiver's Dolby Digital 5.1-channel decoder to switch to its Dolby Digital mode and send the multichannel audio signals to your system's six loudspeakers. When it detects the digital flag, the receiver front panel should display "Dolby Digital" or indicate it with an LED or with text on your TV screen.

Today's Audio/Video Receiver has the capability to accept the digital audio signal from the DVD player, decode it, and amplify it in order to drive multiple speakers, giving you surround sound (Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1). You need to choose between the digital coaxial cable connection (RCA) or the optical cable connection on the back of the DVD player. Both are good. The optical connection uses light to transmit the information from the DVD player to the A/V Receiver. Sometimes the optical cable is called TOSLINK or Toshiba Link after the Japanese company Toshiba. Both of these cables will cost you extra and are usually not included with your player. Connect the cable from the digital audio OUT jack on the DVD player to the digital audio IN on the A/V Receiver. Set your DVD player to use bitstream in the audio setup menu.

Hookup diagram for A/V Receiver with 5.1 digital surround sound

Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS surround sound is available on most DVD Video movies. In order to listen to these audio channels you need to be able to get them out from the DVD player, decode them, amplify them and route each channel to the appropriate loudspeaker. To handle all this you need an Audio/Video Receiver with a decoder for Dolby Digital 5.1 and/or DTS which most new A/V Receivers today have and also a set of at least six loudspeakers, one for each decoded audio channel. 

To get the digital audio out from the DVD player, you need a digital audio cable connected to the A/V Receiver's digital audio input. This cable can be a RCA type coaxial digital audio cable or it can be an optical (Toslink) cable. Either one works fine. The coaxial cable is more robust physically but the optical is less susceptible to RF interference. The RCA coaxial cable uses electricity to carry the information while the optical cable uses light to carry the digital audio information. Your DVD player may have both of these output jacks but either one will suffice. 


Coaxial digital audio cables look, on the surface, like standard analog RCA cables; however, you should avoid using a standard audio interconnect to transfer a digital signal. Cables engineered specifically to pass a digital signal provide 75-ohm impedance and wider frequency bandwidth than standard RCA cables, ensuring superior signal transfer.


Your DVD player back panel may have both coaxial and optical outputs used for digital audio bitstream transfer to an Audio/Video receiver. The A/V receiver has similar inputs to accept the bitstream and turn it into 6 channel surround sound which you listen to thru the receiver's attached loudspeakers which are positioned around the listener.

Audio/Video Receiver rear panel - 5.1 surround sound capable
Input connections at top for optical or coaxial audio (orange)


These cables use fiber optics to carry light pulses instead of electricity to convey digital information. If your DVD player has output jacks of this kind you can choose to use optical audio cables instead of coaxial. Most A/V Receivers today have optical input jacks.

Optical digital audio cable and jack


Figure 2

The A/V Receiver will decode the audio bitstream, convert to analog, amplify and send to the connected loudspeakers. Typically you have a center channel speaker for movie dialog right up front with left and right channel speakers on each side of the center channel speaker. Two more "surround speakers" are placed in back of the listener on the left and right. These speakers are used with the others to produce the sounds of realism just like a movie theater placing the listener right in the middle of the action. The sixth speaker is for low-frequency or bass sounds like explosions. That completes the 5.1 or six speakers. The .1 is the bass speaker sometimes called a sub-woofer. Some A/V receivers have 6.1 systems which add a third "surround speaker" in the back and 7.1 systems add another back speaker.

How to hookup Surround Sound for Netflix, Hulu

Surround Sound for TV Streaming

Speaker setup surround sound

2-channel stereo - 2 speakers 5.1 Surround sound
6 speakers

Setting up the DVD player for surround sound

Most DVD players will give you an on-screen menu option for setting up your audio. Every player is a little different. Basically what you need to do for surround sound is select the audio option in the on-screen menu which tells the player to output BITSTREAM. This is the RAW audio data, undecoded. Digital audio removes many variables from the recording and playback process by converting audio into a string of numbers.
This will be passed to the A/V receiver over the digital audio cable for processing and conversion to analog, amplified and sent to loudspeakers.

Loudspeakers are connected to digital audio devices, but they are analog transducers.
Speakers convert analog audio signals (electrical energy) into sound waves, mechanical wave energy, to move air so your ears get the sound.
Digital audio must be turned into analog audio in order to drive a speaker.

Audio is stored digitally for certain advantages but in the end must be converted back to analog in order to hear it.
A DAC or digital to analog converter is present in devices which process audio from a stored state (digital) to a state of amplified sound waves.

On-screen DVD player's menu for setting audio options.

High Definition DVD

With the arrival of High Definition DVD Players (Blu-Ray) there are additional audio considerations. The HD video revolution has brought with it the potential for several new high-resolution audio formats including high bit-rate Dolby Digital Plus or lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. The top-end audio streams are high data content, beyond the bandwidth of optical or coaxial SPDIF connections. You need to use HDMI version 1.3 both in the DVD player and the A/V receiver in order to have the capability to transfer and decode. Otherwise you'll be limited to conventional audio streams or PCM using 6 discrete RCA cable connections.

Internet Media Streaming:

Delivery of movies and TV content over the internet is becoming more popular. Netflix and Amazon are two popular content providers. DVD players may become obsolete in the years to come as physical media gives way to internet media.

Surround sound from internet content delivery: Surround sound is available from Netflix streaming. Dolby Digital Plus is the format Netflix offers. You must have a device capable of decoding the DD-Plus audio stream. There are a number of devices which can handle both 1080p video and Dolby Digital Plus audio. The ROKU 3 is one such device. You must also have an Audio/Video Receiver with Dolby Digital Plus capability and HDMI cable connection to get surround sound from Netflix internet movies.

DVD player HDMI out to soundbar for audio and on to TV for video.

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