Columbia ISA
Audio – Video

How to connect a DVD player - Surround Sound

How Do I Get SURROUND SOUND From My DVD Player?

1) Connect an audio cable from DVD player output to soundbar or audio video receiver (AVR) input.

2) Select the proper input source on the soundbar or AVR

3) Navigate to the setup/settings on-screen menu for the DVD player and select bitstream in the audio output.

The soundbar or AVR must be able to decode the surround sound and have amplifier and speakers. The DVD must have surround sound available on the disc. Surround sound is available on most DVD in the form of Dolby Digital which is the most common surround sound format on DVD and Blu-ray discs. It is also the format used by most streaming and broadcast TV services. Dolby Labs, the creator of the audio format named it AC-3. This is a digital lossy format meaning the audio is compressed so on playback it has to be uncompressed and converted to analog audio by a processor such as a soundbar or Audio Video Receiver.

Any Dolby Digital soundtrack will be decoded by any modern Audio Video Receiver (AVR) that supports this format and just about all of them do. You just have to get the audio from the DVD player to the processor so it can be uncompressed, converted and amplified to drive the loudspeakers.

You can connect the DVD player to the soundbar or AVR using one of the following cable connections:

1) HDMI cable connection
2) Optical cable connection
3) Coaxial RCA cable connection

How do I know if the DVD has surround sound?

If you look carefully at any rear cover of a DVD, there is a section with a description of the audio available. It will read something like the following:

AUDIO Main Feature: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, subtitles French, Spanish

You may also see DTS is available, another surround sound format.

Get started connecting DVD player for surround sound

Look on the back of your DVD player to find which output connections your player has available. Your player may only have a HDMI connection and yellow, white, red connections.

Your DVD player may have HDMI, optical and digital audio RCA coaxial (orange) connections.

Your DVD player may not have HDMI but it should have at least optical or digital audio RCA (orange).

You have 3 ways to connect a DVD player to a soundbar or audio video receiver using cables and a few other ways to connect wirelessly.

1. Use a HDMI cable
2. Use an Optical audio cable
3. Use a RCA digital audio cable

For surround sound, you need to connect the DVD player to a soundbar or audio video receiver capable of decoding the audio and amplifying for loudspeakers.

For a soundbar or AVR you need to make sure it has a HDMI, optical or RCA digital audio input, whichever one you have available on your DVD player.

Which is best?

HDMI is best because it is the most versatile and the most capable. But if all you have is Optical or Coaxial, then use one of those.

HDMI cable to connect DVD player to soundbar or audio video receiver for surround sound

Soundbars have built-in speakers and inputs for HDMI, optical and other input ports to connect devices. Some have wireless capability.

Small Sound Bar for TV with Bluetooth, RCA, USB, Opt, AUX Connection

DVD Player HDMI connection to TV: No surround sound

DVD Player HDMI connection to TV with surround sound

Select the proper input on the soundbar or audio video receiver.
Connect HDMI cable to the TV ARC/eARC HDMI port so audio can go to speakers from TV. (Audio Return Channel)

How to connect DVD to Older TV without HDMI

If you have an older DVD player without HDMI or you have an older TV, connect using component video (green, blue, red) or composite video (yellow). For the sound you can connect to the TV with RCA (white, red) audio cables but this is not surround sound. For surround sound you need to connect the DVD optical out to a soundbar or audio video receiver optical input using a optical audio cable.

Optical audio cable to connect the DVD optical OUT to the optical IN on the soundbar or AVR.

Optical audio cables do not have the capacity to carry the highest audio formats such as Dolby TrueHD but can carry surround sound in the form of Dolby Digital 5.1

Optical audio cables use light instead of electrical over copper wires to send signals. Be careful not to bend these cables too far because the cable has a glass or plastic carrier inside.

Optical audio cable for surround sound

RCA coaxial audio cable

RCA coaxial audio cable for surround sound

You will need to select on the DVD player and the soundbar or AVR, which sound you want and which input you want. For example, to hear sound from the AVR or soundbar, you need to select the input for the optical connection. Also select on the DVD player what sound you want to hear, PCM stereo or the selection for surround (Dolby Digital). Each device is different in the way you select so read owner manual or look online.

DVD player connections for enhanced audio. The white and red RCA cable connections are 2-channel stereo, not surround sound, however this can still give you a better sound experience than TV speakers if you use a stereo amplifier with loudspeakers.

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 DVD player for processing by other devices such as a soundbar or audio/video receiver in order to decode and attain surround sound.

You can connect a digital audio cable from the DVD player to an audio/video receiver (AVR) or soundbar. 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 output jacks.

You only need to use one or the other. If your DVD player only has a RCA coaxial output and your soundbar or AVR only has an optical input, you can get an adapter with RCA coaxial input and an optical output so that you can connect.

Newer DVD players have HDMI outputs. HDMI can also be used for surround sound connection to soundbar or audio/video receiver. HDMI is the best connection. 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 soundbar or 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 for surround sound.

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."

Newer 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 soundbar or 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.

Sony STRDH590 5.2 Channel Surround Sound Home Theater Receiver: 4K HDR AV Receiver with Bluetooth

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 soundbar or 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. 

A 5.1 Surround sound setup. Using at least a 5.1 AVR with six speakers, Front Left, Front Right, Center, Surround Left, Surround Right, Subwoofer.

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)

Some AVRs will offer two optical and coaxial digital audio inputs


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

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 AVR 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.

PCM (pulse code modulation) is the “raw” signal generated by the Analog to Digital converter. This means that the digital signal is not modified. As PCM, your signal is pure and usually in the highest quality. It takes up a lot of space but sounds excellent. PCM is an algorithm for representing an analog wave, digitally, and has been around since the beginning of the 1900s. PCM, as on the audio CD, transmits up to two channels (stereo) of sound. LPCM can transmit up to eight channels.

Compressed audio formats:

Audio formats such as Dolby Digital or DTS, compress the signal so it is encoded. The encoding is done with some loss of quality. It takes up less space but is intended to sound as good as possible without any listener hearing any difference from the uncompressed audio.

There are also lossless compression surround sound methods such as DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD. These take up a lot of space which is why they are usually found on Blu-ray discs. These audio formats are transmitted in so-called bitstreams. Bitstream is a sequence of digital data consisting of a string of bits read as binary, 0 or 1.

A DVD player can output a bitstream of audio data which can be interpreted by a receiver and processed for analog speakers.

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 audio 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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