Can I Avoid Using the Apple TV’s HDMI Output for Audio?

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Q I’m using an older AV receiver in my home theater to connect the optical digital audio outputs from a Fios TV box, OPPO Blu-ray player, and Gen-2 Apple TV. I want to upgrade to the new Apple TV, but it only has an HDMI output and no optical digital audio connection. Here’s my question: Are there any optical-to-HDMI audio converters that will let me keep using the same receiver in my setup? —Lavern Lee

A Yes. Can’t say I’ve tested one, but Amazon sells a bunch of such converters in the $20-30 range, including this. Another option I’d be more confident recommending is this model from Monoprice, a well-known vendor of affordable AV cables and accessories. The Monoprice converter provides a switchable mode that “...allows you to select advanced multichannel audio streams for playback on your home theater audio system.” That basically means you can expect to hear surround sound instead of downconverted two-channel audio when using the converter’s optical digital output.

While one of these boxes could solve your connection issues with the new Apple TV, you won’t be getting the higher-quality Dolby Digital Plus audio experience the new Apple TV is capable of. Dolby Digital Plus requires HDMI. When using an optical or coaxial S/PDIF connection, audio gets downconverted to plain-vanilla Dolby Digital.

One additional method you can consider for connecting your new Apple TV box is to plug it directly into your TV via HDMI and use the set’s optical digital output—provided it has one—to route audio to the receiver. In this case, however, audio will also be limited to regular 5.1-channel DD, or possibly even 2-channel depending on the capabilities of your TV.

mtymous1's picture

As mentioned in the original post, digital optical out is no longer, so you'll have to enlist external help (as is the norm with new Apple hardware) in order to retrofit. As Al Griffin mentions, one method would be to connect the ATV to the TV via HDMI, and then optical from the TV back to the AVR. (Assuming the TV can actually pass through 5.1 channel audio, the 5.1 limitation wouldn't matter since the AVR in this particular example only has optical inputs anyway.)

…but that’s assuming the trigger has actually already been pulled on the ATV4.

Outside of a new remote and an A8 processor that was introduced last year, I think it's a bit of a stretch to call the ATV4 an "upgrade." (See for yourself here: Those who waited for ATV4 *STILL* didn’t get 4K, hi-res audio support, DLNA support, a gigabit port, nor live TV. (Side comment: Four gens in and I still don't get why it's called "Apple TV" if it doesn't actually offer you live TV broadcasts. But anyway...)

So when considering this particular configuration (recall the FiOS STB, Oppo, and earlier ATV), I see more value in replacing the AVR with a new(er) one that's HDMI-capable (especially for the Oppo!), instead of "upgrading" to ATV4.

Besides, once the autonomous, initial surge of must-purchase-new-Apple-product wanes, the price of the ATV4 will only drop.

Happy media enjoyment!

edklaw's picture

Use your OPPO disc player as your HDMI to analog decoder!

sardonyxx's picture

it seems you are bashing Apple products. If not ...WTH are you saying???

mtymous1's picture

With respect to the apple comments, a simplified version would be: don’t waste your money on appletv (as evidenced by the lack of “upgrades”), and use that money towards and HDMI-capable AVR first.

The price of the ATV will drop soon enough.

(My apologies for not responding to your comment sooner - since your post was at the top-level, I didn't receive an email notification.)