Secrets Q & A

Sound Bars and 3D Blu-ray player and TV

Question
I have a Sony 3D Blu-ray player and LG 3D TV, but my Sony sound bar is not capable of 3D, so my sound bar is useless right now, will a splitter let me use my sound bar again?

- John L.
Keeseville, NY

Answer:
This question is a bit difficult to answer without knowing the specific models of your set-up, but I'll talk through a few ideas on how I'd look to solve this assuming I had a HDMI capable sound bar that was unable to pass a 3D signal.

First, I'd take a look at the LG TV. Many HDMI equipped sets have analog and digital audio outputs - this may be in the form of a Toslink digital optical connection (I'm only aware of optical, but that doesn't mean a coax digital output TV doesn't exist), and also a pair of analog stereo outputs (RCA jacks). What these outputs are used for is passing HDMI delivered audio back out of the TV into some higher quality device - including a sound bar. In your case, you could run the 3D Blu-ray player straight to your TV, then an optical cable back to your sound bar. In order for this scenario to work, your sound bar will need an optical digital input; given your unit has HDMI, I'm going to make an assumption that it has one. A few caveats to this solution. First, optical (S/PDIF) connections lack the capacity to carry high resolution tracks, so what you'll be passing back to the sound bar will be limited to garden variety Dolby Digital or DTS (vs their lossless cousins TrueHD and Master Audio respectively). Also, the audio from the outputs is often limited to two channels. I'll also mention: I've always struggled to get a digital audio output to work properly. Again, your success will depend on your TV, its age, firmware, HDMI settings etc.

The second approach you proposed could work. You can check out basic HDMI splitters from trustworthy sources like Monoprice. I see a few possible issues here. First and foremost: what does your sound bar do with a 3D signal? Does it work at all? Any splitter will send both audio and video, so if a 3D signal blocks the sound bar, a splitter will leave you in the same spot you are now. Additional issues I see: you'll be adding complexity to the system in the form of a powered device. That is another potential point of failure. HDMI has always been a source of weakness in a system, and adding extra steps can create more spots for issues. I also have concerns about how the system will handle synchronization of the audio and video given the splitter. In a single HDMI chain, there are back and forth communications that assure that the audio and video are in sync; I'm not an HDMI engineer and can only speculate how this type of coordination might happen in a system where the audio and video are being "artificially" split. Lastly, I question how the system would handle additional sources. Do you use only Blu-ray or do you have some sort of cable/satellite in your system? If so, how will you split that signal. If you're trying to do this all through one box, now you're talking about some sort of matrix system, which again, adds to complexity and cost.

Assuming you can get digital audio out of your TV, that's probably the direction I'd head. Two other options that would likely be more robust than a splitter would be the addition of either a receiver or Blu-ray player with dual HDMI. A receiver with dual HDMI outputs will be able to handle switching of sources, your sound bar, and video. A basic Blu-ray player with dual outputs would fit the bill if you only have one source. If you were looking to spend a little more money, a player like the Oppo BDP-103 could actually handle switching one additional source for you (like your cable or satellite). Additionally, the Oppo is capable of sending a non-3D stream from one of its HDMI outputs, allowing it to accommodate a device that is incapable of handling a 3D signal. That means that it would be able to power your sound bar regardless of how it handles a 3D image.

If all else fails, just use the stereo analog RCA output jacks on the rear of your TV and connect them to the analog inputs on your sound bar.

Good luck!

Mark Vignola