Boosting TV audio with a soundbar can be a game changer for your home entertainment set up. But with a wide choice of different cables and connectors, it can be difficult to know which one to use to get the best out of your kit.
There are two approaches to connecting your soundbar to your TV:
Use your soundbar as a hub and pass a number of devices through it, meaning you'll only need to run one cable to your TV.
Set your soundbar up as a speaker and connect all of your other devices to the TV, then connect the TV to the soundbar.
These options depend on the soundbar itself and whether your TV is 'ARC' compatible. We'll start with the option that gives the best audio quality.
Why use HDMI?
Because they're able to carry large amounts of uncompressed digital audio data. An HDMI cable can cope with any sound system from 5.1 to 7.1 surround sound, and even higher.
They're also able to process newer cinematic experiences like DTS: X, and Dolby Atmos – but you'll need to make sure you're connecting it to the correct port.
Most HDMI ports on TVs are input-only, meaning they aren't able to send anything from the TV, they can only receive data from whatever they're connected to.
How do I connect my soundbar to my TV using HDMI?
If you want to connect your soundbar using HDMI, your TV will need to support 'HDMI-ARC' – it stands for 'Audio Return Channel' and means the audio can travel in both directions along the cable.
If your TV supports ARC connections, it means you can connect all your kit (set-top boxes, games consoles, etc.) to your soundbar, then just use a single HDMI cable to connect your soundbar to your TV.
When you connect from the HDMI-ARC on your TV, you'll need to make sure you use either the HDMI-ARC or the HDMI Out on the soundbar – you should only use the HDMI In for connecting other kit to the soundbar like Blu-ray players, or games consoles.
It's worth noting that not all soundbars will come with an HDMI connector, you'll generally only find HDMI on mid to high-end kit. But if yours doesn't have one don't worry, the next section explains how to get the digital audio experience if HDMI isn't an option.
2. Digital optical or digital coaxial
If your soundbar doesn't have an HDMI connector, the next best option is to use a digital optical or digital coaxial cable – capable of transferring digital audio up to 5.1 surround sound.
What’s the difference between digital optical and digital coaxial?
The optical cable has a square connector, and the coaxial cable has a circular connector. Optical cables are a little different in that they convert the electrical signal to optical light to send it down the cable, then convert it back to an electrical signal at the other end.
Some people prefer this over the coaxial cable because the theory is that you'll get less electrical interference. But in reality, it's almost impossible to tell the difference – they're both capable of sending a high-quality digital signal.
Before you go out to buy cables, it's worth checking the back of your TV, most TVs have an optical connector, but not all TVs support digital coaxial.
3. 3.5mm line out or RCA
Both of these audio cables carry analogue audio rather than digital so they aren't capable of delivering a full digital surround sound experience, but if none of the above options are available, it's still a viable way of connecting your kit.
How do I connect my soundbar to my TV using 3.5mm line out?
With the 3.5mm line out connector, you just need to make sure you use the one labelled 'line out' on your TV, and not the headphone jack – because they look the same. If you plug your soundbar into the TV headphone socket, it's probably going to sound awful, so it's best to check that your TV has a line-out port first.
Once you've plugged the cable into the line-out port, just plug the other end into the soundbar, and you're done.
How do I connect my soundbar to my TV using RCA?
Most people will recognize the stereo RCA output/input sockets – they're the circular red and white connectors. The only thing to remember here is to plug the red connector into the red output socket and the white one into the white output socket on your TV, then connect the other end to the soundbar. If your TV doesn't have a stereo RCA output and you use a set-top box, DVD, or Blu-Ray player, you can plug your soundbar into one of these devices instead – just remember, the sound will only play from the device it's connected to.
4. Headphone jack
If none of the above connection options are available, you can connect your Soundbar to your TV using the headphone jack but you'll need to adjust the TV’s volume settings first – otherwise, it’s probably going to sound awful!
How do I connect my soundbar to my TV using headphone jack?
Some TVs, like JVC, have an option in the settings, to change the function of the headphone jack to a 'line-out' connection, meaning you don't need to adjust the sound settings.
If your TV doesn't have this option, you'll need to adjust your volume, bass and treble settings until you're happy with the sound – but remember, anything plugged into the headphone jack has its volume reduced for safety reasons so you'll need to turn up the TV volume a lot higher than you normally would, and don’t forget to turn it back down before you unplug the Soundbar.