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Video Streaming Services and Surround Sound

  • 7 min read

Surround sound is a big part of TV and movie watching at home. DVD and Blu-ray/Ultra HD Blu-ray discs are the best sources of surround sound, and, to a lesser extent cable and satellite TV. However, accessing surround sound from streaming services is not as easy as you might think.

The four elements needed to stream surround sound are:

  1. Is the Program or Movie Surround Sound Encoded?
  2. Streaming Service App Surround Sound Support
  3. Streaming Device Surround Sound Support
  4. Smart TV, Soundbar, Home Theater System Surround Sound Support

Once all of the above are accounted for, you have several setup options for surround sound: 

Is the Program or Movie Surround Sound Encoded? 

Although almost all movies made since the late 1970s and many TV shows made since the 1990s include surround sound, older movies and TV shows may only have a stereo or even mono soundtrack. This means even if the streaming service, streaming device, or smart TV is surround sound compatible, if it isn't included in the soundtrack of the program or movie you’re watching, you won't get it.

To find out if a specific title is surround sound encoded, browse the streaming app, and select a title. Along with a plot summary and cast listing, there is usually additional information including available sound formats. 

Streaming Service App Surround Sound Support

If the TV show or movie is surround sound encoded, the streaming service you are watching it on has to support surround sound playback.

The following table illustrates the audio formats offered by several popular streaming services for compatible shows and movies asof the publication date of this article. Should changes be made, this table will be updated.

Streaming Service

2.0 Stereo PCM

Dolby Digital 5.1 

Dolby Digital Plus

Dolby Atmos

Netflix

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes - Premium Plan Only

Amazon Prime

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Disney+ 

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Vudu

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Apple TV+

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Hulu

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

HBO Max

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

CBS All Access

Yes

Yes

No

No

Peacock

Yes

Yes

No

No

Google Play Movies

Yes

Yes

No

No

AT&T TV Now

Yes

Yes 

No

No

YouTube TV

Yes

Yes

No

No

Sling TV

Yes

Yes

No

No

Tubi TV

Yes

No

No

No

Pluto TV

Yes

No

No

No

Crackle

Yes

No

No

No

The Roku Channel

Yes

No

No

No

Streaming Device Surround Sound Support

To get surround sound from an app, it has to travel through your smart TV or streaming device before it gets to your sound system.

Most streaming devices don't decode surround sound but pass encoded surround sound signals (bitstream) via HDMI to a TV, soundbar, home theater receiver, or another type of external audio system which does the decoding. Likewise, most smart TVs with built-in apps can pass encoded surround sound signals through to an external audio system (more on this later). Surround sound format support may be updated at the manufacturer’s discretion.

Roku 

  • Roku Express, Express+, Roku Premiere, Streaming Stick Plus, Roku Ultra LT: Digital Stereo, DTS Digital Surround™, pass-through of Dolby-encoded audio over HDMI
  • Roku Ultra: Digital stereo, DTS Digital Surround™ pass through, Dolby Atmos® decode via HDMI. 
  • Roku Smart Soundbar: Stereo, Dolby Audio
  • Roku TV: Digital Stereo, Dolby Digital Surround pass-through (may vary by TV brand/model).

Amazon Fire TV

  • Fire Edition TV (Toshiba variant): Dolby Digital and DTS Input and Pass-through.
  • Fire TV Cube (2nd Generation): Dolby Digital and Dolby Atmos pass-through.
  • Fire TV Stick (3rd Generation): Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby Atmos Pass-through.
  • Fire TV (Third Generation): Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby Atmos Pass-through.
  • Fire TV Soundbar (Nebula D3000 Variant): Accepts Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby Atmos signals, but decodes and processes down to 2.1 channels for playback. 

Chromecast:Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Plus.

Chromecast with Google TV: DTS, Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital+, Dolby Atmos

Android TV (aka Google TV): Plug-in Android media streamers (Xiaomi Mi Box S, TIVO Stream 4K, Nvidia Shield TV) support surround sound (see specific device specifications for formats). TVs (Sony, Hisense, Philips, Sharp, and Skyworth) with Android TV built-in don't play back in surround sound on the set but can pass encoded surround sound signals via HDMI-ARC (5.1) and eARC (5.1 and Dolby Atmos) to a compatible audio system. 

Apple TV

  • Standard Apple TV: Dolby Digital 5.1 pass-through. 
  • Apple TV 4K with tvOS 12 or Higher: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby Atmos pass-through. 

Smart TVs: With very few exceptions, Smart TVs don't have built-in surround sound systems. However, they pass-through surround sound signals depending on the audio output connection and external audio system used to decode and play back the signals (more on this in the connect sections later in this article).

Blu-ray Disc Players: Blu-ray disc players are compatible with a wide variety of surround sound formats from not only DVDs and Blu-ray discs, but from any built-in streaming services. Compatibility with specific surround sound formats from apps may vary by brand/model. 

Game Consoles: Depending on what generation or model Sony Playstation (3/4/5) or Xbox (One, S, X) provide surround sound for compatible streaming apps. Playstation and Xbox also provide surround sound processing playback enhancements. Check your console's specs for more detailed information.

PC/Laptop: Compatible sound card that supports surround sound or HDMI output. 

Smart TV, Soundbar, Home Theater System Surround Sound Support

To experience surround sound, you need a compatible audio system. 

You have several connection and setup options that are an improvement over listening to the speakers built into a TV:

  • 5.1 channel soundbar with surround speakers.

Note: Although a select number of high-end TVs have built-in surround systems, a soundbar or external audio system is a better option. 

Connect a Smart TV to an Audio system

If a TV show or movie is encoded with surround sound, and the app supports surround sound on a specific brand/model of a smart TV, depending on what type of connection is used between the TV and soundbar or audio system will determine what audio formats you can listen to. Here are the TV audio output connections that are usually provided.

  • Analog Stereo: An Analog audio output connection can only support up to two-channel stereo audio. 
  • Digital Optical: A Digital optical output connection can pass two-channel stereo and 5.1 channel surround sound. 
  • HDMI-ARC/HDMI-eARC: ARC can be used to pass two-channel stereo and up to 5.1 channel surround sound. eARC extends surround audio output to Dolby Digital Plus (5.1 or 7.1) and Dolby Atmos. 

TV < ARC/eARC > Enclave Audio CineHome Wireless Home Theater System

If using an Enclave CineHome II or Pro wireless home theater system, it's best to connect your TV to the system using the HDMI-ARC or eARC option. Also, if you have a Roku TV™, the Roku TV Ready™ feature adds additional flexibility when used with an Enclave CineHome II or CineHome Pro. 

Connect a Media Streamer to Audio System Connection

If you are using a plug-in media streamer with a non-smart TV, these are connection options to consider.

Media Streamer > Home Theater Receiver w/Wired Speakers and Video Pass-Through > TV

If you have a plug-in media streamer and an HDMI-equipped home theater receiver with a wired speaker system, you can opt to connect the media streamer to the home theater receiver. The receiver will "extract" any surround sound signals coming from an app you are accessing on the media streamer and pass-through the video to the TV via the receiver's HDMI output. This is a good solution if all your streaming apps are coming through the media streamer and not the TV.

Media Streamer > TV < ARC/eARC > Enclave Audio CineHome Wireless Home Theater System

If you are using an Enclave Audio CineHome II or CineHome Pro Wireless Home Theater System you need to connect an external media streamer to your TV and let the TV pass the surround sound audio to the Enclave System using the HDMI-ARC or eARC connection option described previously. The Enclave doesn’t have a separate HDMI input connection that can extract audio from the media streamer and pass the video signal through to the TV. This is also a good option if you are using a Smart TV in combination with an external media streamer – and the wireless speakers make setup really easy and uncluttered. 

Connect a PC/Laptop to a Smart TV and Audio System

If you have a PC/Laptop with an HDMI output you can connect it to a smart TV and use its audio outputs to send audio to an external audio system or connect it to an HDMI input on a home theater receiver.

Surround Sound Issues with Screen Mirroring and AirPlay 

Wireless Screen Mirroring does not support surround sound, only two-channel stereo audio.

If you are using Apple AirPlay or AirPlay 2 to stream from an iOS device to an Apple TV or other compatible AirPlay device (Airplay 2 enabled TV), surround sound is not supported, you will only hear two-channel stereo audio.

Instead of screen mirroring or Apple AirPlay, it’s best to use the native app on your Smart TV (or streaming device connected to your TV) if the content and app support surround sound. 

Troubleshooting and Other Tips

If you think you're not getting the audio experience you should from your video streaming experience, make sure you have downloaded and installed the latest available updates for your streaming apps and devices.

Most smart TVs, streaming sticks, other compatible devices, and apps usually update automatically, but you should still check by going to your devices setup menu and initiating an update. When clicking on an app, if it needs updating, it will sometimes update before it launches. However, you may also be able to go into your TV or device's app store, select the app, and see if it states if there is an update available.

Streaming services periodically make changes to their content offerings, navigation, and operating features, including video and audio quality.

If a streaming service supports surround sound, it doesn't mean that the version of its app installed on a specific device supports surround sound. For example, Hulu supports surround sound, but the app versions provided for Roku, Chromecast, or Apple TV don't (watch for updates). 


What you end up hearing is also dependent on the capabilities of the TV or connected audio system. For example, most TVs and soundbars will only reproduce 2-channel stereo audio, but some are compatible with 5.1. Select soundbars and most home theater receivers also provide audio processing options, such as Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS Neo:6, or other DSP (Digital Sound Processing) listening modes that can expand a 2.0 channel audio source to 5.1 channels or enhance the 5.1 channel listening experience further.

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