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Apple TV drops optical audio-out: How to pump up the volume again

Glenn Fleishman | Sept. 14, 2015
The new Apple TV lacks the digital/analog audio output port of the previous models. But you have options!

Use an HDMI-switching receiver or an HDTV with audio output. If you purchased a receiver in the last several years, it’s likely it includes HDMI switching—and if you didn’t originally set it up that way, you may have forgotten it’s even a feature. Yamaha, for instance, makes several in the $200 to $400 range that can handle surround sound and pass-through up to 4K video over HDMI. (Some receivers are AirPlay targets, which lets you send audio directly without an Apple TV hookup, too.)

If you didn’t already have your Apple TV wired into your receiver, but used it with an HDTV set, you can first connect the Apple TV to the receiver, and then pass the HDMI output to your television. This gives you the full benefit of Apple TV’s sound apps, and better audio for your video apps and games, too.

You can also do the reverse, as many HDTV sets have both old-style and more modern Toslink optical-digital outputs. You can connect the Apple TV to the television with HDMI, and then route the audio from the TV back out into your receiver or powered speakers, depending on their inputs.

Use an HDMI audio extractor. Fair warning: I haven’t tested these yet, but they seem a viable option if you don’t have a receiver or HDTV combination that works. An HDMI extractor passes the HDMI signal through to another port, which you connect to an HDTV, but decodes the digital audio portion, and can offer multiple kinds of audio output. A sub-$40 device from Panlong, for instance, will output analog over standard RCA jacks, and has a digital output via Toslink. (SPDIF is the technical name for the audio format that can run over a Toslink cable and other cables types.)

The HDMI passthrough could have problems, though, because this is a little bit of a funky way to work with HDMI, especially the HDCP encryption standard that is used for protected video output. While this approach should work and has generally positive reviews, make sure you know the return policy for whatever store from which you purchase it.

Use Airfoil Speakers on a computer or in iOS device. Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil Speakers software lets you turn a Mac into an audio destination for AirPlay. If you’re just trying to replace that function of an Apple TV, consider whether you already have a Mac in use or that could serve this purpose. It doesn’t even have to be a Mac—Airfoil Speakers for Windows is also available. The software is free. (The company’s paid Airfoil software for Mac and Windows can transmit audio from any app or the system to send to AirPlay-compatible devices.)


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