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A soundbar can give your TV a serious upgrade in terms of audio fidelity and power: music gets more immersive, dialog becomes more distinct, and bass sounds really kick when you’ve got a soundbar set up as a replacement for the default speakers built into your television. Luckily, it’s not hard to learn how to connect a soundbar to a TV.
You don’t need to put aside half a day to get your new piece of equipment set up. Most soundbars are relatively straightforward to install, and most TVs will automatically recognize when you’ve attached a new audio device.
The soundbar featured in the photographs accompanying this article is the Sonos Beam (Gen. 2), but no matter which soundbar you’ve bought to upgrade your home theater setup (and whichever TV you’re connecting it to), you should find much of the setup process is similar.
Know what all the connection ports do
Before you start plugging in cables, get familiar with the ports on the back of your soundbar. If you’re not sure what something is, check the included instruction manual, and if you don’t have a hard copy you can usually download a digital one from the manufacturer’s website.
The familiar HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) port is the one you’re most likely to see. HDMI cables transmit top-quality audio and video together, though in the case of a soundbar it’s obviously just audio. You might also see references to HDMI ARC (audio return channel), which introduced two-way audio in 2009, and HDMI eARC (enhanced audio return channel), the 2017 update that added higher bitrates, better surround sound, and support for more audio codecs.
It doesn’t matter whether your soundbar has HDMI, HDMI ARC, or HDMI eARC, you’re still going to connect that port to your TV. But it’s worth noting that if you have basic HDMI without those additional acronyms, you might not have access to the same features and sound quality carried by the newer connections. So if you have an older soundbar without eARC support, you might want to think about an upgrade.
You may also see an optical digital audio port, either on its own or alongside an HDMI connection. This will get you high-quality audio, but not quite as good as what you’d get with HDMI eARC, and this type of port has gradually been phased out on newer models as the eARC standard has taken over.
On the oldest, smallest, and cheapest soundbars, you might also see a 3.5mm analog audio cable port. You can use this to connect your soundbar to your TV, but you won’t get the best audio quality. Additionally, you should see a port for the soundbar’s power cable. In the case of the second-generation Sonos Beam, there’s also an Ethernet port for a more direct (and stable) connection to the internet, if it’s needed.
Connect your soundbar to your TV
The usual rule of electronics applies here: Switch off everything you’re working with while you get it all connected. Power up your soundbar first, and then connect the soundbar to your TV. As mentioned above, this will usually be via an HDMI cable, though you might also need to use one of the alternative ports.
Unfortunately, picking HDMI cables isn’t as easy as it should be. While just about any cable will support HDMI ARC, you need a cable labeled “HDMI with Ethernet,” “high-speed HDMI cable with Ethernet,” or the latest (and best) “ultra high-speed HDMI cable,” to take advantage of HDMI eARC (which features the best resolutions and bitrate). Bear this in mind while shopping: HDMI cables should say on their packaging or online listing what standards they support. If there’s one included with your soundbar, even better.
Older HDMI cables will work with an HDMI eARC soundbar, but you won’t get all the best features. It’s the same with TVs, where HDMI eARC has been available on sets manufactured in the last few years: You’ll still get sound out of an older television with a non-eARC HDMI port, but you won’t be able to get the top audio quality that eARC supports.
If your TV has an HDMI eARC port, that’s the one to go for when it comes to making the connection, otherwise, any spare HDMI port will do. Once you’ve connected the soundbar to the TV, ensure the cables are firmly in place. If you’re using optical digital audio or analog audio, look for the corresponding port on your TV, which should be marked accordingly—your TV’s instruction manual can help.
Finally, get your TV and soundbar positioned the way you want (as well as your subwoofer, if one is part of the equation), then power up the television first, followed by the soundbar. If all goes well, the two devices should successfully connect to each other and work pretty much straight away.
Finish the soundbar setup
Connecting a soundbar to a TV isn’t a particularly tricky task, and you’ll usually find that your equipment works immediately—particularly if you have newer hardware that supports the latest standards. Try putting on some sports or a movie to hear the difference in the audio quality.
You should also take some time to play around with the audio settings on your TV. We can’t give you instructions for every single model, but the audio settings menu shouldn’t be too hard to find with your TV remote. In some cases, you might have to specifically choose the soundbar as the audio output to force sound to exit your connected speaker instead of the TV’s defaults. You might also find you can adjust the audio output quality and enable extra features (such as Dolby Atmos or DTS:X).
One acronym to look for while you browse these settings is CEC (consumer electronics control) or HDMI-CEC. Essentially, these enable you to control your soundbar’s volume and on-off state using your TV remote (and via the HDMI cable). Most of the time, you’ll want to have this enabled, and it will likely be enabled by default on the majority of sets anyway.
Your soundbar may have a few settings to play around with too, though—again—we can’t give you a comprehensive guide to all of the soundbars out there. The Sonos Beam (Gen. 2) has touch controls on the unit itself for volume control, as well as an accompanying mobile app that enables you to beam audio to it straight from the apps on your phone, for example.
All that’s left is to enjoy the benefits and the improved audio quality of your new soundbar. If everything isn’t working as it should, try swapping to a different HDMI port on your TV, switching out the HDMI cable for a different one (a brand-new one if possible), and diving into the audio settings on your television set.