Setting up iTunes and DVD Player for digital surround sound
Learn how to set up a Mac for surround sound playback using DVD Player or iTunes.
To play movies that contain digital surround sound-encoded audio on your Mac, use DVD Player or iTunes. You will need the following to connect your Mac to a home theater receiver:
- A TOSLINK (optical digital audio) cable connected to a Mac that has an optical digital audio port.
- A TOSLINK (optical digital audio) cable with mini-TOSLINK connector or mini-TOSLINK adapter to connect to a 3.5 mm optical digital audio jack (for use with portable Macs)
- An HDMI cable (for use Mac Mini models that use HDMI)
Setting up iTunes to play content in surround sound
Movies purchased or rented from the iTunes Store frequently have both stereo audio and digital surround sound tracks. By default, your Mac will playback the stereo audio tracks. If you want to experience the digital surround sound, you will need to connect your Mac to a home theater receiver via a TOSLINK (optical digital audio) cable.
In iTunes, click the "speech bubble" icon to view different audio choices, such as "English (Surround)". If the surround sound choice is dimmed, or if the icon does not appear, make sure you are using the appropriate hardware and content that is encoded with digital surround sound.
Setting up DVD Player for surround sound output
You can easily set the output on your Mac for your surround sound hardware using the DVD Player application. Open DVD Player (from the Applications folder, or by inserting a movie disc), then choose the Preferences from the DVD Player menu. Click the "Disc Setup" icon and change the sound output to your surround sound speakers:
Make sure you have only one playback application trying to use digital surround sound (open) at the same time.
Setting the sound device output in System Preferences
Make sure your Mac's audio output is set to use a digital connection in the Output pane of Sound preferences, especially if setting the output didn't work using DVD Player, and/or you frequently change your audio output settings. To access the settings:
- From the Apple () menu, choose System Preferences.
- From the View menu, choose Sound.
- Click the Output pane.
For example, if you only hear audio being played via the internal speakers, you will need to change your output setting to the surround sound device. If you're using iTunes to play Dolby Digital content, it may output audio through the surround sound speakers automatically.
You can also adjust the balance control and overall volume level in the Output pane of the Sound system preferences.
If you notice that some speakers play most of the surround sound audio, the balance control may need to be adjusted to the center position. The LFE (or subwoofer) may not always play audio when the other speakers do; this is expected behavior since that speaker is only designed to play low frequency sounds that may not always be present.
If you encounter particular media that you believe to be surround sound-encoded, but that is not playing in surround sound, consider connecting a surround sound-compliant AV receiver between the Mac and the speaker hardware (using the appropriate digital connector) to rule out decoding issues.
Digital surround sound is the result of multichannel digital audio and data compression technology, such as Dolby Digital, which enables the use of more than one channel of sound output over a single connection. Not all music and movie content is encoded with surround sound when it's produced. Examples of content that's frequently encoded with surround sound are DVDs and movies purchased or rented from iTunes. When music and movies are not encoded with surround sound, their sound will play as conventional two-channel stereo instead.
The common practice of digital surround sound playback is to utilize a 5.1-channel home theater receiver to decode the multi-channel audio, reproducing the surround sound experience. There are many versions of digital surround sound, however most are based on a five-channel (or speaker) surround sound setup. This consists of a left and right front speaker, a left and right surround (rear) speaker, and an LFE (or subwoofer) speaker.
Using surround sound with Apple professional applications
To learn more about using surround sound with Apple's professional audio applications, such as Logic Pro and Soundtrack Pro, see this article.
Using TOSLINK cables
A TOSLINK (optical digital audio) cable is used to make a digital audio connection between your Mac and your surround sound (or third-party audio hardware devices). The cables use an orientation that only allows them to be correctly inserted in one direction into your Mac or another sound device. A small, protective cover is used on many Mac models that have Toslink ports to keep dust out. Simply pushing the cable slowly into the port will automatically open the protective covering and allow the cable to be properly seated.
Tip: You may need to remove a plastic protective covering from the end of your cable before using it. In some cases, the cable may not appear to properly insert into the optical digital audio port (despite being inserted using the correct orientation) until the small plastic protective shielding is removed from the end of the cable. It's recommended that you utilize the protective covering if the cable is not actively connected to prevent dust (or accidental damage) to the end of the cable.