Even the technologically savvy with the right gear run into walls, as expressed in this reader email:
"I have a Harmon Kardon receiver that I purchased in the early 1980s and a 47-inch LG digital TV that I purchased a few months ago. The only audio out for the TV is an optical digital out. The only audio in for the receiver is RCA.
"So I bought a 6-foot digital audio fiberoptic cable and a RadioShack digital-to-analog audio converter/adapter. I've plugged in the converter/adapter. I've inserted the digital audio fiber optic cable into the optical digital out on the TV and have inserted the other end into the "opt in" port on the adapter. I've put the switch on the adapter to "opt" (the only other choice is coax) position. I've inserted the red and white ends of an RCA cable into the red and white inputs labeled line out on the adapter. I have inserted the other ends of the RCA cable into the aux audio in RCA inputs on my receiver. I've turned off the internal speakers on the TV.
"When I turn on the amp and then the TV, I get no sound coming through the stereo speakers. Nada. When I turn the speakers back on for the TV, I only hear sound through the TV speakers and nothing through the stereo.
"Can you help me? Why might this set-up not be working?"
There are a few reasons why this might not work, even though it should. The connectors on digital optical cables (and the cables themselves) are notoriously fragile. The connectors don't always properly insert. They must firmly nestle in the jack perfectly to work.
Do not sharply bend the cable; you don't want more than a gentle curve.
Try unplugging the optical cable and replugging it on both ends. Also, be sure you're taking the optical audio out from the TV. (It's easy to confuse the output and input if the TV has an optical input.)
Go through the TV's menus and be sure that the optical output is turned on. On some TVs you must specify the audio outputs. Also, you might need to independently adjust the volume of the optical output.
While I don't want to disparage Radio Shack, which sells all kinds of useful gizmos, sometimes its low-end products, such as the digital-to-analog audio adapter you purchased, might not work very well. It's even possible that the specific one you purchased is defective. It also might not match the input level needed for the "aux" in on your Harman Kardon. Try plugging the RCA plugs into the tape input of your Harman Kardon (assuming they are available) and see (or hear) what happens.
If this fails, take the converter and the optical cable back to Radio Shack and ask them to test both to see that they work, or exchange them for you. If the converter and cable work fine in the store, then I'm stumped.
If you purchased the LG TV locally, visit the dealer and ask for the dealer's recommendations for this project. The salespeople at shops such as Good Vibes and Picture Perfect Sound are far more knowledgeable than the staff at Radio Shack.
Your question serves as a perfect example of current technology. Even relatively simple projects turn into frustrating undertakings.
Now that summer toasts our homes in multiple ways, observe some simple procedures to keep your electronics from becoming toast.
Plug all electronics, which means anything with a microprocessor (including current washing machines, dishwashers and refrigerators), into a good surge protector. TVs, computers, and their ilk easily suffer heatstroke.
Keep your electronics cool. That doesn't necessarily mean cranking the air conditioning to arctic. Just make sure there's plenty of air circulation around and through your electronics. The cooler they operate, the longer they'll last.
Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at email@example.com.