Rich Warren: Pricey little widget might fix audio issue that won't go away

Even Sherlock Holmes might stumble solving the case of the mysterious digital TV optical output. Fortunately no one died, and no fortunes vanished.

In this ephemeral high-tech world, two "old-fashioned" shops weighed in on the reader who could not reproduce sound from her nearly new LG TV on her decades old Harman/Kardon stereo system. Even with all the right adapters she was greeted by the sounds of silence. When I write "old-fashioned" shops, that means established outposts that still understand the way things work in a big box world.

Jack Neupauer at Radio Doctors in Champaign emailed: "It is a known fact that the optical out may not work on some TVs depending on the input. This output may be disabled when using an HDMI input. This output most always works when using the off-the-air signal.

"This output passes 5.1 sound only when using off-the-air, otherwise stereo only on most TV's. I believe this behavior is because these types of sets use two small speakers and only stereo processing is provided to them. People may have better luck when using the source's audio output."

David Harris of Harris TV and Appliance in Farmer City emailed: "The problem is that the LG output is Dolby Digital. The only device I know of to make the conversion is the Gefen model GTV-DD-2-AA, a little palm size widget. It's Pricey.

"We have encountered very few LG TVs that allowed you to switch the audio output via menu from Dolby Digital to (two-channel) PCM. These products seem to be for the commercial market. I repeat, they're rare in the lineup."

That Pricey little Geffen GTV-DD-2-AA costs about $100 on Amazon.com.

It would have cost LG very little, if anything, to add the feature of allowing stereo output from the optical output jack.

However, an engineer sitting in a Korean (or Japanese or Chinese) cubicle designing a TV probably would not think about an American wishing to connect that TV to legacy audio equipment. The industry assumes you will buy a multichannel home theater system.

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While on the subject of obsolescence, when the government and the electronics industry forced us to convert to digital TV a few years back it solved many problems while causing a lot of irritation and some economic hardship. Our previous TV system enjoyed almost a 55-year run, and one assumed this new system would serve our needs for at least 25-30 years. Now the industry charges full speed ahead with the new 4K UHD (Ultra-High Definition) TV format.

This ultimately could destroy free, over-the-air broadcast television. The government will not be so generous in giving away broadcast spectrum for a new system that requires more bandwidth (wider channels) than the current system.

I wrote not so long ago that 4K UHD content would be a long time coming. Comcast already proved me wrong. At the 2013 NCTA Cable Show, June 10-12 in Washington, D.C., Comcast demonstrated the first public U.S.-based delivery of 4K Ultra HD video over its fiber/HFC cable network.

It transmitted a segment of Universal Film's recently released blockbuster, "Oblivion," scenes from SyFy's "Defiance" and nature content all shot in 4K Ultra HD to various devices. It delivered the transmission from the Comcast Labs in Denver over its high-speed National Fiber Backbone to the Washington, D.C., system, where Comcast received it and then sent it over a DOCSIS 3.0 cable network to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

While this merely demonstrated feasibility and is not quite ready for prime time, it shows that 4K UHD content waits just around the corner. Certainly DirecTV and DISH are hot on Comcast's heels.

For screens smaller than 60 inches, 4K UHD won't make a dramatic, or even noticeable, difference in picture quality. But the electronics industry will do just about anything to entice you to buy a new TV. Happy Independence Day.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

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