Dec 9, 2013

Why are Smart TVs so dumb?

We got a Vizio Smart TV a few days and let me first say I’m very happy with it in general. The picture is awesome and it does way more than I thought it would. It comes with a very minimal getting started guide but the full manual is available on the TV itself and I can read it without my glasses. Unfortunately, the first nit I have is the manual is dated, there is a more recent version available and I would have hoped the “Smart” TV would update itself. Vizio also fails to add a revision number anywhere in the manual (boo hiss).

The Problem

The other issue I have with the TV is how difficult it was to figure out how to get the TV’s VIA apps to stream the audio signal to my receiver and external speaker setup. The built in speakers are OK as far as TV speakers go, but you wouldn’t want to listen to music or watch a movie with them. The external inputs like DirecTV and the DVD go to the receiver first and then up to the TV so that is no different from any dumb TV. The problem occurs when you want to play back any of the “Smart” features (Netflix, Amazon, Rhapsody, etc). The services  stream from my router to the TVs Wi-Fi and don’t go to my receiver first. The same problem exists for USB and DLNA server media, it starts at the TV.

I figured since HDMI carries sound and video and is bidirectional, it would be great if it could use that cable to send the internal signal audio down to the receiver. Turns out it can, but it’s not at all obvious how to do it.

I can see no reason why a truly “Smart” TV wouldn’t make this part of the guided set-up they walk you through. The manual doesn’t even mention it’s possible, let alone tell you how to do it. Luckily the more recent PDF version from the Vizio web site at least mentions something called HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) and shows a picture with that title, but doesn’t give you any information about how to actually get it working.

The Solution

It turns out that since I was running HDMI from my receiver’s output port up to HDMI 1 on the TV all the physical connections were in place. However, I had to search the Vizio forums to discover the key steps.  Here’s what you do, assuming you have an ARC compatible receiver:

  1. Press the Menu button on the remote and select the Audio icon.
  2. Arrow down to TV Speakers  and change the setting to Off.
  3. Arrow down and select the Advanced Audio item.
  4. Change the Digital Audio Out setting to Dolby Digital.
  5. Return to the Main Menu (hit the menu button twice)
  6. Select the Settings option.
  7. Arrow down and select the CEC option
  8. Set the CEC function to Enable.
  9. Arrow down to the Device Discovery option and click OK (it should scan for an find your receiver if it’s CEC compatible). Once it’s found just return to the previous menu.
  10. Set the System Audio Control to On.

You’re set. Now your remote control volume buttons will control your receiver. All your VIA (Vizio Internet Applications), USB media, and DLNA server media should play through your receiver.  I still have issues trying to get a lot of the DLNA media to play but that’s a post for another day.

About Me

My photo
Tod Gentille (@todgentille) is now a Curriculum Director for Pluralsight. He's been programming professionally since well before you were born and was a software consultant for most of his career. He's also a father, husband, drummer, and windsurfer. He wants to be a guitar player but he just hasn't got the chops for it.