Netflix Tip: How to Get Surround Sound with Netflix Streaming

February 15, 2011

See below for an update to this story

During our Netflix testing, the Hub noticed that Star Trek VI was playing in surround sound on the TiVo. While most Netflix devices can play movies in stereo, the Hub thought the PS3 (and now the Boxee, Apple TV and 2011 Panasonic blu-ray players) was the only Netflix box that could output surround sound. On the PS3, Netflix displays the Dolby badge when a title is available in Dolby Digital. So, how did the TiVo (and other Netflix devices) do it?

The answer is Dolby Pro Logic. It gives stereo receivers the ability to extract the additional audio channels from a stereo (two-channel) recording. In most cases, this information was encoded into the two-channel soundtrack at the time of recording. Back in the day, the good folks at Dolby developed this technology since movie theater film projectors could only handle a two-channel stereo soundtrack. Depending on the number of speakers and the version of Pro Logic, your receiver can decode anywhere between five (PL II) and nine channels (PL IIz). This works with Netflix streaming as well as a variety of other sources with a stereo soundtrack (TV broadcasts, VHS, etc…). While Dolby Pro Logic adds extra dimension to your home theater audio experience, it still does not sound as rich as Dolby Digital or Dolby True HD (on Blu-ray discs).

How do you enable Dolby Pro-Logic? Sometimes your receiver will just do it automatically. If not, you need to select a different listening mode on your receiver; there’s usually a dedicated button for it.  On Onkyo and Pioneer receivers, the button is called “Listening Mode”. On Denon Receivers, it’s called “Surround Mode”. Typically, you need to chose “Standard” or “Normal” or one of the “THX” modes.  You’ll know you’re successful when the receiver displays “Dolby PL II” or something similar  (see photo below). Enjoy the show!

Update: The number of devices that support native surround sound from Netflix is growing. Boxes that support Dolby Digital Plus include the Roku 2, WD Live TV, WD TV Live Hub, 2011 Panasonic Blu-ray players and home theater systems as well as the ones from LG.  Boxes that support Dolby Digital include Apple TV, Google TV on the Logitech Revue and Sony Playstation3.

Decoding surround sound in Netflix with Dolby PL II
Decoding Surround Sound with Dolby PL II
Since this story was written, there are now a number of Netflix players that support Dolby Digital or Dolby Digital Plus surround sound. Here’s our list of the current Netflix players that can natively play Dolby Digital surround sound. If your player does not support native Dolby surround, the method above will still provide surround sound ,albeit not as rich as Dolby Digital.
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Tags: Dolby, Netflix, surround

One Response to Netflix Tip: How to Get Surround Sound with Netflix Streaming

  1. Loretta on February 15, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    I have a Roku I hook the HDMI cable to the surround sound and it came up HDMI3 but not sound. I hook HDMI cable to tv and still no
    sound. Can you tell me what to do?

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