HBO GO Adds Dolby Digital Surround Sound to the Roku

September 22, 2012
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A few days ago, HBO updated its streaming video app to version 1.7 for the Roku. As far as I can tell, this version of the app has added support for surround sound. Update: One reader has reported it was added in late August Specifically, HBO GO is now streaming Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound to its Roku app. It’s a welcome improvement over the 2-channel stereo track that HBO GO launched with. Before adding it to the Roku, only the HBO GO player on select Samsung Smart TVs had supported surround sound.

Early this year, Dolby announced that HBO had selected Dolby Digital Plus to provide surround sound to connected devices with HBO GO. Therefore, I’m a little surprised that the HBO GO app is streaming regular Dolby Digital and not Dolby Digital Plus. Dolby Digital Plus is more bandwidth efficient and can provide better sound versus regular DD. It’s not a Roku limitation. The Roku 2 hardware is capable of handling it. Both Netflix and the new VUDU app on the latest Rokus bitstream Dolby Digital Plus (the 2, HD and LT).

In the world of content, it appears there’s plenty of movies in surround sound. Our favorite HBO series, Game of Thrones is also available in surround sound for both seasons one and two.

Hopefully, we’ll also see captions support added to the Roku HBO GO app in the near future. HBO recently enabled captions for HBO GO on mobile devices (iOS and Android). Another improvement would be to provide a higher bitrate video stream to connected devices. Some darker scenes still show some noticeable video artifacts. Until then, enjoy the surround sound.

Game of Thrones in Surround Sound

Game of Thrones in 5.1 surround sound

Winter is coming and you can now hear it from all directions

Tags: Dolby, Game of Thrones, HBO, Roku, surround

7 Responses to HBO GO Adds Dolby Digital Surround Sound to the Roku

  1. Mikeyts on September 22, 2012 at 1:59 am

    5.1 sound has been in HBO Go on the Roku since at least late August.

  2. Michael on September 25, 2012 at 9:56 am

    I bought a top of the line Roku 2 XD so I would have a ethernet connection for the most dependable access to HBO to Go a few weeks ago. The 5.1 sound was filled with static and squeals that would move around the room. The shows were also rebuffering every few minutes. Overall a lousy experience. The work around was to set the audio back to stereo only. The sound inproved but the rebuffering contineued. Over the past few days the buffering fixed itself and I tried the 5.1 setting and all is well. The surround effect on The Newsroom may be minimal but the dialog is clear.

    I also noted that Amazon has fixed the Watchlist function on the Roku.

    • Gabe Gagliano on September 25, 2012 at 8:45 pm

      Glad to hear it’s working properly. I read on the Roku forums recently that someone else had a similar problem w/ a Pioneer receiver (maybe that was you!).

      I watched the Game of Thrones episode, “Blackwater” and it had a good amount of surround effect.

  3. Dolby Digital on September 29, 2012 at 6:47 am

    HBO selected DD to allow for compatibility with older Roku boxes that have optical S/DIF output and to help AV equipment that does not support DD+. Using DD+ would limit to only HMDI and new AV equipment. Roku and AppleTV have the same “problem”. They didn’t include a Dolby Decoder to avoid paying Dolby licensing fees.
    Also, DD+ does not have a “listen experience” improvement. DD is 384Kbps while DD+ is 256K with similar fidelity. The only real benefit that DD+ brings is the possibility of 7.1 audio.
    HBO is using DD+ on Samsung and is planning to use DD+ on Xbox, so they obliviously elected to spend more to help the consumer…thank you HBO!

    • Gabe Gagliano on September 29, 2012 at 11:26 pm

      Thanks Dolby Digital, that explains a lot. Based on what you are saying, HBO could build a second version of the app that did support DD+ for the recent Roku boxes that support it. But since it sounds like it’s the same audio quality being streamed from HBO, it wouldn’t really matter besides the bandwidth savings.

  4. Michael on October 1, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    It is nice to read that Dolby is reading your blog. I though that I had heard or read that the saving grace of Dolby Digital Plus was better compression, not necessarily better sound. Either way, I am very happy to get 5.1 streaming and good enough picture quality from 9 feet on a 58″ screen.

  5. Dolby Digital on December 13, 2012 at 9:11 am

    Dolby Digital Plus just went live on HBO Go Xbox. Should make a few people happy.

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