Home Theater, “HD” Audio, and What I Don’t Understand

I find the whole home theater thing a huge frustration. The number of cables I have to use to connect a blu-ray player, an Apple TV and a satellite TV box is astounding. The amount of time I had to spend to set everything up and getting it working correctly is also far more than it takes to set up a new computer. But I’m getting increasingly confused. Something happened recently, and I can’t figure out what is going on.

I bought a blu-ray player for my son’s birthday in October. It was a Sony, and there was a promotion through which I sent in a proof of purchase and got three free movies on blu-ray. Nothing extraordinary, but one of them (Gran Torino) was a movie that I had wanted to see. I’ve noticed since that, with all three movies, I can only get stereo sound; I don’t get any kind of surround sound. The movies have sound in either Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD, and, as far as I can tell from my documentation, my blu-ray player (bought a year ago) supports these formats. However, it seems that they only support the multi-channel audio through HDMI.

My amp – also a Sony – doesn’t seem to work with audio coming over HDMI, so I have everything going in digitally via co-axial cable or Toslink. Because of this, if I understand correctly, I can only get stereo sound with blu-ray disks. (My amp does seem to recognize that it’s getting 6 channels, displaying, for example, “DTS 3/2.1″ on its LCD when the sound starts.) Does this mean that my amp – about three years old – is already obsolete? I’m certainly not going to buy any more blu-ray discs if I only get stereo sound; the picture quality is better than DVD, but not by that much (here in France, DVDs are 576 px, compared to 480 in the US).

What irks me most, though, is that these new patented sound formats are forcing people to upgrade their equipment to be able to use new media. All DVDs have options between stereo and 5.1 sound; why don’t these blu-ray discs offer another 5.1 sound format that is compatible with older devices? Also, as I look at new Sony AV amps, I see that not all of them support these “HD” formats, and one has to go to a fairly high price to get such support.

I’m quite confused. Why are blu-rays being sold that provide an inferior sound experience? I only have a few – a box set of Band of Brothers, which has 5.1 sound that I can here, some classical music DVDs, which all have 5.1 sound options that work for me, and these three new ones that I got for free.

If anyone could help me better understand why I’m not able to get decent sound, I’d appreciate it.

Follow-up: After a few hours searching, I came across a forum post discussing a solution to the same problem. I reset the sound fields on my amp (whatever that means), and it is now playing the 5.1 track. In another forum, I saw the following:

If a disc has a TrueHD track it has to also contain a DD 5.1 track too. This can be either visible on the menus or hidden so it looks like there isn’t one. Either way the player will simply use the DD 5.1 track for legacy outputs, it doesn’t down-convert.

So apparently there is backwards compatibility, even though it’s not clearly indicated on the discs’ boxes.

Here are the devices I have. Should anyone search via Google for the same issue, this might help them find a solution. The blu-ray player is a Sony BDP-S360, and the amp is a Sony HT-DDW890.