Apple TV and surround sound bug?

I have three 4K Apple TVs (including one of the 2022 models). They all have the same issue. When using certain apps (I’ve noticed it especially with HBO Max and PBS apps), some shows play in Stereo even though I know they are being broadcast in at least 5.1.

One especially noteworthy example is Last Week Tonight on HBO Max. Even though the start of the show displays a brief onscreen note that says something like “broadcast in surround sound” (not an exact quote), my Denon receiver shows that it is actually playing in Stereo (which I can confirm by listening to the speakers).

This is not a ubiquitous problem. In most cases, in most apps, I get the desired sound — including on HBO Max when playing movies. But it’s annoying when this happens.

I contacted HBO about this about a year or two ago — and they claimed to be unaware of the issue and – of course – said that it must be Apple’s fault. But I have been unable to find any solution to this posted online. Any ideas? Has anyone else seen this?

Yes, I’ve seen it for Last Week Tonight, but I also see it if I use my Chromecast streamer. Although I no longer have a cable subscription to HBO, I believe that it was true there.

Interesting. On my 2017 4K all the PBS programs play in stereo, and I assumed that was just a limitation of PassPort. Can you point me to a listing of he ones that should be in surround?

I also have an (unverified) notion that BritBox is all stereo too, but perhaps not.

I can confirm that Last Week Tonight is in 5.1 sound when viewed on the HBO channel via Comcast. PBS shows I’ve checked on Comcast are similarly in surround sound. The stereo-only problem seems restricted to the streaming apps.

I just did yet another search…and found some threads that report this issue…and that it is not limited to the ATV. Roku etc. shows it as well. Here is one example:

I guess this is something for which there is no fix for now. Disappointing…as I am shifting my viewing more and more from cable to ATV.

Ah bummer. I stream everything. Must check PBS OTA broadcast . . .

It is entirely up to the app, which is developed by the source (in the case of PBS, I assume PBS developed its app).

For example, when I watch a recent movie on on Hulu, I get surround sound (5.1 or 7.1 and sometimes Dolby Atmos). But when the movie goes to a commercial break, the audio switches to stereo. And then back to surround when the movie resumes. (My amplifier has a relay that you can hear click when it switches between stereo and surround, so it’s very obvious when the switch happens.)

And it varies by program. For instance, that same Hulu app will play old TV shows in stereo (or mono), depending on how the original broadcast sound was recorded.

Similarly, HBO Max, Disney+ and Netflix all play content in different formats, depending on the source material. Recent content is all in surround, while older content will be in other formats.

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Yes. But I think, to some extent, we are talking apples and oranges here.

It makes sense, for example, that Hulu would broadcast some “old TV shows in stereo (or mono)” while shifting to 5.1 or more for newer content. That’s to be expected. The old shows were originally in stereo/mono and so they remain that way today.

What I am talking is about is something different: newer content that has clearly been developed and broadcast in (at least) 5.1 sound…but never-the-less shows up in Stereo on the channel’s ATV app (Last Week Tonight on HBO Max app was one example I cited). This is not to be expected — and ideally should be fixed.

My point is that this is a bug in whatever app you’re using to stream the content, or a (dumb) decision by the content provider, not a bug in the Apple TV itself.

Agreed. The fact that the problem also pops up on Roku and Chromecast devices indicates that it is more of an app problem than an ATV problem. But ATV is the device I am using…so that’s what I am writing about. It also seems to be a problem that spans across several apps…not just one culprit. And no matter what it is, it remains frustrating. It has been several years now…and the bug (or whatever) is still around.

If it’s happening on multiple platforms then my guess is that the provider (HBO?) isn’t making the surround mixes available for streaming on their server for some reason. Since they make other surround programming available, I’m guessing that the producers of the show are the ones responsible.

I’d suggest writing to HBO’s customer service people to see if they can help straighten this out.