Fixing the Vizio SB36512-F6 Soundbar

For a number of years, I’ve had a Vizio 5.1 soundbar which worked reasonably well. It was connected to my TV via an optical cable. The only real issue I had with it was that I had to use an IR remote to control the volume. Luckily the Apple TV remote has the ability to send IR commands to control the volume. This worked OK, but always required me to aim the remote at the soundbar and press multiple times if I wasn’t aligned with it. Last year when Apple said it was adding Dolby Atmos to the Apple TV 4K, I was intrigued. While the room my TV is in isn’t ideal with Atmos, I wanted to give it a try. My current soundbar, of course, wouldn’t handle Atmos. I saw the Vizio SB36512-F6 on sale at Costco and picked it up.

Setup of the soundbar was simple; plug the HDMI cable from the Apple TV into the soundbar and then the soundbar into the TV via ARC. This would allow the soundbar to handle Atmos. In addition, since it was connected via HDMI, I could use HDMI-CEC to control the volume without the need for setting up IR on the remote (I could also use the Apple TV remote control center widget on my iPhone or iPad to control the sound which is kind of neat). For the most part, this setup worked and when Atmos support came to the Apple TV and Netflix, I was able to use it; I couldn’t tell much of a difference as there is still not a lot of content that supports it. However, we kept having problems where no audio would come out of the soundbar and it required us to power cycle everything or quit an app and start over. It was annoying to say the least. I went through a number of firmware upgrades and patiently waited for Vizio to fix the issue, but it never happened.

I reached out to Vizio support and they gave me some suggestions, but all of them would result in not having the ability to use Atmos (which was one of the reasons for the soundbar). After dismissing their suggestions for awhile, I finally decided to try one of the options. In the Apple TV’s audio settings, instead of automatic, I chose Change Format to Dolby Digital 5.1. Ever since I did that, audio has worked perfectly. While I lost Dolby Atmos, I also lost the frustration of not having audio. What I suspect is happening is that when change format is selected, the Apple TV is always outputting the same audio stream type and the soundbar doesn’t have to figure out how to decode the audio; with automatic, the soundbar is sometimes unable to properly decode the stream when a show or movie starts. It then gets confused and just doesn’t play anything.

If you have an Apple TV 4K and are having audio problems with a soundbar, I’d suggest trying the Change Format setting. It is really too bad that Vizio can’t figure out how to fix this issue as I’d like to sometimes play Atmos content without having to switch the setting.

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