How To Connect A TV To A Home Receiver Without HDMI – Guide & Diagrams

Want great TV or cable box sound from your audio system, but your receiver doesn’t have an HDMI port? Great news – there are other ways to do it.

In this article you’ll find a ton of great info:

  • How to connect a TV to a receiver without HDMI
  • Clear & helpful diagrams to show you how
  • What does & does not work with surround sound
  • Info to help you get the best results
  • ..and more!

Connection and cable options to know first

examples of TV audio cables

The cables you’ll need to have will depend on your receiver’s available inputs and the converter (if any) you need to use. There’s no standard set of audio output jacks for TVs, so it can be just one or a combination of several.

It’s important to have at least one type of non-HDMI input on your receiver such as a coaxial digital input, optical digital input, or auxiliary (“AUX”) inputs. (I’ll cover these in more detail as we go)

HDMI cable end close up annotated with notes

In addition to HDMI, your TV might have:

  • RCA jacks: also called analog signal outputs because the audio is non-digital and can be amplified directly by a receiver. Using an RCA audio cable is cheap and easy. Some TVs have a 3.5mm (1/8 inch) headphone jack style connector. You can use a 3.5mm to RCA adapter cable for those.
  • Optical digital output: Also called a TOSLINK jack, this is a digital audio output that must be converted back to an analog signal at some point. You can plug in an optical cable to connect to receivers with this type of input. Signals are carried using pulses of light instead of electrical bits.
  • Coaxial digital output: this uses one RCA-style jack that connects to an RCA cable to carry the digital audio signal using electrical bits. Note that you cannot connect it to a receiver’s analog RCA AUX inputs.

The connectors listed above apply to both a standard or a smart TV – it always depends on the particular model.

HDMI and HDMI ARC explained

HDMI vs HDMI ARC comparison diagram

The High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) standard has been on the consumer electronics market for around 15 years now. It’s evolved a bit, becoming more flexible and yes – unfortunately – a bit complicated to understand sometimes.

Here’s a simple explanation:

  • The original (older) HDMI standard carried video but not audio to external devices. This means if your TV or cable box does not have an HDMI ARC port (only an original HDMI one) you’ll need to connect sound using one of the other outputs provided.
  • The ARC (Audio Return Channel) standard was created to allow you to carry sound and video in one cable. Introduced in HDMI 1.4 version, it’s been around a while. HDMI ARC can carry up to 5.1 surround sound.
  • HDMI eARC is essentially an upgrade of the ARC standard and can carry up to 7.1 surround sound or high-quality digital audio for music, along with a few other minor advantages.

The good news is that since HDMI ARC has been around since 2009 it’s most likely what kind of output your TV or other devices have. It also means you’ll have a great option for a receiver/home theater system without an HDMI input jack as you’ll see.

As you see later, an HDMI audio extractor (adapter) will make getting sound possible – and it’s affordable, too.

Digital vs analog audio jacks explained

Digital audio optical and coaxial output examples

Digital outputs work by transmitting audio represented in digital format made up of bits of information. Newer AV receivers with these types of inputs can decode the digital signal back to sound and amplify it to drive speakers.

An older receiver or a standard home stereo amplifier cannot and you’ll likely need a digital to analog (RCA) converter box to do the job, as they provide an RCA compatible output pair.

Analog jacks are a non-digital output that can be amplified to drive speakers by any compatible receiver or amp with auxiliary, DVD, or CD inputs. You can also use self-powered speakers with analog outputs.

How to connect a TV to a receiver without HDMI

The type of connection you’ll need will depend on your particular TV. Older receivers often have auxiliary (AUX) RCA input jacks with one or more labels:

  • AUX in
  • DVD in
  • CD in

Input jacks like these were used years ago playing audio from a separate audio source through the receiver and will work fine for TV sound with the right connection. (You can also connect sound from an external media player or Blu Ray player for example if you like.)

They’re the same thing as both accept a low-level signal (line level) signal to be amplified by the receiver in the right mode and sent to the speakers.

DIAGRAM – TV to receiver connection options

how to connect a TV to receiver without HDMI diagram

As I mentioned earlier, there are two main types of TV sound connections you’ll use:

  1. Analog (non-digital) via RCA jack outputs or a 3.5mm (1/8″) headphone style output jack
  2. Digital signal outputs: an optical output or coaxial (RCA style) output

1. Using an HDMI converter (HDMI to RCA adapter, HDMI to digital adapter)

Illustrated example of an HDMI audio extractor

An HDMI audio extractor is a device that removes the digital sound source from an HDMI output or other device and provides digital or analog outputs. Plug in the HDMI connection then you can connect to nearly any non-HDMI receiver or amplifier with compatible inputs via an optical audio cable or RCA connectors.

A good audio extractor is about only $25-$50 and can even support 5.1 support sound for home theater systems that can have the feature. Note that the HDMI cable is often separate, but those cost just a few dollars.

NOTE: Although connecting an RCA cable is easy, for best results (or to take advantage of surround sound) you’ll want to use the optical or coaxial digital jack connection.

2. Connecting to a TV’s digital output jacks

If your TV, cable box, or other sound source doesn’t have ARC a second option is to connect to the digital outputs, if provided. There are two reasons to use a digital connection if your receiver supports it instead of analog:

  • Better audio quality
  • If your TV or other media device supports surround sound, this will allow you to use it (unlike a 2-channel audio connection)

Either an optical or coaxial digital connection will be fine, although a TOSLINK optical cable will avoid electrical interference or ground loops since it will isolate the electrical ground connections. A digital optical cable costs just a few dollars online so it’s affordable, too!

One thing to know is that fiber optic cables can be damaged if bent too much so you’ll need to be careful to avoid kinking them or crushing them in tight spaces. Doing so can damage the internal material, causing them to fail to carry the signal properly.

3. Connecting a TV to a receiver using analog jacks

A third option, this is normally very easy although you may need to turn on audio outputs in the menu on some TVs to get sound.

Simply connect whichever available outputs you have to the auxiliary, DVD, CD etc. inputs on your receiver. This is a great budget option because you can use a cheap RCA cable as it will work fine for good sound.

Tip: some TVs have a headphone size jack in which case you can use a 1/8″ (3.5mm) plug to RCA jack adapter. You can then connect any RCA cable pair between the TV and the AV receiver.

Notes on TVs with digital out jacks (how to get RCA jacks from them)

Digital to analog audio converter box example labeled

Digital to analog converters accept a digital signal that can’t be used with powered speakers or an amplifier and convert the digital signal to a stereo output. RCA and/or 3.5mm (1/8″ headphone) jacks are provided.

This is a bit trickier because you’ll have to convert the digital audio signal, not just connect it. You’ll need to pick up a digital to RCA converter. These cost about $18-$25 and usually include a small AC-DC power supply.

Some do or do not include the cables needed to connect to your television (many do include it) so you’ll simply use whichever option you have: the optical (TOSLINK, fiber optic) jack or the coaxial digital jack.

Note: When using your AV receiver to play the TV sound through your receiver’s speakers, be sure to disable or turn off the volume to the internal TV speakers if it has the option. Otherwise, the TV speakers will conflict with your better speakers, resulting in poor & distracting sound. Use only the stereo speakers when possible.

Can I listen to my TV in surround sound on a receiver without HDMI?

can I get surround sound from a receiver no HDMI

The short answer is maybe – it depends on two things:

  • Your TV must provide a passthrough type (5.1 capable) digital output. Not all TVs do this, sadly.
  • The receiver must have a digital input and surround sound 5.1 support.

Unfortunately many televisions usually “downmix” (convert) the 5.1 audio stream to a 2 channel output. In some cases there’s an option in the TV settings to enable a full 5.1 passthrough connection, sometimes called “LPCM.”

However, there’s no guarantee and frustratingly, TV manufacturers don’t always do a good job of making this clear. Generally you can be pretty confident about surround support over HDMI these days but it’s a bit of a gray area.

In some cases you might want to pick up a streaming media device such as an Amazon Firestick or others which do include surround sound output. Any receiver with Dolby Digital or DTS and a digital input can work with those.

Dolby Pro Logic I/II option

One worst-case scenario can help sometimes. If your TV doesn’t offer 5.1 support, you can use the Dolby Pro Logic feature that nearly all receivers with Dolby Digital decoding provide as a backwards compatible feature.

Dolby Pro Logic I/II was one of the first surround formats and only requires a 2-channel signal source. It can also simulate surround sound from any 2-channel movie or music, meaning you can take advantage of your surround sound system speakers. It’s an option worth trying out.

About the author

Marty is an experienced electrical, electronics, and embedded firmware design engineer passionate about audio and DIY. He worked professionally as an MECP-certified mobile installer for years before moving into the engineering field. Read more »

Your comments are welcome.
  1. My house has built in speakers when I bought it. My receiver is an old Sherwood with no HDMI just analog hookup using AUX. how do I connect my new tv to my old receiver so I can listen to the speakers in my ceiling.

    • Hi, what kind output connections are on your TV? That’s very important to know in order for me to be able to help you.

      If it’s HDMI I cover that in the diagram in the article.

  2. I’ve connected my TV’s headphone output to my stereo receiver AUX input. The signal must be really weak because I have to crank receiver way up to hear and there is very little bass (if any). I’ve also tried TV’s digital optical audio output to a (cheap) DAC then to receiver AUX input. This was even worse, very low volume (NOTE: my receiver is 125watts/channel output).
    With that said I’m now considering going the route in your Example 1 above. Incorporating a J-Tech
    model JTDAT5CH. (Specs show 5V DDC signal output which I’m guessing is much greater than the DAC and or TV’s headphone output). Your thoughts ??? Thanks …. BTW great write up !!!

    • BTW Marty, I just read your other “how to” on Can I connect Speakers directly to TV. I guess I’m even more at a loss as to why I’m lacking in sound quality and volume. Perhaps it has something to do with matching of DAC/headphone output(s) sensitivity / impedance with that of my stereo receiver. So if it helps my receivers
      1. Power Amp IN sensitivity / impedance is 1V / 50 kilohms
      2. Pre Amplifier AUX IN is 150 mV / 50 kilohms

      IDK if that helps but I’m hoping so … this turned into a bigger project than I expected but I want to get it right.
      Thanks again,

      • Hi, I posted my other comment before I saw you had this one. Hmm, those specs seem pretty typical and good. Headphone outputs can have a pretty low voltage since they typically drive lower impedance drivers (the driver inside the headphones).

        I definitely, if you can, would try connecting the AUX IN to your smartphone or another decent audio source and see what you get. If the volume/etc out of the receiver is very low it’s not a great sign. You could use a line level driver (booster) before if if you need to, although that’s usually not necessary.

        Unfortunately, sometimes things that look fine “on paper” don’t work well in practice, so it’s worth trying to see if the receiver is the culprit.

        It would be nice if the receiver has a gain control for the AUX IN or amp, but I’m assuming you don’t have that option on your model. Best regards.

    • Hi Mark. I’m sorry to hear you had an issue when trying to use the headphone jack. Yes, that sounds like a signal level & impedance issue as unfortunately headphone outputs can have that kind of issue. I may need to add a note about that in the article.

      I’m definitely disappointed to hear the optical out to DAC didn’t work out, as I’ve not seen that issue before. If the audio signal (the digital version in the TV) is for some reason very low before it’s streamed out of the port, that could happen. But that’s definitely not typical unless there’s another setting affecting it somewhere.

      The JTDAT5CH looks like it should work fine and is extremely similar to others so I wouldn’t worry. As long as the TV is passing audio via the HDMI output it should be fine.

      The spec you mentioned about the DDC voltage is actually a digital signal and not the line level output voltage. I didn’t see that spec in the manual but it’s usually around ~1V or a bit higher, so generally it should work well.

      If you’d like to test your stereo receiver’s AUX port gain for its internal amp before buying any more stuff, you could use a 3.5mm to RCA adapter to connect your smartphone or an MP3 player and see what kind of volume you get from the receiver. That way you’ll know more confidently if the receiver itself is the issue (usually isn’t) or it was one of the other ways you tried.

      Best regards & I appreciate you visiting my site. :)

  3. Hey Marty,
    I appreciate the response and help. I’ve successfully connected a Desktop Computer audio output to my rig and it sounds great. I talked to somebody at J-Tech earlier today and (she) didn’t think an HDMI Audio Extractor would work. Directed me towards a DAC with volume, treble and bass controls. I don’t like that idea. What I’m leaning towards, is coming out of the TV’s headphone jack and into this type of “preamp” It seems to provide adjustable output GAIN control which I hope I could find the sweet spot for my receiver without overloading / blowing it up. You really have no idea how much I appreciate the help !! Your sites are great !! excellent graphics!!
    Thanks again,

  4. Hey Marty,
    I appreciate the response and help. I’ve successfully connected a Desktop Computer audio output to my rig and it sounds great. I talked to somebody at J-Tech earlier today and (she) didn’t think an HDMI Audio Extractor would work. Directed me towards a DAC with volume, treble and bass controls. I don’t like that idea. What I’m leaning towards, is coming out of the TV’s headphone jack and into a “Vacuum tube preamp with Volume Treble Bass Control” These apparently provide adjustable output GAIN control which I hope I could find the sweet spot for my receiver without overloading / blowing it up. You really have no idea how much I appreciate the help !! Your sites are great !! excellent graphics!!
    I had included a product link in my 1st reply which had me worried that it might not pass moderation, so I rewrote w/o link.
    Thanks again,

    • Hell Mark & sorry for the inconvenience. Yes I get spam sometimes in comments so I have to approve the ones with a link it it.

      I checked out the unit you mentioned and it may work, just that I’m not sure how good the gain would be on that unit. Here’s another one you could consider as well and it’s about $26.00. I noticed in the reviews for this one someone mentioned using it to solve the same problem you are.

      I appreciate your feedback about my site. :)

      • Thanks Marty I really appreciate you sticking with me here while I attempt to work through this issue.
        The thing that worries me the most about incorporating any of these preamps into my system is whether or not I run the risk of frying my receiver. It’s an oldie but a goody.
        Is this something I should be concerned about?

        This isn’t my system but take away the turntable (and add some HPM-1100 speakers) and it’s identical.

        • Hi Mark. As long as we’re talking about a preamp, etc., with a typical output (and not a higher voltage “line driver” type of device) it should be fine. The input impedance to a receiver’s RCA inputs is usually very high. On the order of tens of thousands of Ohms.

          For example, 10K, 20K, or even higher. Therefore with a small signal input, and as long as everything is connected well (not floating/disconnected grounds etc) it should be safe.

          If were were to do something crazy however like trying to connect a speaker level signal to an RCA (line in) input, then in that case yes bad things can happen. Best regards!

          • Hi Marty, Sorry for delay getting back to you, I’ve got a lot going on ( Another project I need your help with) In the meantime:
            You mention “Speaker Level Signal” as being a potential for trouble. The specs for one of the vacuum tube preamplifiers that I’m leaning towards, lists output power of 20W/channel Impedance of 600 Ohms. The input impedance on my receiver is 50 kilohms so I’m guessing it would be okay. (Although I must admit the 20W/Ch output has me concerned … as that sounds like speaker level signal strength to me)

            I just ordered a multimeter to attempt to trace a power supply issue on an equalizer. It’ll be a couple weeks before I get into it. I’m reading up on power supply circuit, switch, transformer, power regulators, transistors (collector/emitter sides) Just getting started
            This is way complicated for an old fart like me … lol
            Thanks a million Marty!!!

          • Hi Mark. I don’t know why it’s listed as having a 20W speaker level output as that’s not correct. It’s preamp only (Line level outputs only). It could be a copy/paste mistake from another product perhaps. I’ve seen that before.

  5. Hey Marty,
    I wanted to let you know I solved my sound volume issue. I don’t know how this addressed the issue but it did. My stereo receiver has an Adaptor Input/Output RCA jack for auxiliary components
    ie. equalizer, reverb amp, dynamic processor .. etc. I connected my dynamic processor (an RG-9) to this Adaptor input/output and ran the sound through it and Bingo! Rocking the house again !!!
    Thought I’d let you know and wanted to says thanks again for your help. BTW: My first effort in audio electronics repair was a success too … My old equalizer is up and running again!!

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