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iTunes 8 users grapple with missing Dolby surround sound

post #1 of 33
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Viewers hoping to hear 5.1-channel Dolby audio from movies and TV shows on Apple's iTunes Store are being frustrated by a known bug that disables the surround feature in software.

Apple is now known to be aware of the problem, which simply limits any Dolby 5.1-capable purchase or rental down to a normal stereo mix. The problem affects both Mac OS X and Windows owners and doesn't appear to be limited to the particular type of audio output used; if surround is enabled, users often encounter silence. Apple TV owners don't appear to be affected by the same audio glitch.

A developer contacting AppleInsider reports receiving word from the company that the flaw is a "known issue" being investigated by Apple's software teams -- though the company won't say what kind of progress has been made or how soon users can expect a fix.

All the same, it's increasingly clear that the company has been relatively slow to respond. Customers have been complaining of the issue in Apple's support forums since September of last year, or virtually from the moment iTunes 8 was released to the public.

While the exact cause for the problem isn't apparent, speculation by those affected blames the problem on how the audio mix is encoded and then played back in any app that uses QuickTime as its framework, whether it's iTunes, Front Row, or the regular QuickTime Player itself. Even if encoded without Apple's tools, the files will often only work in other playback software.

"I've discovered that opening an encoded M4V movie file in [QuickTime] Pro and selecting the Audio Properties reveals that the channels are messed up," one affected user writes. "Default is 'L, C,R , LFE, RS, LS' ... changing this to 'L, R, C, LFE, LS, RS' and then saving the movie as a '.mov' file allows you to play the movie in QuickTime or iTunes with 5.1 just by selecting the audio channel 'AC3 Surround' ... however, without a way to select the audio channel in Front Row, we're still out of luck on that."

Publicly, Apple has never responded to the complaints and at most issues refunds to customers who have bought or rented iTunes video content expecting the more immersive sound. For those shoppers who've encountered the limitation first-hand, however, Apple's direct claim on its iTunes HDTV page of computer-based 5.1 support is seen as an outright false representation of iTunes' true feature set.

"The surround sound in fact does not work on a computer," one AppleInsider reader says bluntly.
post #2 of 33
Thats the final straw. Apple is going under.
post #3 of 33
Didn't realise there were that many users out there hooking up their computers to their surround systems. I'd understand if they could view in HD the content on their televisions, but my understanding is that (at least protected) HD output is now restricted. So without an Apple TV, you'd get great Dolby Digital sound, but only 480p video.
post #4 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by djames42 View Post

Didn't realise there were that many users out there hooking up their computers to their surround systems. I'd understand if they could view in HD the content on their televisions, but my understanding is that (at least protected) HD output is now restricted. So without an Apple TV, you'd get great Dolby Digital sound, but only 480p video.

Nope. The HD video works fine if you've got an HDCP compatible display. (At least, that's the case for me with my MacBook Pro + 50" Samsung Plasma).
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post #5 of 33
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Originally Posted by Mr. H View Post

Nope. The HD video works fine if you've got an HDCP compatible display. (At least, that's the case for me with my MacBook Pro + 50" Samsung Plasma).

Ahhh... So then is the only content you can't get through iTunes (in HD) movie rentals? I've only rented two movies since the service came available, so I might just have to think about replacing my Apple TV with a more capable Mini!
post #6 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by djames42 View Post

Ahhh... So then is the only content you can't get through iTunes (in HD) movie rentals?

Yes. And the Dolby Digital in HD TV shows which Apple publicly claims works when in fact it doesn't and they know it.
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post #7 of 33
I can smell a class-action lawsuit brewing... or is that the sewer backing up?

Proud AAPL stock owner.

 

GOA

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Proud AAPL stock owner.

 

GOA

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post #8 of 33
I'm not sure the denials from Apple do them any favours at all. It just makes them look foolish.
post #9 of 33
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Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post

I can smell a class-action lawsuit brewing.

At least it would be justified this time.
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post #10 of 33
It seems QuickTime has always been a bit finicky about surround sound. But a point of clarification in the article... The title says the issue is with Dolby Surround (aka, Dolby Pro Logic), which I believe is limited to 4.0 surround, not 5.1. My understanding is that only HD movie rentals via AppleTV are 5.1 surround using AC3. None of the HD TV episodes I have (only a few) are 5.1. All of them say "Stereo" under Channels, which suggests Dolby Surround (4.0) at best.

This would explain the stereo output since Dolby Surround matrixes the 4 channels into a 2-channel stereo signal which is compatible with any stereo setup. 5.1 surround would require 6 discrete channels. Without 3rd party extensions, can QuickTime even play 5.1 surround? It sounds like Quicktime is failing to properly decode the matrixed signal.
post #11 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. H View Post

At least it would be justified this time.

5.1 has been around to hear at home since the days of "True Lies"!
I kinda wonder how many x MicroSoft engineers were on this project? IE (fr) --SABOTAGE-- (Well defined in Star Trek 6. The new ST Movie is mixed by Ben Burtt, master of 5.1) If we wanna hear films in the way they were mixed, I guess this Apple team needs to catch the bus to Marin, retake their classes and re-certify with THX. Unless Brian Wilson approves every mix. That would also explain the error, if it not just a bunch of xMS saboteurs.
(Windows makes a big deal of the fact that their Windows Vista Ultimately Expensive Home Entertainment version provides 5.1. All you need is the usual cheesy thin, pinky, putrid green, etc. ugly colored coded RCA cables to plug into your unique Sound-Blaster Deluxe card and away you go!)
Maybe fire those guys and reinstate the 50 sales people that got booted from Houston!
It's all a question of balance>between the Front LCR and the surrounds-if you can use them. Let's see 2+2=5.1, right? That would be a fibonacci number, correct?
--Time to recheck those resumes and see who is behind this one! --
post #12 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wiggin View Post

It seems QuickTime has always been a bit finicky about surround sound. But a point of clarification in the article... The title says the issue is with Dolby Surround (aka, Dolby Pro Logic), which I believe is limited to 4.0 surround, not 5.1. My understanding is that only HD movie rentals via AppleTV are 5.1 surround using AC3. None of the HD TV episodes I have (only a few) are 5.1. All of them say "Stereo" under Channels, which suggests Dolby Surround (4.0) at best.

Think again. Which HD TV shows have you bought? Many include Dolby Digital (e.g. LOST), which is advertised as working on a computer (see here (iTunes store link), read the bit under "On the Big Screen"). When the movie is playing in iTunes, move the mouse so that the transport controls show up. In those controls should be a "speech bubble" (looks like a squat "Q") - click it and it'll let you choose between two soundtracks - stereo and surround. Choose surround, and you get silence instead of the Dolby Digital you're supposed to get.

If you've got QuickTime Pro, then when you open the video in QuickTime, you can get movie properties (Command-J), you'll see the video has two soundtracks - stereo, which is enabled, and AC3 (with the full 5.1 channels), which is not. You can enable the AC3 and disable the stereo, and, again, you get silence.
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post #13 of 33
Makes you want to buy a windows machine don't it?

Apple seem to have lost the plot of late. Whatever happened to "it just works"?
post #14 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. H View Post

Think again. Which HD TV shows have you bought? Many include Dolby Digital (e.g. LOST), which is advertised as working on a computer (see here (iTunes store link), read the bit under "On the Big Screen"). When the movie is playing in iTunes, move the mouse so that the transport controls show up. In those controls should be a "speech bubble" (looks like a squat "Q") - click it and it'll let you choose between two soundtracks - stereo and surround. Choose surround, and you get silence instead of the Dolby Digital you're supposed to get.

If you've got QuickTime Pro, then when you open the video in QuickTime, you can get movie properties (Command-J), you'll see the video has two soundtracks - stereo, which is enabled, and AC3 (with the full 5.1 channels), which is not. You can enable the AC3 and disable the stereo, and, again, you get silence.

Fair enough. As I said, I don't purchase many TV shows. But the article references Dolby Surround, which is not 5.1. Thanks for the tip on selecting alternate sound tracks. Odd everything in iTunes (Get Info) or QuickTime (Movie Inspector) only lists stereo in the video's properties. I don't have QuickTime Pro to check alternate tracks. Normally I'd just plug into my receiver and it would tell me what format the audio channel is in. But since this bug prevents it from playing, I have no way of verifying what format the surround track is in the few HD TV shows I have.
post #15 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by Murphster View Post

Makes you want to buy a windows machine don't it?

SURE!!! Or I could just stick my finger down my throat, or try to fix a 59 Chevy with an obscure electrical problem!!!!
post #16 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by Murphster View Post

Makes you want to buy a windows machine don't it?

Apple seem to have lost the plot of late. Whatever happened to "it just works"?

No it makes me want to download torrents and watch them with 3rd party software, avoiding iTunes completely.
post #17 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by djames42 View Post

Didn't realise there were that many users out there hooking up their computers to their surround systems. I'd understand if they could view in HD the content on their televisions, but my understanding is that (at least protected) HD output is now restricted. So without an Apple TV, you'd get great Dolby Digital sound, but only 480p video.

I'm one I had my Mac mini connected by Monster Cable fiber optic since I got it on February 2 of 2008. I actually had the Logitech Z-5500 connected to the XBox 360 before then. It sounded great with movies and games on 360 but it still sound good considering it decodes Dolby Pro Logic II Movie mode but lately the studios have posted 480p Movies with 5.1 Audio especially from Universal (Doom, King Kong) Disney got a few (Pirates of the Caribbean Curse of the Black Pearl included now 2GB), Sony (Casino Royale), Paramount (Mission Impossible II & III) , MGM (Die Another Day) this what I could show as a example. Some the studios about to tick me off re-releasing these movies with 5.1 Audio after I paid earlier and got Dolby Surround Sound Audio. I'm not going to trip because I know Apple may have cut a deal with the studios to sell 720p Movies with 5.1 Audio. If they do like they did with 720p TV Show then you get the 480p with 5.1 Audio with purchase of the 720p version. This will be the only way I buy it back unless they do what the did with iTunes Plus and pay 30% to get better audio. 5.1 Upgrade or 720p Upgrade?
post #18 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Viewers hoping to hear 5.1-channel Dolby audio from movies and TV shows on Apple's iTunes Store are being frustrated by a known bug that disables the surround feature in software.

Apple is now known to be aware of the problem, which simply limits any Dolby 5.1-capable purchase or rental down to a normal stereo mix. The problem affects both Mac OS X and Windows owners and doesn't appear to be limited to the particular type of audio output used; if surround is enabled, users often encounter silence. Apple TV owners don't appear to be affected by the same audio glitch.

Just this one paragraph makes the whole issue confusing.

When they say "normal stereo mix" do they mean just the L and R channel, without any of the Dolby Pro logic encoding?

The audio output used does matter. Digital Dobly (5.1) can only be outputted using the optical output. Either the one on the computer itself, through the Apple TV HDMI or optical, or through the optical in an Airport Express (I think?). So the L/R composite output (and I believe the speakers on the computer itself, as there is no decoding of Dolby Digital being done by the computer) would go silent when trying to output Dolby Digital. However, the optical output should be able to handle the normal stereo mix (with or without the dolby Pro Logic encoding). And thus, the optical output should never go silent if that's what selected.

Unless they're actually talking about Dolby Pro Logic. Which should be able to go through both the composite L/R and the optical. And can be heard on the computer as normal stereo.

To tell you the truth, I didn't even know that iTunes was even capable of outputting Dolby Digital. (Though I knew it could pass through the Dolby Pro Logic in the stereo mix.) Not even through the optical port or to Apple TV. I read a while back that Apple TV could always handle Dolby Digital but was not yet doing so. I guess I missed this feature in iTunes 8 update. \

I haven't heard any complaints on the AVS forum concerning not being able to get Dolby Digital out when using a Mac Mini as a HTPC. Even before Itunes 8. It sounds more like an issue with the encoding of movies bought from the iTunes Store rather than the playback software. Unless Apple updated those recently and I miss that too. \
post #19 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by Murphster View Post

Makes you want to buy a windows machine don't it?

Apple seem to have lost the plot of late. Whatever happened to "it just works"?

Just makes me avoid the whole movie downloads thing. Just too many issues.
post #20 of 33
iTunes is an utter piece of shit. It used to be a well designed music player and it became a media player designed by a bunch of retarded monkeys.

I'm sure problems will continue to plague iTunes for as long as it continues to break bloatware records.

Fuck you, Apple. Fuck you right in the butt.
post #21 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by kim kap sol View Post

iTunes is an utter piece of shit. It used to be a well designed music player and it became a media player designed by a bunch of retarded monkeys.

I'm sure problems will continue to plague iTunes for as long as it continues to break bloatware records.

#@*! you, Apple. #@*! you right in the butt.

May I suggest decaffeinated beverages for you next time?
post #22 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by kim kap sol View Post

iTunes is an utter piece of shit. It used to be a well designed music player and it became a media player designed by a bunch of retarded monkeys.

Whoa... easy!

Admittedly iTunes has had to expand to become a jack of all trades, however I think it does the best job possible right now for dealing with managing your media, apps etc.

However I do think a back-to-the-drawing board approach may help, as it is still based around music first and foremost and video was a later addition. Not to mention the name.. iTunes... Seeing as though this app does so much more than just 'Tunes' now, a re-branding might be in order - I guess that is the problem becoming a household name...
post #23 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by Murphster View Post

Makes you want to buy a windows machine don't it?

Apple seem to have lost the plot of late. Whatever happened to "it just works"?


The problem occurs on Windows too. would have been funnier if you'd said makes you want to use an iTunes alternative.

I have this issue and it really annoys me. PC hooked up to Dolby decoder and Sony HDTV. QuickTime seems to have no clue as to what it should be doing with the AC3 track. Other media players, such as PowerDVD and Nero Showtime, have no issues sending the data to the relevant sound processor. There really isn't an excuse for this not working if everyone can get it working.

For clarity, this only affects HD TV shows with a 5.1 sound track. It's only movies which are limited to the Apple TV. iTunes claims to playback 5.1 on any computer.
post #24 of 33
The problem isn't windows, it's iTunes, for either platform.

I know many windows users who complain of iTunes in one way or another. I can only shrug because it works for me on my Mac without issue, although I haven't rented any HD or 5.1 capable shows or movies. Although I'm not using non-iPods, converting from one player or another (iPod 3G still working after 5+ years) and I'm not trying to play weird video content from odd online sourcs (diVx or otherwise).

Apple needs to get 5.1 working. 5 months is ridiculous.
post #25 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidW View Post

When they say "normal stereo mix" do they mean just the L and R channel, without any of the Dolby Pro logic encoding?

It's difficult to tell if the stereo mix has Dolby Pro logic info imbedded, as most modern home cinema amplifiers have Dolby Pro logic II, which will attempt to create surround-sound effects even if the info it's getting is pure stereo.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidW View Post

The audio output used does matter. Digital Dobly (5.1) can only be outputted using the optical output.

Indeed. And Macs have had optical audio out for quite a while now, and many PCs have it too.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidW View Post

So the L/R composite output (and I believe the speakers on the computer itself, as there is no decoding of Dolby Digital being done by the computer) would go silent when trying to output Dolby Digital.

No, the intelligent thing to do here would be to down-mix the Dolby Digital to stereo, then you wouldn't need two entirely separate audio tracks in the file. Maybe AC3 passthrough requires a different licence than an AC3 decoder (which would be required to down-mix) and Apple is trying to avoid those licensing fees.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidW View Post

However, the optical output should be able to handle the normal stereo mix (with or without the dolby Pro Logic encoding). And thus, the optical output should never go silent if that's what selected.

That's true, and it doesn't go silent with stereo. It goes silent when the Dolby Digital soundtrack is selected.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidW View Post

To tell you the truth, I didn't even know that iTunes was even capable of outputting Dolby Digital.

That's the whole problem! It doesn't! It's meant to, otherwise how could anyone "enjoy 5.1-channel Dolbly Digital surround sound audio" on their "computer" (quoted from iTunes store HD shows info page)?

Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidW View Post

I haven't heard any complaints on the AVS forum concerning not being able to get Dolby Digital out when using a Mac Mini as a HTPC.

Apple's DVD player will pass through AC3 via the optical out. VLC will pass through AC3 via the optical out. QuickTime can pass through AC3 if the AC3 track isn't DRM protected (using Perian). iTunes 8 should be able to pass through AC3, but it doesn't. Apple is aware of this yet it continues to advertise HD shows' AC3 tracks as working on a computer.
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post #26 of 33
I guess Apple DVD Player does 5.1 sound internally (although it didn't work until Leopard) and it's just plain broken in QuickTime. Maybe the fix is in QuickTime X and they're trying to avoid the issue till then.
post #27 of 33
I don't know of anyone that would waste their time hooking their Mac up to a 5.1 surround system, and then sit in front of the computer to watch TV or Movies. I also think it is pointless to connect a computer to a TV, when I would rather watch the actual HD broadcast (or TiVo) or a BluRay/DVD movie. Much better quality than anything off iTunes. This problem doesn't affect the AppleTV, so I don't think it is that big of a problem, and a software fix is all that is needed, so stop whining about minor issues.
post #28 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wiggin View Post

It seems QuickTime has always been a bit finicky about surround sound. But a point of clarification in the article... The title says the issue is with Dolby Surround (aka, Dolby Pro Logic), which I believe is limited to 4.0 surround, not 5.1. My understanding is that only HD movie rentals via AppleTV are 5.1 surround using AC3. None of the HD TV episodes I have (only a few) are 5.1. All of them say "Stereo" under Channels, which suggests Dolby Surround (4.0) at best.

This would explain the stereo output since Dolby Surround matrixes the 4 channels into a 2-channel stereo signal which is compatible with any stereo setup. 5.1 surround would require 6 discrete channels. Without 3rd party extensions, can QuickTime even play 5.1 surround? It sounds like Quicktime is failing to properly decode the matrixed signal.

Close, but if you're going to nit-pick...

The term Dolby Surround is a bit overloaded and can mean quite a few different things. It can mean anything from the original "Dolby Surround" to a "Dolby" Digital 9.1 "surround" sound.

If talking about the two channel matrix versions... two channels can be used to store matrix encoded material which can be extracted to simulate additional channels. Originally this was done with just a mono surround channel. Then a center channel was added with pro-logic. Then it was upgraded to include both a center channel and stereo surround channels. Nowadays it can even refer to using matrix decoding to go from 5.1 to 9.1 to achieve height effects. (Dolby Pro Logic IIz)

So in summary: The article title was acceptable for layman usage, but also technically correct as well.
post #29 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by hillstones View Post

I also think it is pointless to connect a computer to a TV, when I would rather watch the actual HD broadcast (or TiVo) or a BluRay/DVD movie.

The concept of an HTPC has obviously passed you by. Or gone over your head.

Quote:
Originally Posted by hillstones View Post

Much better quality than anything off iTunes.

And what if you don't have access to the HD broadcast (it's debatable that that's higher quality than iTunes HD) or BluRay/DVD?

Quote:
Originally Posted by hillstones View Post

So I don't think it is that big of a problem

You think it's OK for Apple to flat-out lie to their customers?
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post #30 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by djames42 View Post

Didn't realise there were that many users out there hooking up their computers to their surround systems. I'd understand if they could view in HD the content on their televisions, but my understanding is that (at least protected) HD output is now restricted. So without an Apple TV, you'd get great Dolby Digital sound, but only 480p video.

my macintosh runs SageTV and functions as the HTPC in my living room, so getting, and keeping, AC3 passthrough has been an issue with every update of QuickTime since 7.5.5
post #31 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by kim kap sol View Post

iTunes is an utter piece of shit. It used to be a well designed music player and it became a media player designed by a bunch of retarded monkeys.

I'm sure problems will continue to plague iTunes for as long as it continues to break bloatware records.

Fuck you, Apple. Fuck you right in the butt.

Quoted for sheer hilarity.

(Although I do wish they would stop adding features to iTunes that just make it buggy. Quality control has been taking a turn for the worse.)
post #32 of 33
Since about 3 weeks ago my iTunes rental movies work with 5.1 on my MacMini! Before then I used to only get garbage from my receiver when choosing Dolby Surround and was forced to watch Stereo in Dolby ProLogic.

Did the Quicktime Update or 10.6.3 finally fix our Problem???
post #33 of 33
Quote:
Originally Posted by BandiTT View Post

Since about 3 weeks ago my iTunes rental movies work with 5.1 on my MacMini! Before then I used to only get garbage from my receiver when choosing Dolby Surround and was forced to watch Stereo in Dolby ProLogic.

Did the Quicktime Update or 10.6.3 finally fix our Problem???

For me, the problem was fixed ages ago (I'm sill running Leopard). Glad to hear it's working for you too.
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