iTunes 8 users grapple with missing Dolby surround sound

Posted:
in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited January 2014
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.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 32
    rainrain Posts: 538member
    Thats the final straw. Apple is going under.
  • Reply 2 of 32
    djames42djames42 Posts: 298member
    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.
  • Reply 3 of 32
    mr. hmr. h Posts: 4,740member
    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).
  • Reply 4 of 32
    djames42djames42 Posts: 298member
    Quote:
    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!
  • Reply 5 of 32
    mr. hmr. h Posts: 4,740member
    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.
  • Reply 6 of 32
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 31,417member
    I can smell a class-action lawsuit brewing... or is that the sewer backing up?
  • Reply 7 of 32
    columbuscolumbus Posts: 281member
    I'm not sure the denials from Apple do them any favours at all. It just makes them look foolish.
  • Reply 8 of 32
    mr. hmr. h Posts: 4,740member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by SpamSandwich View Post


    I can smell a class-action lawsuit brewing.



    At least it would be justified this time.
  • Reply 9 of 32
    wigginwiggin Posts: 2,265member
    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.
  • Reply 10 of 32
    rnp1rnp1 Posts: 175member
    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! --
  • Reply 11 of 32
    mr. hmr. h Posts: 4,740member
    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.
  • Reply 12 of 32
    murphstermurphster Posts: 177member
    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"?
  • Reply 13 of 32
    wigginwiggin Posts: 2,265member
    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.
  • Reply 14 of 32
    rnp1rnp1 Posts: 175member
    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!!!!
  • Reply 15 of 32
    bregaladbregalad Posts: 816member
    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.
  • Reply 16 of 32
    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?
  • Reply 17 of 32
    davidwdavidw Posts: 975member
    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. \
  • Reply 18 of 32
    pt123pt123 Posts: 696member
    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.
  • Reply 19 of 32
    kim kap solkim kap sol Posts: 2,987member
    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.
  • Reply 20 of 32
    ibillibill Posts: 392member
    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?
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