The new 4th generation Apple TV is now shipping, that’s great news for Apple fans around the world. There is one change in the latest version that is making some Apple TV fans scratch their heads, the Optical Audio output is gone, there is nothing on the back except an HDMI output in the new version. Why did Apple do this and what can you do about it?
The broadcast audio streams from network, cable, and streamed programming like Netflix and Amazon Prime has improved significantly the past year, to the point where in many cases it’s equal to or exceeds the resolution of CD lossless quality. The Optical Audio output made it possible for consumers to copy these digital programs in hi res audio quality to their computer hard drives and thats a big issue with the content providers and the creative community, they insist that their copyrights be respected. Piracy of this content is illegal. HDMI is the digital connection with copy protection for copyrighted material in digital form, its HDCP content protection system allows us to both watch and hear hi def video and hi res audio at home but its impossible to copy it, that remains illegal. The rights of the copyright holders takes precedence now over our rights to copy it, which we no longer have. Thats not debatable anymore, whether you agree or not, you must comply with the new security protocols if you want to watch and hear the best programming quality.
The challenge then for the home viewer and listener is to ask him/herself how to listen to the latest hi res audio on their stereo or surround sound audio systems instead of the TV speaker. The answer is simple; you’re going to need a device called an HDMI Digital to Analog Audio Converter or DAC as they are more commonly known.
Essence manufactures the only HDMI DACs dedicated to this purpose that include a feature called “sample rate conversion”. Simply put, if the native resolution of the broadcast or streamed audio is CD quality or lower, ie. 16 bits with a 44.1 KHz sample rate, the Essence HDACC ($499 MSRP, sold direct only) enables you to increase the bit depth to 24 bits and the sample rate to 192 KHz, then output it in stereo as an analog signal you can feed your stereo system’s analog input via an RCA stereo cable. In addition to its HDMI input, the HDACC also includes USB, Optical, and Coaxial digital inputs so you can upsample any low res audio content from any source such as MP3 or CD music files to 24/192K hi res audio quality. This is a big improvement in sound quality, the same improvement Neil Young’s Pono music player promotes. The sound is much richer and smoother, with improved detail that allows you to hear these soundtracks in a quality that is normally reserved for the recording studio.
Essence also makes a less expensive HDMI DAC called the Evolve ($199 MSRP) that does not include upsampling but will pass through all lower native sample rates from your streamed content and output up to 7.1 channel audio in analog form for your surround sound system. The Evolve can add HDMI throughput to any analog audio system lacking an HDMI input, for a price thats down to earth. If you own an older analog audio system and want to adopt Blu-ray’s multi-channel hi res audio, the Evolve is the way to go.
Other streaming boxes, like the new Amazon Fire TV or the Roku Streaming Stick and Models 2, 3, and 4 also support only HDMI now exclusively, if you own or plan to own one of them and want to hear the highest resolution audio streams, you’re going to need an Essence HDMI DAC, either the HDACC or the Evolve to do so.
The HDACC has been reviewed by the #1 AV magazine in the world, Sound & Vision, and it won that esteemed publication’s Top Pick award as the best DAC / Headphone Amp on the market for all of 2014 when it sold for $699. To our knowledge, no other DAC in the world has the same combination of features, performance, and price (now $499 or $199 respectively) now offered by Essence For Hi Res Audio.
Apple TV owners as well as owners of the new Amazon Fire TV and Roku Streamers that find themselves up the HDMI stream without a paddle can relax, Essence has you covered. Visit the Essence For Hi Res Audio website for more information on how you can adopt hi res audio in your current non-HDMI audio system.