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What is an Optical Audio Port? When should you use it?

Over the past few decades, digital audio technology has seen unprecedented advancements, with the demand for high resolution and immersive audio at an all-time high. We’ve come a long way since using traditional analogue interfacing, and have mostly moved to digital signal transfers.

All our cabling and transferred signals are digital, making it easier for signal transfer from device to device. With the advent of HDMI tech, a single cable can carry both uncompressed audio and video without the need for separate cables or connections. But still, there’s always been one port, on major consumer audio devices, that has lived on despite being almost wholly turned obsolete due to the arrival of HDMI — the optical audio port.

Optical audio ports are trapezoidal and can be distinguished easily from other ports on your TV, CD player or other devices.

While it is mostly unused, there are cases in which the optical audio port could be your saviour, saving you a ton of money. HDMI and other conventional technologies transfer analogue or digital signals through a conductive wire, the optical audio port uses fibre optic cables and laser light to transmit digital audio signals. This standard was founded in 1983, by Toshiba and was also called TOSLINK.

To check compatibility with a device, check if the device has a port labelled ‘optical audio’, ‘digital audio out’, or ‘TOSLINK/Toshiba-Link’. Although the TOSLINK standard is over thirty years old, it can still transmit high-resolution audio at up to 7.1 channels. There isn’t any discernible difference between the audio quality routed from an optical audio port and an HDMI port.

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Uses of the optical audio port

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  • If you own an old sound system or CD player, that doesn’t have an HDMI port; chances are it might have a TOSLINK port. It can save you some money, and help you connect your audio equipment to your TVs, consoles and other stuff, without the need for adapters or buying new material on the whole.
  • If you’ve heard a faint hum when your speakers are playing music, it could be due to a ground loop, which can occur in your home when there is more than one path for electricity to the ground. This can damage your speakers and equipment if left unchecked. Optical audio cables can be used to circumvent the issue, as optical audio cables use fibre optic cables and laser light, which are unaffected by electrical issues. Just isolate the device experiencing problems, and use a TOSLINK cable to connect it instead of its conducting wire counterparts.
  • If you’ve got a Blu-ray player hooked up to your TV, but want to use it as a standalone CD player, TOSLINK can make your life easier. Separating audio signals from HDMI can be an absolute pain, requiring adapters, decoders and a lot of work. Instead, plug in a TOSLINK cable from your Blu-ray player to your receiver, and you’re golden.

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