When I looked at set top boxes, of the eight products I’d played with and evaluated, only two were able to produce any sort of Dolby Digital output from Freeview HD, which is a pretty poor showing, frankly, for reasons that have been done to death on the blog over the last six weeks.
However, when it comes to TV sets with Freeview HD built in, the situation is almost entirely reversed – of the six sets tested, all but one (the Panasonic) were able to produce a Dolby Digital signal.
In the original review, I said that the LG set that I tested, the 42LE5900, could not produce Dolby Digital from the HE-AAC broadcasts on Freeview. I’d like to correct that, having taken it out and checked again, after noting that it’s in the list that What Hifi have of working equipment. You can indeed get a Dolby Digital signal – but only if you first turn off the built in speakers via the menus. If you leave them turned on, then the optical connection simply outputs a stereo PCM signal. I’ve updated my own list of tested equipment accordingly.
So, that’s two out of eight set top boxes that do provide Dolby Digital output, and five out of six TVs. Clearly, at the moment, the chances are probably a bit better with a TV, but even so, you would still be well advised to do your research carefully before parting with any cash.
Not quite so simple
You may notice that I said “any sort of Dolby Digital” signal above. That’s because things are rarely as simple as they seem, and some of the equipment that is creating a Dolby Digital signal from Freeview may only be creating it with two channels, rather than the full 5.1 channel surround mix.
Right now, my AV processor doesn’t tell me the number of channels it has in its Dolby Digital input, so I can’t comment on each product, unless I happen to have it hooked up when the BBC is broadcasting the test signal. I’m looking for replacement kit, and when I have found something suitable, I’ll be able to provide more information with the test results.