QotD: Can I Use a TV as a Center Speaker?
One of the most common questions we get is about using a TV as a center speaker. It sort of makes sense if you think about it from the perspective of someone that is new to the home theater game. You need three speakers up front. The left and right speakers are sort of obvious. We’ve seen them for years. But why put another speaker under (or over) a TV? The TV has speakers, right? Couldn’t you just use your TV as a center speaker?
Answer: Rarely, but you really shouldn’t
The reality is that most TVs don’t have the ability to take in just the center channel audio. The audio is linked to the HDMI connection and you’ll be getting all the sounds. In very rare cases (recent Sony top-of-the-line OLEDs do), they do have a Center Channel input. You’ll still need an AV receiver so you can’t just have the TV extract the center channel information. But you can use one of these as a center. But you really shouldn’t.
TV Speakers Suck
Almost universally (we want to say “always” but we’re sure there is an exception out there somewhere) TV speakers suck. You’ve bought (hopefully) decent speakers for the rest of your home theater setup. Why would you want to pair them with the tiny, awful speakers that are inside your TV. Considering the vast majority of the voices come from the center speaker, you really want your center speaker to be as good as possible. Or you could just skip it.
That said, the Sony models that have the Center Channel input have gotten pretty good reviews. Instead of using the tiny speakers mounted in the TV, they vibrate the whole screen. We haven’t heard it ourselves, but we have no reason to think Sony didn’t do an adequate job.
It’s all about the Timbre!
But we don’t care how good the Sony TVs sound, they are unlikely to perfectly match the timbre of the speakers you bought. For the rest of the TVs out there? Well, they really do sound awful. Dialogue intelligibility aside, side to side pans, or just sounds that are mixed into both more than one speaker up front, are not going to sound right. The TV speakers will not sound the same as your left and right speakers.
We want perfectly timbre matched speakers so that as the sounds move around the front of the room, they blend seamlessly. We know that putting yet another speaker up front seems like a hassle, but it really is worth it. You’ll have a much better front soundstage, you’ll be able to understand what people are saying better, and you will overall have a better home theater experience. Why go through all the trouble and expense of installing home theater speakers just to skimp out on the end?
So, the real answer is that, unless you have a top-of-the-line Sony OLED, you can’t use your TV as a center speaker. Even if you do, you probably shouldn’t.
When I was setting up my first home theater system, I figured I’d save a few bucks and just use the TV speakers as a center speaker. It took all of about ten seconds to realize that was a mistake.