Don’t wake the baby! How to connect headphones to a TV
A good pair of headphones can be a serious boon to those late-night streaming marathons
This isn’t an immediate issue for most users. After all, if you’ve got an awesome audio setup, why would you need to connect a pair of headphones? However, those looking to keep the noise down when the kids or other family members are sleeping in the next room know that a good pair of headphones can be a serious boon to those late-night streaming marathons. As such, it’s important to have a simple (and convenient) way to connect your cans to your TV. With that in mind, we’ve put together this guide on how to connect headphones to a TV
If your setup is conducive to a wired pair of headphones — meaning you’ll be sitting close enough to the TV or other device to conveniently span the distance — there are a handful of options for easily wiring into your TV.
Connecting via an adapter first requires identifying what kind of audio output your specific TV has. On the back or side of your TV — usually wherever your inputs are — there should be some form of audio output connection. In older TVs, there may be a 3.5mm (standard headphone) output, which makes it simple to plug and play. However, more common on older models are Left/Right RCA audio outputs, which will require an RCA-to-3.5mm adapter, like this one from Amazon. These are simple to set up, and better yet, they’re dirt cheap.
Newer TVs will be a bit trickier. Many TV manufacturers dropped analog outputs a while back in favor of a digital Optical output. The output looks like a tiny, square-shaped door, often outlined in bright red light (or fitted with a rubber cap such as the one shown above). For this configuration, you’ll need a digital audio-to-analog audio adapter. This will not only allow you to plug in a 3.5mm headphone jack, but it also converts the audio output to the correct format to play back in your headphones.
In either of these cases, you may also need a headphone extension cable such as this one, which lets you stretch back as far as 50 feet.
Connecting to a streaming device’s remote control
Another option is to plug into the remote control of a set-top streaming device. If you’ve been thinking about getting a set-top box anyway, this is the perfect time to jump in. Streamers such as the Roku Ultra and Nvidia’s Shield TV have remote controls with a headphone jack built right in. The Amazon Fire TV’s gaming controller also has a 3.5mm headphone jack (but not its standard remote), so you’ll have to buy the gaming bundle to utilize it.
The only potential drawback here is that you will only be able to listen to the device you’re plugged into. If you’re watching TV mostly from a cable box, this won’t be the best solution.
Connecting through external audio devices
Devices like audio receivers or even external speakers will usually have an accessible spot to plug in a pair of headphones, as well. This is especially handy if you happen to have multiple source devices (e.g., a cable box or antenna, a streaming device, etc.). You’ll need to take a look at your hardware to see if there is in fact a headphone output, or you could use one of the output-adapter setups we mentioned above (such as the RCA or digital Optical). Most A/V receivers will have a quarter-inch headphone jack in the front, which requires nothing more than a simple adapter.
Wireless headphones and adapters will likely be more convenient for a living room setup, though the connection process may be slightly more involved.
TV Bluetooth streaming
TVs are steadily adding Bluetooth streaming as a standard feature. If you’ve got a pair of Bluetooth headphones, you can check to see if your TV supports Bluetooth — this information should be located somewhere in the audio section of the settings. If your TV does support Bluetooth, simply set your headphones to pairing mode, and follow the on-screen instructions to get everything up and running.
One thing to keep in mind here is latency. Many Bluetooth connections induce a small amount of lag between the TV and the headphones. While this isn’t an issue for music streaming, even nominal lag can create sync issues between the on-screen video and the audio, meaning the actions on screen will occur a few fractions of a second before you hear any sound. It can be extremely annoying, especially to audio-minded folk, so you’ll want to make sure your TV/headphone combination doesn’t induce lag before investing in this route. Models with newer versions of the Bluetooth codec (version 4.0 or higher) may be your best bet, though there are many factors that can induce latency.
Bluetooth through your set-top box
Streaming video devices like Apple’s Apple TV or Amazon’s Fire TV also stream audio via Bluetooth. After putting your Bluetooth headphones in pairing mode, just follow the onscreen instructions under the Bluetooth settings for your set-top box, and you can begin streaming in no time. Don’t forget that this method will only allow for listening to streaming content from the device you’ve paired to and won’t work as a catch-all solution. Again, you’ll want to make sure neither of your devices has a latency issue.
External Bluetooth adapter
If your TV doesn’t have Bluetooth connectivity and you don’t own an Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, or other Bluetooth-compatible set-top box, you can outfit your TV with a Bluetooth transmitter. These devices, which hardwire into your TV and beam out a Bluetooth signal, come in several forms, including USB dongles, 3.5mm dongles, or even breakout boxes. If you can find a Bluetooth adapter that supports the audio output format of your TV, you’ll be able to easily pair Bluetooth headphones to it by simply following the pairing instructions that come with each device. Most such devices also list latency issues, so check into it before you buy.
While technically wireless, Radio Frequency (RF) headphones from companies like Sennheiser and others connect to a base charging station that is directly wired to a TV or other output device. As such, you’ll need to match the connection types between the base station and your TV or other source device. Double check the connection types (Optical, RCA, 3.5mm output, etc.), as it’s possible you’ll need adapters to connect. Despite these potential extra steps, RF headphones are an excellent choice, as they can have better range and far less latency (if any at all) than Bluetooth headphones.
Gaming consoles and PC
Gaming consoles are another easy way to connect to your TV with regular headphones or, ideally, a dedicated gaming headset. Most consoles are equipped with some form of headphone connectivity, allowing you to stream TV shows and movies from apps like Netflix and Hulu and play Blu-rays, in addition to gaming. We’ll discuss how to connect to each major console either through wired or wireless connections.
PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro
The PS4 and PS4 Pro are probably the easiest consoles for connecting headphones or gaming headsets due to their support of several common connection types, and simple setup (though it should be noted that those looking to play 4K Blu-ray disks will need to look at the Xbox One instead). The methods for connecting are identical between the two versions of the console.
If you’re going the wired route, the PS4’s standard Dualshock 4 controller has a 3.5mm jack, just under the PlayStation button and between the thumbsticks. Just plug in your headset, and you’re good to go.
If you’re using a wired or wireless USB headset, you can plug the dongle directly into one of the PS4’s USB ports. Your console should quickly identify the headset and begin playback. Note that some USB headsets are designed for PC and require driver downloads or extra software to use features like surround sound or EQ settings. While you will get basic functionality with these headsets on PS4, it’s best to look for PS4-specific models to get the best experience.
Finally, Bluetooth headphones are also an option on PS4. To pair the headphones, make sure they’re in pairing discovery mode (usually enabled by holding down the pairing or power button on the headphones). Once in the PS4 home screen, select the Settings tab. Scroll down and select Devices, then Bluetooth Devices. Your Bluetooth headphones should show up if they’re in discovery/pairing mode, though you may have to give the console some time to find them. If this doesn’t work, you can also plug the device into the PS4 with a USB cable and allow a few moments for the console to recognize the new headphones.
Xbox One, Xbox One S, Xbox One X
Using headphones is a bit trickier and restrictive on Xbox One and its recent iterations, the Xbox One S and the 4K-ready Xbox One X. With wired headphones and headsets, you need to double-check that your controller has a 3.5mm jack. The newer editions of the Xbox One controller have this, but older versions will require an adapter from Microsoft. Whether it’s through an adapter or a pre-existing 3.5mm jack, most any headset or pair of headphones that can be connected this way will work.
Wireless connection is a different animal. Xbox One consoles do not support Bluetooth, nor do they support the majority of wireless USB headsets. Instead, you’ll need to seek out Xbox One-specific wireless headsets, and then follow the manufacturer’s instructions for connecting them.
Nintendo Switch and Wii U
Nintendo’s most recent console, the hybrid Nintendo Switch, has a few options for connecting 3.5mm and Bluetooth headphones/headsets. For wiring directly into the Switch, a headphone jack sits on the top-left side of the console (Note: This jack only supports audio out, and not mics. In order to use a mic for voice chat, you’ll need to connect via Nintendo’s voice chat app for smartphones). This can be used whether the console is docked or undocked — just be mindful of the distance between you and the console when docked, so it isn’t accidentally pulled out and dropped onto the floor.
There are also two options for connecting Bluetooth headphones. The first is to purchase a Bluetooth receiver dongle that plugs into the 3.5mm jack, and pair your Bluetooth headphones to it.
The second option is to plug in the Bluetooth headphone’s dongle into one of the USB ports on the Switch Dock. This requires you to have updated to the 4.0 Switch firmware or higher (you can double-check your firmware version under the System menu, as well as check for updates), but once you have the proper version, all you need to do is plug in a USB Bluetooth dongle and wait for the headphones to pair. While this can only be done while the system is a docked, a workaround exists for handheld mode. You’ll once again need to be running firmware update 4.0 or higher, and will need a USB-to-USB 3.0 adapter to plug into the USB 3.0 port under the system. This setup isn’t ideal, but it’s an effective workaround nonetheless.
SteelSeries’ Arctis line of headphones, such as the excellent Arctis 7 or the recently launched Arctis 3 Bluetooth, make for prime choices since they feature both 3.5mm and simple Bluetooth connectivity.
On Wii U, you can plug a pair of headphones into the top of the Wii U Gamepad. Unfortunately, USB headsets and Bluetooth devices are not supported on Wii U.
Finally, if you happen to have a PC connected to your TV, you’re in luck — most PCs can support virtually every pair of headphones or headsets, both wired and wireless. PCs often have a 3.5mm jack on either the front or back of the tower (or both) where you can plug in directly — just look for the tiny headphones symbol above the jack.
USB headsets can also be plugged right into any open ports on your PC. Headsets and headphones are usually plug and play, but can sometimes times require drivers or control software to work properly. Double-check your manufacturer’s setup guides or user materials.
Bluetooth is also possible on most PCs. To pair, put your Bluetooth device into discovery mode and enable Bluetooth on your PC from the audio settings. Your PC should identify the device, and once it’s connected, you’ll be set.
This article was originally posted on Digital Trends