How to Connect Your Headphones to Any TV via Wireless Bluetooth

A woman watching TV while wearing wireless headphones
Philip Nealey/Getty Images

Most people tend to immediately associate headphones with listening to music. This makes sense, given the history of habit, social behaviors, and typical marketing. But thanks to the growing popularity—and more affordable pricing for greater accessibility—of modern HDTVs, using headphones enabled with wireless Bluetooth for video consumption has become a fantastic trend. It's easy enough to connect everything up.

There are more headphones to choose from than ever, many of which offer a substantial amount of features and solid audio performances. If you'd like some privacy, want to be considerate of others around you, and if you love the plush feeling of wearing comfortable headphones, don’t limit your experiences to just music. Watch TV with headphones!

Some may scoff at the idea, but there are good reasons to want to connect headphones to TVs. You might like to enjoy your own entertainment bubble that’s less affected by surrounding noises, such as street traffic, neighbors, running appliances (e.g. washer, dryer, HVAC), roommates, pets, visitors, or kids.

And if you want an even better bubble, there are Bluetooth headphones that feature active noise cancellation (ANC) technology—popular picks can be found from companies like Bose, Sony, Sennheiser, Phiaton, and more—which can effectively nullify the majority of ambient/environmental sounds.

Alternately, it could be others that you wouldn’t wish to disturb while watching TV, such as people who might be sleeping or quietly reading nearby. Since they're headphones, only you can hear the audio. And if the headphones are also Bluetooth wireless, you can freely roam room-to-room without the inconvenience of cables.

Sure, being in another room seems silly for a movie, but some of us might like to enjoy listening to the early morning news on TV. Plus, when two or more (yes, multiples are possible!) people use Bluetooth headphones to watch videos, each is able to set their own ideal volume level. No more fighting over the remote!

Unlike the simple pairing with mobile devices, there is a little bit more thought involved when it comes to connecting Bluetooth wireless headphones to TVs. Here’s what you need to do.

Check Your TV for Bluetooth

It's pretty easy to connect a laptop to Bluetooth mobile devices, and it's not so different when it comes to headphones. But despite how Bluetooth seems to be in all sorts of electronics, most TVs don't come with Bluetooth. And the ones that do (usually Smart TVs) don't always have Bluetooth connectivity advertised on the outside packaging. If you have a regular/standard TV (whether LED, LCD, Plasma, CRT, etc) and know it, then you'll just need a Bluetooth transceiver/transmitter or two to set it up with your headphones.

Otherwise, if you have a newer HDTV or Smart TV and you are unsure if it has Bluetooth, flip through the product manual and give it a read (sometimes available online).

You can also take a hands-on approach by investigating your television’s menu settings. Turn the TV on, access the system menu, and then scroll/navigate to where the sound options are located.

You can also check under the "accessories" menu option as well, since some TVs use that subsection for connecting Bluetooth headphones (in addition to input devices, like mice and keyboards). You might have to poke around a bit, since it is typical to have a variety of features to look through. When you see the option to add a Bluetooth device, follow the on-screen instructions to pair your headphones.

If your TV doesn’t have Bluetooth—or if does, but only for pairing with input devices—don’t despair!

All you need is a wireless transceiver/transmitter. But before you start searching for one of those, you first need to know which output ports you’re working with.

Identify Available Audio Outputs

The type and quantity of audio output connections will depend on whether you are using the TV or a stereo receiver/amplifier as the central piece of your entertainment system. For example, if you watch local/cable channels and/or have a DVD player connected straight to your TV, then you know the audio is going through the TV. So then you would connect a Bluetooth transceiver/transmitter to the TV so that it can send wireless audio to the headphones.

But if you have the cable box or DVD/media player connected to a stereo receiver, then the audio is going through the receiver (and likely being sent to your connected speakers, too). So in this case, you would connect the Bluetooth transceiver/transmitter to the receiver and not the TV, because the receiver is handling the audio output. Remember that the headphones will need to tap into the audio source, otherwise you won't hear a peep.

Once you’ve determined which piece of equipment should have the Bluetooth connectivity for audio output, you need to see what physical output connections are available. The common types are HDMI, Optical/TOSLINK, RCA, and the 3.5 mm audio jack. Your typical television is only going to have RCA connections, but the rest can be found on many stereo receivers (and also newer HDTVs). Take a look at which audio output connections are free to use, since that will help determine which Bluetooth transceiver/transmitter you'll need to get.

Be careful of using any 3.5 mm jack labeled as "headphone," since plugging anything in can sometimes cut the sound that is playing through speakers. This can be important in situations where you would want to use Bluetooth headphones to enjoy the TV at your preferred volume level without disrupting the speaker audio for everyone else.

Choose and Connect a Bluetooth Transceiver/Transmitter

There are many Bluetooth transceivers (combination of transmitter and receiver) and transmitters out there, but only those with the right hardware will get the job done properly. The key is to choose ones that feature Bluetooth aptX with Low Latency (not just Bluetooth aptX) so that the audio will remain synchronized with the video (explanation continued in the next section). Otherwise, there will be a delay between what you see and hear.

If you plan on using RCA or 3.5 mm connections to output audio to Bluetooth headphones, then we recommend the TROND 2-in-1 Bluetooth v4.1 Transmitter/Receiver. It’s compact, affordable, rechargeable, comes with its own cables, and supports Low Latency in both transmitter and receiver mode. Why is this important? Go check your headphones.

If your Bluetooth headphones don't support Low Latency—or if you want to upgrade your wired headphones with Bluetooth—then you’ll need to pick up a pair of these Bluetooth transceivers. Set one to transmit mode and connect it to the TV/receiver audio output. Set the other to receive mode and plug it into the 3.5 mm jack on your headphones.

If you plan on using an Optical/TOSLINK connection for audio output to Bluetooth headphones, then we recommend the Indigo BTRT1 Advanced Bluetooth aptX Low Latency Transmitter/Receiver. It’s similar to the previously-mentioned product, but has the added benefit of Optical In/Out in addition to the 3.5 mm ports. Ones like this lack internal batteries and require continual power from a nearby outlet to work, making it more ideal to use with a TV or receiver.

If you plan (or have to) use an HDMI connection for audio output, then we recommend an HDMI converter. While you can find options for wireless HDMI audio/video transmission hardware, they often cost hundreds of dollars. An HDMI converter turns an HDMI signal into Optical/TOSLINK and/or RCA. So in this case, you would still use one of both of the before-mentioned transceivers/transmitters in conjunction with the HDMI converter.

Once you have the Bluetooth adapters you need, follow the instructions to set it up with your headphones. Be sure that you're selecting the right audio output on the TV/receiver when you test it all together.

Note: some transmitters are capable of sending audio to two pairs of Bluetooth headphones at the same time. While this sounds fantastic, doing so forfeits the Low Latency aspect. And remember that low latency is critical for audio/video sync. So what happens if you want to connect multiple Bluetooth headphones? The best way is by using a simple audio/headphone splitter—you'll need to choose the RCA/3.5 mm output option for this to work. Connect the TV/receiver to the headphone splitter using an audio cable. Now you can plug multiple transceivers/transmitters into the headphone splitter; one for each pair of headphones you want to use. Be sure to perform each wireless pairing separately to avoid potential device confusions.

Resolve Bluetooth Audio/Video Sync

One legitimate concern about using Bluetooth wireless headphones with video content is the potential for delayed audio. You’ll recognize it when you hear everything a split second after it happens on the screen. If you have a more modern television (Smart TV and/or HDTV), you can check for a built-in fix. Look for an "audio delay/sync" setting (or something similarly-named) under sound options in the TV's system menu. If present, the adjustment should be shown as either a slider/bar or a box, with values typically set in milliseconds. Sometimes you might see a list of all the separate inputs/outputs that can be adjusted. Bringing that slider/number down should help minimize the delay so that the audio syncs with the video.

In rare instances, one might experience video instead of audio delay. This can happen when streaming high-definition content, where the extra moment it takes for the video to appear (sometimes due to buffering) on the screen causes it to lag behind the sound. In this case, one would simply adjust the sound settings to increase the audio delay, slowing it down in order for it to sync up with the video. Make small adjustments and test until you find the perfect match.

For best results, make sure that your smart television has been updated with the latest firmware, since that can affect options and/or performance. If you are still encountering audio/video sync problems, check to see if any of your TV’s sound settings are not currently set to "standard." Enabling various sound modes (e.g. virtual, 3D audio, surround, PCM, etc.) can unintentionally inject a delay. If you’re streaming video through an app or separate device (e.g. YouTube, Netflix, Amazon FireTV, AppleTV, Microsoft Xbox, Sony PS4, Blu-ray player, stereo receiver/amplifier), double-check physical connections as well as the audio settings on each.

Older electronics may lack these audio adjustment settings. So your best bet for keeping the audio synced with video when using Bluetooth headphones is by choosing hardware that supports Bluetooth Low Latency.

Low Latency is Key

If you are using a regular TV and/or receiver, issues with Bluetooth wireless audio/video sync can be nonexistent with the right products. Look for Bluetooth aptX with Low Latency – it needs to be on both the headphones and/or transceiver/transmitter in order to work. Low latency Bluetooth has a delay no greater than 40 ms, which creates suitable synchronization between what is seen and heard. For reference, typical Bluetooth wireless headphones exhibit audio delays ranging from 80 ms up to 250 ms. Even at 80 ms, our human brains are able to perceive audio delayed behind video, so Bluetooth aptX with Low Latency is critical.

If you want to browse through many known Bluetooth aptX-compatible products, you can visit the aptX website. Although the lists are updated frequently, they won’t necessarily show everything that is out there. So don’t be afraid to do some Google searches for more information.