What Causes Voice Delay on a TV?

When Mike Teavee tried out Wonkavision in "Charlie & The Chocolate Factory," Willy Wonka was frustrated when things transmitted to a TV set didn't always arrive in their intended form. While it may be less dramatic, a mismatch between seeing the picture and hearing the sound is also frustrating. If it isn't a problem with the broadcast itself, possible causes include loose or faulty cabling, television settings such as "Game Mode," or a delay caused by a home cinema system that you may be able to fix with a settings tweak.

Young couple sitting on couch watching television
A couple is watching TV together.
credit: Siri Stafford/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Specific TV Station

If only specific channels have the voice delay, it is likely a transmission fault with the channel. You can either report the problem to your service provider or to the station itself. If the problem is with over-the-air digital TV and affects some stations but not all of them, the problem may be with the local transmitter, which packages together the signal for a particular batch of stations into what's called a multiplex or virtual sub-channel. You can find the call sign of the transmitter operator at the Antenna Point site (see Resources) and then search online for the operator's contact details.

Specific Device

If the problem occurs on one input device (such as a cable box) but with all content, the problem is likely either with the device or the connection. Try unplugging and replugging any cables to ensure they are secured in the socket. If this adjustment doesn't work, try plugging the cable into a different input, or trying a different cable. Finally, consult the device's manual to see if it has any settings with names such as "audio delay" or "AV Sync;" you may need to adjust or switch off these settings.

Games Consoles & Game Mode

Your TV may have a setting called "Game Mode." The setting means that the television simply displays the picture as it comes from the console, rather than applying any processing effects such as smoothing the picture. Depending on whether you are playing a game or watching other video sources, having game mode switched on or off may introduce or remove a voice delay, so you may need to experiment with the setting. Check your manual as your TV may have an option to have game mode only activated when your TV is using a specific input, rather than you having to manually switch it on or off.

All Video Sources

If you get your sound from an external device such as a soundbar, home cinema system or surround sound receiver, rather than the television set, you may experience voice delay. The delay happens because the television specifically processes the sound and video input so that they remain in sync; if, however, you use a separate device for the sound it may take a different amount of time to process the sound and thereby create a noticeable mismatch of picture and sound. Most such devices have a setting to adjust the processing time so that the sound is in sync with the picture on the TV set. If this procedure doesn't work, check whether your TV has a similar setting.

Downloaded and Burned Content

If you are getting a delay when you're watching downloaded or copied video content on a USB drive, memory card or disc (either inserted into the TV or an external player), the problem may be codecs. The codecs tell the television or playback device how to decipher the code in the video file and display or broadcast the audio and video. Usually you'll have separate codecs for audio and video; if a codec is outdated or not fully supported by your TV, the discrepancy may increase the processing time for either audio or video and create a mismatch in playback. Check your TV or playback device to see if you can update the firmware so it can support newer codecs. You you may need need to update codecs on your computer and burn, copy or create the content again.