Linux Mint has the slickest install of any distro I've seen... up until you try to configure sound for anything that isn't vanilla stereo. Then it turns into a nightmare.
My HTPC Box is connected to the reciever spdif via toslink. In the past, I'd just uninstall Pulseaudio using this guide and install Alsa and be done with it. However this doesn't seem to work with Cinnamon as I attempted it and found I was still confined to stereo via some remnant of Pulseaudio. I ended up doing a fresh install to fix it- No loss, as I'd just installed anyway, but you might want to avoid it.
I did a lot of surfing and finally I found an article that mentioned that the a52 plugin was missing entirely. This guide was the solution that worked for me.
A missing note for newbs like me... before following the "Building/Installing Required a52 Plugin" in the above guide, go to Menu/Preferences/Software Sources. Open it and check the "Enable source code repositories." Otherwise you'll fail on the
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sudo apt-get build-dep libasound2-plugins
Up until this point, I'm pretty sure everything is correct. Next is where it gets messy. After restarting, the digital in the Sound options menu is still firmly deciding to be stereo. So I grabbed a copy of Pulse Audio Volume Control.
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sudo apt-get pavucontrol
Run pavucontrol (or Menu/Sound and Video/Pulse Audio Volume Control),and the 5.1 settings show up! Set it to one of the digital 5.1 modes in the config tab.
Test running something you know is 5.1. I used the ac3 file at http://www.lynnemusic.com/surround.html
I ran it in the default player (Videos) with preferences/audio set to ac3 passthough.
However. If you have my problem, the player won't play at all- it just sits there. Same with movies.
What I found I need to do to fix this is first run pavucontrol- leave it open and then run Sound Settings. Set the source to digital in there and the sound will play. You can close Sound settings but as soon as pavucontrol is closed, you have to do it all over again.
It's imperfect, but works after a fashion. If nothing else, at least you can use all that hardware sitting in the living room to its fullest.
Any of the gurus have any ideas? I'm sure there's a better solution to this than I've fumbled across.
I hope this helps someone. If I find a better solution, I'll update this thread. Thanks!