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What’s HDMI ARC?

Whether you’re looking to simplify your home theater setup or improve your devices’ audio and video quality, HDMI ARC can be a great solution.

hdmi cables
Image: KnowTechie

Quick Answer: HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) is a feature that allows a TV to send audio data to a surround sound system or audio device, eliminating the need for separate audio cables. HDMI ARC is available on most newer TVs, receivers, and soundbars.

When setting up a TV or similar devices, you may have noticed an HDMI port called ARC (Audio Return Channel).

The ARC standard was designed to reduce cable clutter, streamline your setup and make your audio and video devices play nicely together.

HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) is an audio and video equipment cable standard.

This popular and well-supported standard introduced the ARC protocol in HDMI version 1.4 in 2009. 

Short on time? Jump ahead

While ARC is not necessary, it makes setting up and using your equipment more convenient. It can also take advantage of newer audio formats such as Dolby Atmos and DTS HD.

So, do you want to improve your home theater’s audio and video quality without adding extra cables or complexity?

HDMI ARC might be the answer. If this sounds good to you, we’ll explain what HDMI ARC is and how it can benefit you. Keep reading to learn more.

HDMI ARC: A quick overview

Definition: HDMI ARC is a feature that allows a TV to send audio data to a surround sound system or another audio device, eliminating the need for a separate audio cable.

Compatibility: HDMI ARC is available on most newer TVs, receivers, and soundbars. To use HDMI ARC, both the TV and the audio device must have an HDMI ARC-compatible port.

Benefits: HDMI ARC simplifies setup by eliminating the need for separate audio cables and allows for better sound quality by transmitting audio data digitally. It also allows you to use your TV’s remote to control the volume of your audio device.

Limitations: HDMI ARC is limited to two-channel audio and does not support advanced audio formats such as Dolby Atmos or DTS:X. Additionally, some TVs may not support HDMI ARC if they have an older HDMI version.

Note: HDMI ARC is not to be confused with HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control), which allows compatible devices to be controlled by a single remote.

What should HDMI ARC be used for?

HDMI ARC on TV

ARC and eARC (enhanced audio return channel) take advantage of the extra bandwidth available in HDMI cables to transfer audio signals from one device to another.

Previous to ARC, HDMI cables could only transfer audio in a singular direction.

Until the ARC standard was created, transferring sound from your TV to your audio equipment took multiple cables.

With HDMI ARC, you now only need one cable to achieve this. The HDMI cable is capable of sending and receiving audio from both directions.

ARC can transfer stereo and compressed 5.1 audio formats to and from your devices. It has a maximum bandwidth of about 1 Mbps per second.

The enhanced version is more capable but not nearly as common.

EARC supports the ARC audio formats and uncompressed 5.1, uncompressed 7.1, Dolby Atmos, and the DTS: X audio formats.

Furthermore, it can transfer significantly more data simultaneously with its 37 Mbps per second transfer rate.

Do I need HDMI ARC for a soundbar?

image explaining Connect one end of the HDMI cable to the HDMI ARC port on your Vizio TV

You don’t need HDMI ARC to connect to a soundbar. While ARC is useful and reduces the cables you need, there are various ways to connect to a soundbar.

If your soundbar supports it, you can connect external devices directly to it via HDMI cables and bypass the need for ARC altogether.

If your TV and soundbar both support Bluetooth audio, you can connect the two wirelessly and achieve similar results to ARC while keeping your cable usage down.

You can also connect your TV to the soundbar using an optical cable. This method isn’t as convenient but does a good job of getting sound from your TV to your audio equipment.

Do I need a special HDMI cable for ARC?

Fortunately, just about any HDMI cable you have lying around will work with ARC and eARC.

While ARC may have been introduced in HDMI version 1.4 and eARC was introduced in HDMI version 2.1, those refer to the ports themselves.

The cables haven’t changed all that much over the years, so you shouldn’t have any issues getting your old cables to work with ARC. 

Is HDMI ARC better than optical?

optical cable soundbar

While optical is capable of getting sound from your TV to your audio equipment, it is not as good as HDMI ARC.

First, it has a maximum bandwidth of 384Kbps, less than half of the HDMI ARCs bandwidth.

Additionally, it does support the same stereo sound and compressed 5.1 audio formats as the standard ARC but doesn’t come close to matching eARC. 

Optical can’t handle various audio technologies such as Dolby Atmos, TrueHD, DTS HD, and Dolby Digital Plus. However, you lose out on potential other benefits of the ARC standard by using an optical cable.

HDMI ARC has an optional feature (which is required on eARC) to sync your audio and video for you. This auto-syncing feature is not available on the optical standard.

Optical is fine for use with older equipment or setups. If you choose between these two, there is almost no reason not to choose ARC.

HDMI ARC is the way to go

vizio sound bar optical cable

Hopefully, you now understand HDMI ARC and how it can benefit you.

Whether you’re looking to simplify your home theater setup or improve your devices’ audio and video quality, HDMI ARC can be a great solution.

Just be sure to check that your TV, receiver, and other devices are HDMI ARC-compatible before you start using them.

With HDMI ARC, you’ll enjoy a seamless and hassle-free home entertainment experience like never before.

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