What Is HDMI ARC? – The next time you set up a TV or connect a soundbar, you might observe that one of your HDMI inputs is labeled “ARC.” Though you may not understand it, those three letters indicate one of the best home-theater features — one that can save you money, decrease your cable clutter and simplify your home-theater setup.
What is HDMI ARC?
The often-overlooked ARC stands for “Audio go back Channel,” and ever since the HDMI 1.4 standard was introduced, ARC has been accessible on TVs, soundbars and receivers. This procedure offers two-way communication between devices over a single HDMI connection. Fundamentally, the HDMI ARC port lets you use HDMI as both an input and an audio output.
Since ARC was introduced in 2009, it has become a very common standard, and you’ll find it on virtually all TVs, soundbars and receivers sold in recent years. Anything that works with the HDMI 1.4 standard should support ARC, but check the documentation for your particular devices to be certain.
What can you do with HDMI ARC?
That two-way flow of sound means that you can do some things that used to need extra cables.
First, you can attach your audio system with a single HDMI cable. Connect your soundbar to the TV using the designated ARC-capable port, and you can make use of it for every device that connects to the TV, counting Blu-ray players, game consoles and other devices. And it does that through the TV itself, in its place of requiring a separate audio receiver.
Second, you can run these connections from side to side the soundbar itself, letting you shift the multiple HDMI connections from the TV to the soundbar without requiring any additional setup. This is particularly useful for instances in which your TV is wall-mounted and you either don’t have access to all of the HDMI ports or merely want a cleaner look with fewer cables running to and from the TV. It also means fewer cables to install.
When your TV is connected to a soundbar or speaker system, you can also use the ARC connection to deliver TV audio to your speakers. Audio going to the TV from an antenna, for example, can also be output over HDMI and piped through the soundbar instead of just the TV’s built-in speakers. This is particularly important for smart TVs, for which streaming services deliver all content via Wi-Fi, with nothing to feed into a receiver. Instead, the ARC connection lets you a production that sounds to your soundbar without having to connect with a dedicated audio cable. Read Also:
You can also make use of this in conjunction with another HDMI standard, called Consumer Electronics Control (HDMI-CEC), which lets you control exterior devices – like Blu-ray players or satellite boxes – using your TV remote. By using the ARC connection for audio and the HDMI-CEC functionality (this should be enabled on your TV by defaulting), you can decrease both the number of cables used and the number of remote controls needed for your home theater.
Setting up for sound
It may take a pair of extra steps to get the whole thing activated and set up for ARC, depending on your TV’s producer and the specific model.
First, determine which port(s) have ARC support. Most TV manufacturers offer ARC output over only one HDMI port in its place of all three or four ports on the set. This is more often than not indicated by a label on the set itself. If the HDMI ports aren’t obviously labeled, you can check the TV manual, which should indicate which HDMI port to make use of.
Second, you may need to make active ARC output on the TV. You will usually find this feature in the Settings menu, under Audio. While many TVs auto-detect devices with ARC capacity, others require you to turn on the feature manually.
Finally, just plug in your stuff. This is dead simple; any HDMI cable will work. The only thing to keep in mind is that the ARC-enabled port needs to be connected to your external audio device.
While the simplicity of ARC and audio-over-HDMI is great, it’s not completely wonderful. The ARC standard was designed specially to replace S/PDIF digital audio outputs (also called TOSLINK), and thus supports each audio format that would in general pass through S/PDIF: Dolby Digital, DTS and PCM audio. It can handle both the TV’s regular two-channel audio and 5.1 surround sound without any problem.
But it also has the identical limitations as the S/PDIF standard it replaces. Specifically, it can’t send HD or high-bit-rate audio used by standards like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. This is particularly exasperating because downstream audio over HDMI can carry the signal with no problem; it’s purely a restriction of the ARC spec.
Even more exasperating, some TVs really downgrade the audio output over ARC, converting the whole thing to two-channel sound even if it originated as 5.1 audio. It’s not common, but depending on your make and model of the TV, you might, in fact, wind up with lower sound quality over ARC. In these instances, connecting an extra audio cable or two may be worth the problem.
What comes next: HDMI 2.1 with eARC
In 2018, HDMI 2.1 will start on showing up on TVs and sound equipment, and with it will come a new and improved audio technology, called Enhanced Audio Return Channel, or eARC. The biggest development eARC offers is support for the full-resolution audio signal, meaning that it will hold up Dolby Atmos and similar uncompressed sound.
Unlike the original HDMI ARC, which works with all HDMI cables, eARC will necessitate new cables that meet the 2.1 specs. And if you’re looking to upgrade your TV near the beginning next year, be ready to shop for a new soundbar, too.