A Comprehensive Guide to HDMI ARC and e-ARC

  • HDMI ARC is a digital channel that TV’s use to send audio data to a soundbar or AV receiver over an HDMI cable, which was introduced in 2009 with the specification of HDMI 1.4.
  • The Audio Return Channel (ARC) allows you to use your existing HDMI cable for both video and sound transfer between your TV and audio devices, instead of two cables.
  • With the introduction of the ‌HDMI 2.1‌ specification in 2017, the HDMI eARC standard was introduced as an update to ARC with improved bandwidth speed and support for high-quality surround sound formats like Dolby TrueHD without compression or coding into lower bitrate formats.

Most modern TV and audio devices are connected with HDMI cables. Not only image but also sound signals can be transmitted through it. The ‌High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) has been around since 2002; since then, new functions have been added continuously. HDMI has evolved to support new developments in TV, surround sound, gaming, and home cinema.

If you own a soundbar or home theater system, the Audio Return Channel (ARC), which is also known as ‌HDMI ARC‌, is one of the most practical extensions of HDMI. It was introduced with the specification of HDMI 1.4 in 2009. It simplifies the wiring of your TV and audio devices by allowing you to use just one cable for video and sound transfer instead of two cables. This makes it easier to set up your home theater system and won’t leave you with messy wires hanging around on your TV stand or wall mount.

With the introduction of the ‌HDMI 2.1‌ specification in 2017, the HDMI eARC standard was introduced. But more on that later.

What Exactly Is HDMI ARC?

HDMI ARC is a digital channel that TVs use to send audio data to a soundbar or AV receiver over an HDMI cable. This means that you can use your existing HDMI cable instead of using a different cable for your audio system.

ARC works in both directions. The same ‌HDMI ARC‌ connection also allows your soundbar or home theater system to send the sound from its speakers back to the TV without needing another set of cables between them. This helps maintain better synchronization between picture and sound, which is crucial in movies and games with immersive scenes such as explosions and gunfire.

Without ARC
With ARC

ARC is superior to older methods of transmitting digital audio signals, primarily in terms of bandwidth. Where solutions such as optical cables or RCA connectors are limited to a bandwidth of 384 kilobits per second, the ARC channel allows up to 1 megabit per second.

ARC was good enough for transmitting multichannel soundtracks, such as Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, at a bitrate of 1 Mbps up to 1080p resolution. But while ARC has proven capable enough in the past, it was not able to transmit high-quality surround sound formats like Dolby TrueHD, Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP), or DTS-HD Master Audio with up to 7.1 channels uncompressed audio signals without coding them into either Dolby Digital Plus (E-AC3) or DTS Core codecs. You’ll need HDMI eARC, which we will cover shortly.

What about DOLBY ATMOS?

ARC can, however, allow you to receive Dolby Atmos audio from streaming services such as Netflix, Disney Plus, and Amazon Prime Video, as these services embed Dolby Atmos in the lossy Dolby Digital Plus format, which ARC can handle.

What does one need to take advantage of HDMI ARC?

To take advantage of the benefits of HDMI ARC, you’ll need a TV that supports it and an audio system with its ‌HDMI ARC‌ connection. The HDMI port on your TV will be labeled either ‘ARC’ or with an icon with two triangles pointing in opposite directions.

HDMI ARC InputOutput

If you bought a TV model after 2009, chances are that it will be ARC-compatible. If you purchased your TV before 2009, you might have to upgrade your whole home theater system to take advantage of HDMI ARC.

So, if you have a TV compatible with HDMI ARC, it will work automatically‌ if you have any HDMI-enabled audio system—such as a soundbar, AV receiver, or home theater in a box. If not, consult your TV manual to learn how to enable the feature from its settings menu.

If the ARC connection is not working, the first thing to check is the CEC settings on your TV. Depending on its manufacturer, these settings may have different names in the menu (such as EasyLink for Philips TVs, AnyNet+ for Samsung TVs, Simplink for LG TVs, or Bravia Sync for Sony TVs). Still, regardless of the name, it will work the same way.

Activating CEC is a prerequisite for HDMI ARC to work, so be sure it is enabled on your TV. CEC will also allow you to use your TV remote control to control the audio system connected to it, such as adjusting the volume or navigating menus.

Once your TV is appropriately configured, connect an HDMI cable from the ARC port on your TV to any ‌HDMI‌-enabled input on your sound system and turn it on. Once you have done that, audio should begin streaming automatically from your TV to the soundbar or AV receiver.

Do you need a different HDMI cable for ARC?

A new HDMI cable is not necessary to use ARC. The HDMI cable you use for video transmissions, such as from a Blu-ray player or media streamer, will also be sufficient for the audio signal.

We have an entire article on this, so check it out for more information.

What is eARC, and what are its benefits?

Enhanced Audio Return Channel, also known as eARC, is the next generation of ARC. It is part of HDMI 2.1 specifications, and it has been specifically designed to stream high-quality audio formats without compression or coding.

The main advantage of eARC over ARC is a massive increase in bandwidth and speed, which makes it possible to send significantly more sophisticated audio signals from the television to a soundbar or an AV receiver since there’s no need for compression.

The eARC standard provides up to 32 audio channels, including uncompressed 24-bit/192kHz data streams at up to 38 Mbps. This bandwidth will theoretically allow all current audio formats, such as Dolby TrueHD, DTS Master Audio, and even object-based formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, to be transmitted via the eARC channel without compression or coding into a lower bitrate format.

Another benefit of HDMI eARC is that it can create a smoother handshake between compatible devices. This eliminates the need to activate HDMI-CEC separately for each device, which results in a much more streamlined user experience overall.

Requirements for eARC

As with HDMI ARC, the HDMI eARC technology requires a TV and an audio system to support it. This means you must have a compatible TV and audio device, such as a soundbar or AV receiver, with its ‌HDMI‌ eARC connection. This means that they will need to meet the HDMI 2.1 standard, which is often only available in newer models of these devices. Manufacturers such as Sony and Samsung released updates for their devices in early 2020 to add support for eARC. Be sure to check with your manufacturer’s website or manual to see if an update is available if that’s your case.

Sources:

https://www.tomsguide.com/us/hdmi-arc-faq,news-26262.html

https://www.sony.com/electronics/support/articles/00012943

https://www.cnet.com/tech/home-entertainment/hdmi-audio-return-channel-and-earc-for-beginners/

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About S. Santos

👋 I'm a technology columnist and blogger with over 10 years of experience, currently serving as Blue Cine Tech's AV Editor. Specialising in gadgets, home entertainment, and personal technology, my work has been featured in top technology blogs. I'm dedicated to breaking down the complexities of the latest tech trends, from explaining the intricacies of Dolby Vision to optimising your streaming experience. This blog serves as a platform for my ongoing exploration of the ever-evolving tech landscape. If you see me at industry events like CES or IFA, feel free to say hello.

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