HDMI ARC vs Regular HDMI: Are They the Same?

So you’re looking at the back of your TV and wondering why one of your HDMI ports has the label “HDMI ARC” instead of the usual label. Not sure what that means?

What is the HDMI ARC?

HDMI ARC is a technology found on most modern home-theatre systems. It stands for Audio Return Channel. The technology was introduced in HDMI 1.4 versions, and it has become the standard for most HDMI cables today.

What HDMI ARC does is allow audio signals to transfer to and from devices. Essentially, it eliminates the need to use audio cables – everything is done through the HDMI cable.

In other words, regardless of what device you’re using as a source, the audio will be redirected to the right speakers. You can also control the audio of your audio device through your TV’s remote.

For example, if you’re using a TV that’s connected to a soundbar through HDMI ARC, every type of media you watch, whether TV channels, DVD-Players, Streaming Dongles, Netflix, and whatnot, will have sound sent to the soundbar.

In one sentence; no need to worry about audio in or audio out, the HDMI cable takes care of it.

HDMI ARC vs Regular HDMI

Does Your TV Have an ARC Connection?

The easiest way to check if your TV has an ARC connection is to look for an HDMI port with an “ARC” label, it’s usually separate from the other ports. Generally, ARC is the only HDMI port on your TV that will be labelled e.g. “HDMI 1 (ARC)”.

Most modern TVs (from 2009 and newer) will have at least one ARC port. On some TVs, every port will be ARC compatible but those are rare. If you’re not sure if your TV supports ARC, check the online manual for your model.

Setting Up an HDMI ARC Connection:

Setting up the HDMI ARC is very easy but you will need to follow a few steps.

  1. Locate the HDMI ARC port on your TV.
  2. Insert a High-Speed HDMI cable.
  3. Power on the TV.
  4. Power on the audio device
  5. Plug the other end of the HDMI cable into the ARC port on your audio device.
  6. In TV’s settings, disable “TV Speakers”
  7. Enable ARC or HDMI CEC in the TV’s settings
  8. Test to see if your TV’s sound comes through the speakers

The steps to use eARC are the same as ARC but you will need a high-speed HDMI cable. The connected audio device will also have to support eARC (most soundbars do not).

The most common mistake people make is failing to change the audio output to HDMI ARC. On some TVs, you will also need to toggle HDMI control to on. When using a receiver, you will also need to enable HDMI control.

On some TVs, particularly Sonys, the feature is not called HDMI ARC but rather HDMI-CEC, and it’s often found in the system settings menu.

HDMI CEC must be turned on to use ARC, it’s usually disabled by default. In some cases, it’s in the “Advanced Features” section. The exact location of the setting will vary depending on your TV but it should not be hard to find.

If HDMI ARC is still not working after the above steps, the problem may be with one of your device’s firmware or software. Consider looking for the latest updates for both of your devices and run an update; that should solve the problem.

When in doubt, you can always contact your TV manufacturer’s customer support.

Do You Need a Specific HDMI Cable for HDMI ARC?

No, you do not need a separate HDMI cable. Any old cable will work. While the technology was introduced in the HDMI version 1.4, most HDMI cables meet the standard. As a matter of fact, you might already be using ARC without even knowing it.

On the other hand, if you want to stream particularly high definition media with 5.1 surround sound or better, it’s recommended to get a high bandwidth HDMI cable. But those cables are only necessary for advanced audio systems.

Is HDMI and HDMI ARC the Same?

HDMI and HDMI ARC are, for the most part, the same. The difference occurs on the receiver side. The attached device has to be ARC compatible, otherwise, it won’t work.

Make sure to check the labels on both your TV and your audio device. Most soundbars have a port labelled HDMI ARC, similar to the one on your TV.

When to Use HDMI ARC vs Regular HDMI

HDMI ARC is useful for setups that have external speakers for audio, such as soundbars or home theatres. However, if you don’t have any other speakers, and you mainly use your TV’s speakers, HDMI ARC is not really needed.

ARC was designed so you can use one remote to control all of your audio devices. For the average consumer, TV speakers are usually good enough for shows, console games, and other media. Most people don’t even know they can send their TV audio to another device.

Personally, I highly recommend buying a nice soundbar. TV speakers have hardly any bass, and adding some bass to your audio is a big improvement. There are plenty of budget-friendly soundbars out there that are a vast improvement over TV speakers.

Can the HDMI ARC Output on My TV be Used as Normal HDMI?

Yes. HDMI cables are an all-in-one solution. If you plug a regular HDMI cable into the ARC port, it will act as a regular HDMI.

Which one is Better HDMI ARC or Optical?

HDMI ARC is much better than optical because it has a much higher bandwidth thus being able to transfer higher-resolution video and audio. The optical cable and technology are quite limited. Optical also does not support video.

However, for the absolute best theatre-like audio experience, use HDMI eARC, an enhanced version of the audio return channel that requires an HDMI 2.1 port.

What is HDMI eARC?

eARC stands for (Enhanced Audio Return Channel) and does the same thing as a regular ARC but with more features and bandwidth. Essentially, eARC is a faster and better version of ARC.

The advantage to using eARC is for features such as; uncompressed audio on the following channels: 5.1, 7.1, and Dolby Atmos.

In other words, for the real home theatre enthusiasts, eARC is what you want to use for your setups because it delivers the absolute best audio. Of course, It works best when connected to an eARC compatible receiver.

If your audio device, such as a soundbar, does not support eARC, it will simply use the regular version of ARC, and you’ll still be able to receive audio.

Remember, a high-speed HDMI cable is recommended for eARC, a regular HDMI cable can be used for the normal version of HDMI ARC. Speaking of HDMI cables, most of eARC compatible TVs use an HDMI 2.1 port.

What Can I Do if HDMI ARC is Not Working?

In most cases, the HDMI ARC port will work without any problems. If it does not, then you will have to enter the TV’s settings and look for the option to enable HDMI ARC audio. It might not have the standard name, look for CEC or other labels.

The power on both devices needs to be on too. The steps vary depending on your TV’s model, so make sure to check your TV’s manual.

About S. Santos

Tech columnist and tech blogger, audiovisual aficionado trying to keep up with the ever-evolving world of gadgets, home entertainment, and personal technology. If not fiddling with AV cables at home or in front of the computer, he can be found playing tennis or padel.

2 thoughts on “HDMI ARC vs Regular HDMI: Are They the Same?”

    • You will need an HDMI arc output to take advantage of HDMI arc. If your TV has 2 HDMI outputs and none of them is labelled “HDMI arc”, there´s a chance one of them is “ARC”, to confirm check TV settings as it will be labelled there.

      Reply

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