Simply put, HDMI ARC lets your home theater use the “Return Channel” on how to Use HDMI ARC to let your home theater equipment talk back and forth with each other. This means fewer cables and better control because you don’t have to connect an HDMI cable to the TV first and then run a separate audio cable from the TV to the audio equipment.
This lets you use a single remote for your TV, receiver, and other devices instead of multiple remotes for your TV, receiver, etc. If you’ve heard of eARC, which stands for “enhanced” Audio Return Channel, you’ll know that all of this also applies to that standard, with the exception that eARC has a few more features. If you want to learn more about this, check out our article that compares the two in depth.
What is HDMI ARC
“Audio Return Channel,” or “ARC,” is a feature that people often forget about. Since the HDMI 1.4 standard came out, ARC has been making its way into new TVs, soundbars, and A/V receivers. This protocol lets two devices talk to each other in both directions over a single HDMI connection.
The HDMI ARC port basically lets you use HDMI as both an input and an output for audio. Since it came out in 2009, ARC has become a very common standard. All of the best TVs and soundbars we’ve reviewed, from the Devialet Dione to the Sonos Arc, have it.
ARC should work with anything that works with the HDMI 1.4 standard, but you should check the documentation for your devices to be sure. Even though most TVs came out after HDMI 1.4 became the standard, not all of them support ARC. However, almost all of them do.
How to Use HDMI ARC
- Prepare an HDMI ARC cable that is compatible with your devices.
- Connect the cable to the TV’s HDMI IN (ARC).
- Connect to the HDMI OUT (TV-ARC) port of the speaker that you want to connect.
- The TV sound will be played through your external speakers.
EARC VS ARC
Bandwidth is the main difference between HDMI ARC and eARC. Since HDMI 2.1 has a higher bandwidth than HDMI 1.4, it can send more data faster. This means that the audio signal doesn’t need to be compressed as much, so eARC gives you better sound quality.
Bandwidth can be thought of like a pipe that can only carry a certain amount of water at one time. The more water can flow through the pipe, the wider it is. In the same way, HDMI 2.1 is able to send more audio and video data over time because it has a higher bandwidth.
What do you need to use HDMI ARC?
To use HDMI ARC, you will need a TV and an audio processor (like an AV receiver or soundbar) with ports that support ARC. Look at the back of your TV. If it has three or four ports, you need to find the one that says “ARC” or “eARC” (we’ll talk about the latter soon). Labeling isn’t required, but if your TV was made in late 2009 or later, you should be able to find one. If you’re not sure, look at the TV’s user manual.
HDMI ARC will work by itself on many TVs. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to get your TV’s remote and change a few settings, like turning off your TV’s built-in speakers and letting your TV send sound to an external speaker or amplifier.
You don’t need a new cable to use HDMI ARC. Any HDMI cable should be able to meet the requirements. This could (potentially) become a problem when we move on to eARC. But I’ll talk about that later.
Using HDMI ARC does not require a new HDMI cable. Any HDMI cable should be able to cope with the requirements – it’s only when we move on to eARC that this could (potentially) become an issue.
Most soundbars and TVs have an HDMI port. Keep in mind you need to use an HDMI ARC or eARC cable and port. If you don’t have this, you’ll need an optical cable in addition to an HDMI cable. With an HDMI 2.0b cable, you can transmit the sound of your television to your soundbar.
It can handle both the TV’s regular two-channel audio and 5.1 surround sound without any trouble. But it also has the same limitations as the S/PDIF standard it replaces. Namely, it can’t send HD or high-bit-rate audio used by standards like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.