HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) has been a part of our entertainment lives for nearly two decades now. Though the look of the cable has remained the same over the years, the input has undergone many improvements since its release in 2002.
With each iteration of HDMI we’ve gotten higher bandwidths, faster data rates, richer colors and better audio quality. But HDMI manufacturers have been steering towards the notion that “less is more,” and thus, the creation of HDMI ARC and eARC.
What does this new technology mean for you? And is it time to upgrade? We’ve got answers to all of your questions, along with a few suggestions for HDMI ARC-compatible products.
What Is HDMI ARC?
ARC stands for Audio Return Channel, and it’s slowly becoming a standard among entertainment products today. The technology greatly simplifies the audio in your home entertainment system and essentially allows you to control it with a single remote.
With earlier technologies, your standard setup may have involved multiple cables running between your TV, receiver and other elements of your entertainment setup. But with the Audio Return Channel capability, you can do away with the extra cables and just have one connection between your TV and sound system.
This is particularly useful if you have multiple sources, like a Blu-ray player, Amazon Fire Stick or cable box, accompanying your television. And with an ARC-compatible sound system, you can turn everything on when you power up the TV.
Do You Need Special Cables to Use HDMI ARC?
As long as your devices have matching sockets, you can take advantage of ARC with any HDMI cable. Not sure if your TV is ARC-enabled? Just peek around back and look for the specially-labeled HDMI ports. Some manufacturers don’t have it denoted in the back, though, in which case you can just check out the owner’s manual. If you have a new TV, there’s a good chance its ARC-capable.
The feature should work on most TVs automatically. But if not, you may have to browse through the menu to configure the settings. There is a possibility that you’ll need to turn off the built-in speakers and prompt the television to send audio out to your sound system.
Is HDMI ARC Better Than Optical?
As far as sound quality goes, many users have found the audio to be comparable with optical. However, ARC’s advantage lies in its video capabilities, as an optical cable can only work with sound. Having a visual display to tweak your audio settings is a big plus for many users.
But this isn’t to say optical is completely obsolete. Many home entertainment aficionados have found optical to be much more stable. Due to its complexity, HDMI ARC may be finicky depending on the devices.
What Is HDMI eARC?
HDMI eARC is the next evolution of the connection and has greatly improved upon its e-less predecessor. Standing for Enhanced Audio Return Channel, this feature is coupled with the latest HDMI 2.1 version. The biggest improvement over ARC is the whopping 37x boost in bandwidth and speed. With this huge jump, full resolution audio formats like Dolby TrueHD, Atmos and DTS:HD are all compatible.
Is ARC Compatible With eARC?
In short, no. If your television has eARC, but your soundbar only has standard ARC, there is a possibility of getting sound. But since the bandwidth is far smaller for your audio device, you won’t be able to enjoy the high quality sound from your TV.
It’s possible that in the future some soundbars or AV receivers will receive compatibility upgrades, but this is up to the discretion of the manufacturers.
Do I Need Different Cables for HDMI eARC?
If you have standard HDMI cables with ethernet or High Speed HDMI cables with ethernet, you should have no problem as long as both devices are compatible with the newest format. Ultra High Speed HDMI cables with ethernet would be the preferred choice, though.
ARC and eARC Enabled Products
65″ LG OLED65C9P 4K HDR Smart OLED HDTV – Recent Sale Price: $2099 | Reg. Price: $2996.99
This TV was selling for hundreds of dollars less than MSRP when it was last seen in our forums, so definitely check for deals before you buy. It includes four HDMI 2.1 ports and is eARC compatible with support for bitstreaming HD audio, like Dolby TrueHD, TrueHD+Atmos, DTS-HD HR, DTS-HD MA and DTS:X. The HDMI 2.1 also makes it a good choice if you plan on connecting it to your PC for gaming.
65″ Class Samsung Q70R QLED Smart 4K UHD TV – Recent Sale Price: $1099.99 | Reg. Price: $2199.99
While QLED tech present in Samsung TVs might be a sliver behind LG, this model is still a very impressive machine. The Q70R houses HDMI ARC ports and is ready to simplify your home entertainment system with its OneRemote. This TV is another good option for gamers, as it comes with FreeSync.
TCL 65″ Class 4K UHD Roku Smart TV– Recent Sale Price: $439 | Reg. Price: $469
If you’re looking to get in on the ARC action without breaking the bank, this TV is the best bang for your buck. It includes one HDMI ARC port so you can have a clean entertainment setup like the aforementioned Samsung for less than half the price. Roku is built-in, as well, so you don’t have to worry about wasting an HDMI slot for it.
Yamaha ATS-1080 2.1 Channel Soundbar with Dual Built-in Subwoofers – Recent Sale Price: $99 | Reg. Price: $149.99
The Yamaha ATS-1080 is a quality soundbar that is easy on the ears and even better on the wallet. It offers several ways to connect to your TV, including optical, analog, bluetooth and HDMI ARC. Not many soundbars at this price point offer ARC, and the ATS-1080 definitely outclasses its competitors with DTSVirtualX.
Check Price at Costco
Samsung HW-Q90R 510W 7.1.4-Channel Soundbar System – Recent Sale Price: $799 | Reg. Price: $1497.99
The Q90R resides on the top-end of soundbar systems available from Samsung. Slickdealers were quick to jump on this recent deal given the steep discount. Despite just having HDMI ARC, users found that it handled DTS:X and Dolby TrueHD with no issues at all. Even better news, a firmware update for eARC is on its way for the device and may be ready the next time this soundbar system goes on sale.
Polk Magnifi Mini Sound Bar and Wireless Subwoofer – Recent Sale Price: $135 | Reg. Price: $233.77
During a recent deal, many Slickdeals users were able to snag this little sound system for nearly half price. The Polk Magnifi Mini Sound Bar is a perfect sound solution for those looking to get some good audio in a small living room or bedroom. For the price, many owners have commented on its amazing sound quality and the impressively small size of the device.
If you feel like HDMI ARC is something you’re ready for, make sure to head to our Deal Alert page to set up notifications for compatible devices.