HDMI ARC vs eARC, Which One Is Better for Your Home Theater?
If you’ve ever reached behind your TV to plug in a streaming device or other media player, you might have noticed ports labeled HDMI ARC or eARC. These ports were designed to connect your TV to a soundbar or AV receiver, and they can each enhance your TV’s audio. Here’s everything you need to know about HDMI ARC vs eARC, and which one you should use to get the best audio quality from your home theater.
What Is HDMI?
HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) is the most popular standard used to transfer high-definition audio and video between devices. With a single HDMI cable, you can connect a TV or monitor to almost any modern media player (such as a DVD player, game console, etc.)
To connect a media player or sound system to your TV, you just need to plug an HDMI cable into the output port on your device and the input port on your TV.
What Is HDMI ARC?
In 2009, HDMI 1.4 was released with a feature called ARC (audio return channel), which improved on the previous standard by allowing a single HDMI connection to be used as both an input and an output. This eliminated the need to use a dedicated audio cable to connect a soundbar or AV receiver to your TV.
HDMI was originally developed to send video one way, from a device to a display. So, if your TV doesn’t have an HDMI ARC port, you will need to use a separate analog or digital optical cable to send audio out from your TV to a soundbar or receiver.
In addition, ARC allows you to send audio from devices plugged into your TV (such as a Blu-ray player) to your soundbar or receiver. And, likewise, you can send video from media players plugged into your soundbar or AV receiver to your TV.
HDMI ARC can also carry data signals, which means you can control your soundbar with your TV remote. Most TV will automatically turn on the soundbar when you push the power button on your remote, and you can control the volume on your soundbar or receiver with your TV remote. However, you might have to enable this feature manually, depending on your TV.
What Do You Need to Use HDMI ARC?
In order to use HDMI ARC, all of your devices will need to support the feature, including your TV, soundbar/receiver, and your HDMI cable. While most HDMI cables should work, you can make sure by looking for a “high-speed” cable that supports the HDMI 1.4 standard.
A high-speed HDMI cable will also allow you to transmit 4K video to your TV and 5.1 compressed surround-sound audio to your speakers or soundbar. If you want to know more about the different types of surround-sound setups, check out our guide on how to set up a surround sound system.
What Is HDMI eARC?
In 2019, HDMI 2.1 was released with a new feature called eARC (enhanced audio return channel). This advancement has a higher bandwidth, giving you better audio quality and support for more immersive audio formats, such as uncompressed surround sound and Dolby Atmos.
HDMI ARC vs eARC: What’s the Difference?
The main difference between HDMI ARC vs eARC comes down to bandwidth. Since HDMI 2.1 has a higher bandwidth than HDMI 1.4, it can transfer more data faster. That means the audio signal doesn’t have to be compressed as much, and you’ll get better audio quality with eARC.
You can think of bandwidth like a pipe that can only transport a certain amount of water over time. The wider you make the pipe, the more water can pass through. In the same way, a higher bandwidth allows HDMI 2.1 to transfer more audio and video data over time.
With its higher bandwidth, HDMI 2.1 can also transfer enough data to support uncompressed 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound. It even supports Dolby Atmos audio, which gives you a 3D audio experience, with sounds that come from all directions, including above you.
In addition, eARC gives you other features, like lip sync correction, which will automatically correct for any processor delays to ensure that audio always matches the video. This feature is also found in some ARC devices, but it is only mandatory with eARC devices.
In order to use eARC, you will need an “ultra-high-speed” HDMI cable that supports HDMI 2.1. To make sure that a cable supports eARC, you should also look for one that has an HDMI certification label and a QR code on the label.
However, since the latest standard is so new, you will only find HDMI 2.1 ports in high-end TVs and sound systems. To find a sound system that supports ARC or eARC, check out our list of the best soundbars and the best surround-sound speaker systems.
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