Best ARC HDMI Cable: How Does It Differ From regular HDMI and eARC HDMI

FACTS CHECKED BY  Jose George​

We all know that with a single HDMI cable, you can send both audio and digital video from device to device. However, the digital highway is a single flow. Audio and video are from the device from which the sound originates to the TV (or projector), never vice versa. 

To control volume, you have to use HDMI CEC, also known as Consumer Electronics Control, extremely, very low-bandwidth commands that you can find in both directions along the HDMI cable. You’ll need a TV remote to control the AV receiver’s volume and an AV receiver remote to turn off the TV.

It wasn’t until the incorporation of a revised HDMI standard (HDMI 1.4) that things began to change, thanks to ARC technology. It’s designed to control all your audio equipment with one remote.

You might already be using the best ARC HDMI cable without knowing it. Now, let’s understand how it works.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

What Are ARC HDMI Cables?

Audio Return Channel enhances a TV’s capability to transmit back audio along the HDMI cable to the original device. If you have an AV receiver and fix it in a streaming device, game console, or Blu-ray player, the receiver plays the audio via your home speakers and transfers the video part through to the TV. 

Several TVs have TV runners or streaming applications. If you need audio from your speakers and not built-in speakers in your TV, then you must run another cable from the TV to the receiver, which is cumbersome and requires one to press extra buttons when you switch to the TV as your desired audio source. HDMI ARC offers the simplicity of using one cable to serve your sound requirements.

Combination of Optical Cables and Regular HDMI Vs. ARC: What’s the difference?

Why do more and more people choose the HDMI ARC over the optical cable?

Easier Installation

The combination of optical cable and regular HDMI undermines the simplicity of a single-cable connection.

Better sound

An optical cable is the best choice if you send Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sounds between devices. However, you’ll need to create a different surround sound type format, such as DTS.X or Dolby Atmos. Regardless of the data capacity, HDMI ARC can transfer these formats. Therefore, if you’re streaming any Dolby Atmos title from sites such as Disney+, you can transmit signals to your soundbar or an AV receiver that’s compatible.

The only downside is that although HDMI ARC can transmit high bandwidth formats, this might not be possible if your device doesn’t support such formats. For example, some devices can play Dolby Atmos from their inbuilt speakers but can pass through the same content using an HDMI ARC type of connection.

Simpler switching

You’ll need to physically switch to an optical port when you use an optical link from the soundbar or TV to the receiver. But to listen to your TV’s sound, change to the HDMI ports on the soundbar, receiver, or TV when switching to external sources of the program. You will have to permit or deactivate your TV’s in-built speakers every time you change. But when it comes to HDMI ARC, you may leave the soundbar or receiver’s remotes when watching a TV program; the receiver or soundbar automatically switches to the right input.

Optical Cable

Caption: Optical Cable

HDMI ARC Vs. Regular HDMI: What’s the difference?

HDMI and HDMI ARC are largely the same. If you plug a normal HDMI cable into the ARC port, it will act as normal HDMI.

The difference happens at the receiving end. The connected device must be ARC compatible, or it will not work.

Be sure of the labels on your TV and Audio equipment. Most soundbars have an HDMI ARC port, similar to your TV port. If you don’t have any other speakers, you don’t need HDMI ARC.

HDMI EARC Vs. HDMI ARC: What’s the difference?

Compared to connections such as those of optical audio, HDMI ARC was a huge advancement. However, HDMI ARC has one key limitation: although it has a bandwidth capable of supporting Dolby Atmos, it only supports the lossy version of the format that works with Dolby Digital Plus. But keep in mind that if you’re streaming from Apple TV or Netflix, it isn’t an issue since it uses similar Atmos that such services use.

With physical media such as game discs, Blu-Ray discs, and certain downloaded audio files, they use higher-quality versions of Dolby Atmos. That is because of the hi-res and lossless features Dolby TrueHD has. Also, there’s the chance that, in the future, streaming services will provide lossless audio.

Dolby TrueHD uses higher bandwidth than HDMI ARC, and Dolby Digital Plus just wasn’t built for higher bandwidths. Hence the emergence of the eARC capable of handling lossless hi-res audio of 24 bits.

Is eARC Only About Getting Higher-Quality Dolby Atmos?

Not really. HDMI eARC supports a bandwidth of up to 37 Mbits/second for the audio return channel, while HDMI ARC supports more than 1 Mbits/second. This huge difference enables an eARC to pass different hi-res audio formats. An example is Dolby TrueHD which provides Atmos, indicating you can use TrueHD to transmit lossless forms of less colorful audio content, such as 7.1, 5.1, or a simple dual-channel stereo. That also applies to formats such as DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS-HD, and DTS: X. 

eARC features an automatic lip-sync characteristic. Therefore, you may not need to move to delay mode on your audio gear or TV to have a good combination of picture and sound, to use optical connections or HDMI ARC.

ARC needs HDMI-CEC activated on the gear to work together. Keeping CEC enabled and causing trouble is preferable. It may be best to use an eARC that doesn’t have CEC.

Is HDMI 2.1 The Same Thing as eARC HDMI?

HDMI 2.1 is the latest HDMI specification that implements a list of specifications and requirements manufacturers must follow when developing an HDMI 2.1. Among other features of the HDMI 2.1 is the HDMI eARC. 

However, manufacturers can decide on the specific HDMI 2.1 features they would like to include in their design. Therefore, they could choose to include all features or a selected few. eARC falls under the category of optional features as with the preceding HDMI versions.

Often, the fact that you can include the eARC feature on chipsets that aren’t HDMI 2.1 confuses many. That means devices could have the eARC feature but lack any further HDMI 2.1 specifications. It’s important to find the definite product box label, HDMI ports, and specs to avoid confusion.

Should I Equip My AV Receiver, Soundbar, or TV With HDMI eARC?

It wouldn’t hurt to equip your device with an HDMI 2.1 eARC because it’s probably the latest video and audio equipment connection standard. Even when you don’t intend to enjoy the benefits immediately, it will serve you for as long as 10 years. 

However, if you never intend to connect your device to any external sound system, you could stick to the HDMI ARC. Also, if you’re buying a sound system and don’t care much about the hi-res audio, future-proofing, or Dolby Atmos, you can do without an eARC.

Conclusion:

For the average consumer, TV speakers are usually sufficient for streaming shows, console games, and other media. Most people don’t even know they can send TV audio to another device. I recommend a soundbar. TV speakers barely have bass, and adding bass to your audio is a great improvement. There are plenty of budget-friendly soundbars that improve over TV speakers. You’ll need to choose your audio connection between optical cables, HDMI ARCs, and eARC cables.

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