The vast majority of home theater lovers and audio-visual aficionados already know the difference between eARC and HDMI ARC. However, most laymen might have seen both cable types and didn’t give it much thought. These are essentially cables that are used to link up your home theater or a soundbar, or another device.
There are a few HDMI connection types that are compatible with your TV. Furthermore, you can use them in tandem with an AV receiver if you are a home theater expert. There are also some differences between using eARC and ARC connections in certain situations. So, there is plenty to unpack.
If you are already getting confused, it’s probably better that I take it slow and start at the beginning. So, let’s take an in-depth look at “What is eARC and how does it compare to HDMI ARC?” But before that, let’s start with the basics of HDMI.
What Are HDMI Connections?
HDMI stands for “High-Definition-Multimedia Interface.” The best way to describe it would be a standard digital audio-visual connection for modern-day high-definition TVs. This connection type has a D-shaped design and can be found on numerous devices such as game consoles (7th Gen upwards), PC monitors, laptops, projectors, and more.
HDMI was invented over two decades ago in a joint effort by Hitachi, Sony, Thomson, Toshiba, Philips, and Panasonic. Its purpose was to let devices send uncompressed digital video and audio signals to a reliable physical connection.
It’s a high-speed serial link built on the pre-existing Digital Visual Interface (DVI)…
It sends the video signals to the display of a computer, and that allows you to control the signals and use them as digital audio. Stereo audio formats, uncompressed, and pulse code modulated (PCM) formats are supported by HDMI devices. Some other audio formats are optional. This ensures 8 channels can have uncompressed audio at sample rates of 32kHz – 192khz with bit-depths of 24, 20, or 16.
Dolby Digital and DTS that have compressed audio streams that are IEC 61937-compliant can also be carried by HDMI. It allows you to use 8 channels of DSD audio with a one-bit rate four times more than what can be used for Super Audio CD. If you use a version of HDMI newer than 1.3, it’s also compatible with DTS-HD Master lossless audio streams and Dolby TrueHD.
What Are HDMI ARC Connections?
Now that I’ve covered the basic HDMI connections, it’s time to find out what HDMI ARC does and how it can work for you. HDMI ARC stands for “High-Definition Multimedia Interface Audio Return Channel.” It might be a mouthful, but it’s important to know what that means.
The ARC feature was added to HDMI 1.4 models in 2009. It’s a type of additional audio connection designed to replace the masses of external cables. Typically, the cables are used to connect a TV with AV receivers or even some kind of system of active speakers. In a nutshell, it’s to make things simpler across the board.
The ‘return’ part of ARC is the audio that is sent from the TV. This signal needs to be then sent to an external AV receiver via the HDMI cable that is already being used to connect the AV receiver and TV. The ARC is another audio connection designed to replace the cables that link up the AV receiver or active speakers with the TV. Again, the idea was to simplify the whole process.
Two-way Audio Signal Travel
If you didn’t use an ARC, the HDMI cable would only let the audio travel one way. However, audio inputs AND OUTPUTS can pass through an HDMI ARC port, so the audio can travel in both directions, in or out. The return channel is used primarily so that the TV can either produce or receive the audio and visual stream and not the rest of the equipment.
A good example would be when you are using streaming apps like Netflix on any kind of smart TV. In this scenario, you will want your other equipment to handle the audio instead of your TV.
If you didn’t have the ARC option, the audio from your TV would be sent back to the amp with a different cable. Such as an RCA or Toslink. Your devices at each end would need HDMI ARC ports or sockets for the HDMI ARC to work properly and connect.
HDMI ARC Doesn’t Support Some Files Formats
Before I go any further, you need to remember that HDMI ARC does not support several audio codecs. These include Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby TrueHD. Therefore, it will probably only be able to send some kind of 5.1 data stream because it doesn’t support all audio codecs.
So, don’t assume that your TV can send DTS or 5.1 Dolby soundtracks by ARC. You need to check what your TV supports. Some TVs only can send basic stereo or Dolby Digital, which will limit your sound system options.
If ARC is limiting to you…
Buying hardware that supports HDMI eARC might be your best course of action. I’ll go into that more in-depth below. If you do want to use streaming services like Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video, or Netflix, there is good news. They now encode Dolby Atmos formats into lossy Digital Dolby Plus. This essentially means that the audio from these platforms can be handled by ARC.
What Cables Are Used for HDMI ARC?
Here is an example of the cables that can be used for HDMI 1.4 specs:[bl]
- Standard HDMI cables that can handle vids up to 720p and 1080i.
- Ethernet connection cables.
- Standard automotive cables.
- High-speed cables that support videos up to 1080p, 4K, deep color, and 3D.
- High-speed cables that have Ethernet.
In regards to devices, ARC is usually optional or an additional feature. But, any of the cable types listed above should, in most cases, support ARC when connected to the correct and appropriate port. The best advice would be to choose a cable that directly suits your video resolution needs or the device you are using.
What is eARC and How Does it Compare to HDMI ARC?
The eARC version of HDMI stands for “High-Definition Multimedia Interface Enhanced Audio Return Channel.” This feature was added to HDMI version 2.1 back in 2017.
If you know anything about HDMI, you’ll already know that when HDMI 2.0 launched, it was a massive move forward for audio. It went from supporting only 8 audio channels to 32. At the same time, it still managed to keep the maximum sample rate at 192kHz on all channels.
From that moment on, it was possible to carry object-based audio formats like DTS: X and Dolby Atmos. And, when eARC was added to HDMI 2.1, it allowed you to carry that same digital audio info back into the TV. This is the same way that an ARC with 8 channels works for all the reasons I stated above.
Do I Need a Special Cable for HDMI eARC?
HDMI cables are easy to find in this day and age. But, there are some differences if you are using eARC. Standard HDMI cables that have Ethernet or even HDMI cables with high-speed functions and Ethernet should be able to be used in conjunction with eARC.
If you are using those sorts of cables already, you probably won’t have to buy new ones or upgrade. But, if you do require higher rates that are used for video, you might need to read below.
HDMI Cable Types
Standard HDMI 2.0 cables have specific max bandwidths of around 18Gbps. These types of cables should come with certification that proves they can perform these functions. And that they’ve had EMI testing so they can minimize any wireless interference signals. Here is a definition of HDMI cables:[bl]
- Premium HDMI cables with high-speed functions.
- Premium HDMI cables with Ethernet and high-speed functions.
There’s also a third cable called ‘48G’ that has HDMI 2.1 capabilities and is considered “Ultra-High-Speed HDMI” or “Category 3”. They can support a bandwidth of 48Gbps with HDMI 2.1. And they can also support several formats, such as 4K, 5K, 8K, and 10K, that use video resolutions at around 120Hz.
These types of high-speed HDMI cables are more expensive than standard versions and are only needed for those who need resolutions higher than 4K. If you don’t need that sort of video resolution, you might be better off keeping your cash in your pocket.
Have More Questions About Using HDMI?
If so, take a look at our detailed articles on Connect a Soundbar to TV Without HDMI or Optical, What Is An HDMI Audio Extractor, Soundbar HDMI vs Optical – Which is Better, and How HDMI ARC Works with Soundbars for useful information and advice.
What is eARC and How Does it Compare to HDMI ARC? – Final Thoughts
HDMI specifications and features are generally considered optional. And the truth is that those who manufacture HDMI devices can use any combination of those specs and features in any way they see fit.
These device manufacturers can’t explain their products using the HDMI version. So, they list all the features and specs it supports. Essentially, it’s up to you to know what your devices can or cannot support.
You’ll have to find out which HDMI cable works best for the device you have, as well as the system you want to connect it to and the results you want. Some people will need standard HDMI, while others might need HDMI ARC or HDMI eARC. So, make sure you know what will work with your system before spending money on cables.
Until next time, good luck, and have fun with your favorite videos and music.