WHAT IS HDMI ARC & WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

SmartHouse - - ACCESSORIES // HDMI - Writ­ten by DAVID RICHARDS

You’ve got a TV. You’ve got your HDMI ca­ble. But what is HDMI ARC, and why should you care?

TV spec sheets can seem like a mess of acronyms at the best of times, but one that you’ll have seen crop up more than most is HDMI ARC.

That’s be­cause it’s kind of a big deal. It stands for Au­dio Re­turn Chan­nel, and if you’ve had a new TV since 2009, you may have even been us­ing it with­out know­ing it.

But get­ting clued up on what it is and why it mat­ters is key to en­sur­ing you get the most from your TV setup. Thank­fully, we’re here to help, with ev­ery­thing you need to know.

If you have pur­chased a new TV lately there is ev­ery chance that on the back is an HDMI ARC slot.

ARC stands for Au­dio Re­turn Chan­nel and while it’s been around for nearly a decade it’s only now with the ad­vent of new sound­bars that ARC is re­ally com­ing into play.

In a nutshell HDMI ARC al­lows you to use one HDMI ca­ble for both vi­sion and sound.

While HDMI has been car­ry­ing pic­tures and au­dio from source to re­ceiver since its in­cep­tion in 2004 ARC has de­liv­ered the abil­ity to “down­stream” and “up­stream” – us­ing one ca­ble.

Why would you want to do this? It means that not only can an HDMI ca­ble carry sound down­stream from a Blu-ray player or games con­sole to your TV, but also up­stream from your TV to a sound­bar or AV re­ceiver.

Pre­vi­ously, you would have had to use an op­ti­cal ca­ble to send the au­dio from your TV, with HDMI han­dled the pic­tures.

Hav­ing ARC on board makes for a much more stream­lined so­lu­tion, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to wall-mounted TVs.

HDMI ARC has in­creased in pop­u­lar­ity along with the rise of sound­bars. A pop­u­lar user sce­nario is to plug var­i­ous sources (games con­sole, Blu-ray player, stream­ing box) into your TV’s var­i­ous HDMI sock­ets, then have the one HDMI ca­ble go­ing from the TV to your sound­bar. This ensures all your sources have their au­dio needs taken care of. It’s an ap­proach favoured by many sound­bars with a sin­gle HDMI in­put, such as the re­cently up­graded Denon HEOS sound­bar or the new Q Acous­tics of­fer­ing.

Most new qual­ity TV’s sup­ports HDMI ARC.

You’ll need to find out which HDMI ports on it are ARC-com­pat­i­ble, though – it’s of­ten just one, rather than the whole lot.

The other big ben­e­fit is that your ex­ist­ing HDMI ca­bles will work just fine, so you don’t need to buy new ones.

While the abil­ity to send au­dio both ways is im­por­tant, ARC was pri­mar­ily in­tro­duced as part of im­prov­ing HDMI CEC.

THAT’S BE­CAUSE IT’S KIND OF A BIG DEAL. IT STANDS FOR AU­DIO RE­TURN CHAN­NEL, AND IF YOU’VE HAD A NEW TV SINCE 2009, YOU MAY HAVE EVEN BEEN US­ING IT WITH­OUT KNOW­ING IT.

CEC stands for Con­sumer Elec­tron­ics Con­trol, and it’s an­other ‘be­hind the scenes’ thing that’s work­ing to make your AV setup sim­pler.

The only prob­lem with ARC is that it was orig­i­nally made to sup­port the same au­dio for­mats as the op­ti­cal con­nec­tion it re­places. This means it isn’t guar­an­teed to sup­port the more ad­vanced au­dio for­mats that HDMI would usu­ally of­fer.

This is be­cause some TV man­u­fac­tur­ers have re­cently started to out­put Dolby Dig­i­tal Plus (up to 5.1) over ARC, and some AV re­ceivers and sound­bars have started to sup­port it too. But the ‘ifs’, ‘ands’ and ‘buts’ around it don’t make it easy to un­der­stand.

The idea is that eARC should change all that. It stands for En­hanced Au­dio Re­turn Chan­nel, which will be in­tro­duced as part of HDMI 2.1 this year. It ups the band­width, and will sup­port un­com­pressed au­dio for­mats all the way up to Dolby At­mos and DTS: X.

It will also make for faster data trans­fer – for pic­tures and au­dio – mean­ing com­mon HDMI is­sues such as lip-sync­ing prob­lems will be a thing of the past.

Un­like be­fore, you’ll need to up­grade your HDMI ca­bles to get this sup­port.

You’ll also need work­ing HDMI 2.1 ports as well, at both source and re­ceiver. Def­i­nitely some­thing to keep an eye out for if you’re shop­ping for a new TV or sound­bar in 2018.

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