What HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) Is

How HDMI ARC and eARC simplify TV audio connectivity

HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) simplifies sending audio from a TV to an external audio system. It was introduced in HDMI version 1.4 and works with all later versions.

This information applies to TVs from a variety of manufacturers, including, but not limited to, LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, and Vizio.

The Benefit of HDMI ARC

HDMI ARC transfers audio from a TV to a home theater receiver with the same HDMI connection that transfers video from the home theater receiver to the TV.

With HDMI ARC, you can hear TV audio through a home theater audio system instead of the TV's speakers without also connecting analog or digital optical audio cables between the TV and home theater system.

HDMI-ARC Connection Example – Home Theater Receiver

How an Audio Return Channel Works

If you receive TV signals over an antenna, audio from those signals goes directly to your TV. To get the audio from those signals to a home theater receiver, connect an extra cable (either analog stereo, digital optical, or digital coaxial) from the TV to the home theater receiver.

However, with Audio Return Channel, the HDMI cable connected to the TV and the home theater receiver can transfer audio in both directions. In addition, audio sources connected directly to the TV using internet, digital, analog, and, in some cases, HDMI inputs may also be accessed using the Audio Return Channel function.

Specific HDMI ARC features are provided at the manufacturer's discretion. Check the user manual for the specific HDMI ARC-enabled TV for details.

Audio Return Channel

HDMI.org

How to Activate Audio Return Channel

The TV and home theater receiver must be equipped with HDMI version 1.4 or later to use Audio Return Channel. Also, the TV and home theater receiver manufacturer must have included it as an option within their implementation of HDMI.

To determine if a TV or home theater receiver has Audio Return Channel, see if any HDMI inputs on the TV and the HDMI output of the home theater receiver have an ARC label in addition to the input or output number. It will be assigned to one HDMI input on the TV and one HDMI output on a home theater receiver.

HDMI ARC Connection Example – TV

To activate the Audio Return Channel, go into the TV's audio or the home theater receiver's HDMI setup menu and choose the appropriate setting option. In some cases, Audio Return Channel is automatically enabled when HDMI-CEC is activated on the home theater receiver.

Roku TV HDMI-ARC Setup Menu

The appearance of the HDMI-ARC setup menu and activation steps in TVs or home theater receivers may vary. The example shown above is for a Roku TV.

Inconsistent Results

Although Audio Return Channel should be a quick and easy solution for sending audio from a TV to a compatible external audio system, there are some inconsistencies based on how TV makers implement its capabilities.

  • A TV manufacturer may only provide HDMI ARC to pass two-channel audio. In other cases, both two-channel and undecoded Dolby Digital bitstreams may be included.
  • HDMI ARC is sometimes active only for over-the-air broadcast. If the TV is a smart TV, it's active for the TV's internally accessible streaming sources.
  • If you connected the audio from a Blu-ray Disc or DVD player to a TV (instead of directly to an external audio system), the ARC feature might not pass audio, or it may only pass two-channel audio.
  • Since HDMI-ARC works in conjunction with HDMI-CEC, glitches can occur because HDMI-CEC communication features vary among TV and home theater receiver makers.

Even though Audio Return Channel uses HDMI connections, advanced surround audio formats, such as Dolby TrueHD/Atmos and DTS-HD Master Audio/:X are not accommodated on the original version of ARC.

HDMI eARC

eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel) was developed and incorporated into HDMI version 2.1 to overcome the limitations of ARC. eARC began to be implemented on TVs and home theater receivers in 2019.

eARC adds the ability to transfer immersive audio formats, such as Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, and 5.1/7.1 channel uncompressed PCM audio from HDMI-connected source devices, as well as all audio from smart TV streaming apps. This means that on TVs with eARC, you can connect all audio and video sources to the TV. The audio from those sources can then be transferred from the TV to an eARC compatible home theater receiver through a single HDMI cable connection.

HDMI eARC Comparison Chart
HDMI Licensing

TV makers don't always publicize which audio formats are supported on each TV. With both Audio Return Channel and Enhanced Audio Return Channel activation, steps may also vary. Check your user guide or contact tech support for the exact activation steps and features.

TVs and home theater receivers that aren't HDMI 2.1 compatible cannot be upgraded to accommodate eARC.

Some Soundbars Also Support Audio Return Channel

Although Audio Return Channel was initially designed for use between a TV and home theater audio system, a select number of soundbars also support it.

If the soundbar has built-in amplification and an HDMI output, it may also feature Audio Return Channel (or eARC). If your soundbar has an HDMI output, check for the ARC, Audio Return Channel, or eARC label on the soundbar's HDMI output, or check the user guide.

If you're shopping for a soundbar and desire this feature, check the features and specifications, or do a physical inspection at the store if units are on display.

Yamaha YAS-108 Sound Bar with HDMI-ARC Connection
Yamaha Corporation

For more technical information on Audio Return Channel, check out the HDMI.org Audio Return Channel page.

Don't confuse Audio Return Channel (ARC) with Anthem Room Correction, which also uses the moniker ARC. This is important as Anthem home theater receivers feature both HDMI-ARC and Anthem Room Correction.

Was this page helpful?