What Audio Return Channel (HDMI ARC) Is

Introduction To HDMI Audio Return Channel

Audio Return Channel Illustration
Audio Return Channel Illustration. Image provided by HDMI.org

Audio Return Channel (ARC) is a very practical feature that was first introduced in HDMI ver1.4 and works with all later versions.

What HDMI ARC allows, if both a home theater receiver and a TV have compliant HDMI connections, and offer this feature, is that you can transfer audio from the TV back to a home theater receiver and listen to your TV's audio through your home theater audio system instead of the TV's speakers without having to connect a second cable between the TV and home theater system.

How Audio Return Channel Works

If you receive your TV signals over-the-air via antenna, the audio from those signals goes directly to your TV. Ordinarily, to get the audio from those signals to your Home Theater receiver, you would have to connect an extra cable (either analog stereo, digital optical, or digital coaxial) from the TV to the home theater receiver for this purpose.

However, with Audio Return Channel, you can simply take advantage of the HDMI cable you already have connected to the TV and the home theater receiver to transfer audio in both directions.

In addition, other audio sources connected directly to the TV via internet, digital, or analog audio inputs may also be accessible via the Audio Return Channel function.

However, it must be noted that ARC features are provided at the manufacturer's discretion - check the user manual for the specific ARC-enabled TV for details.

Steps To Activate Audio Return Channel

It must re-emphasized that in order to take advantage of Audio Return Channel both your TV and Home Theater Receiver must be equipped with HDMI ver1.4 or later, and the TV and Home Theater Receiver manufacturer has included the Audio Return Channel as an option within their implementation of HDMI.

One way to determine if your TV or home theater receiver has the Audio Return Channel option is to see if one of the 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 label designation.

To activate Audio Return Channel, you will also need to go into the TV's audio or HDMI setup menu makes click on the appropriate setting option.

Inconsistent Results

Although ideally, Audio Return Channel should be a quick, an easy, solution for sending audio from a TV to a compatible external audio system, there are some inconsistencies, based on how specific TV makers decide which of its capabilities to include.

For example, in some cases, a TV manufacturer may only provide the ability of ARC to pass two-channel audio, while in other cases, both two-channel and an undecoded Dolby Digital bitstreams can be accommodated.

Also, in some cases, ARC is active only for over-the-air broadcast and, if the TV is a Smart TV, its internally accessible streaming sources.

However, when it comes to externally connected audio sources - if you have the audio from your Blu-ray Disc or DVD player connected to the TV (instead of directly to your external audio system), the ARC feature may not pass any audio or just pass two-channel audio.

It is also important to note that even though ARC uses the HDMI physical platform, advanced surround audio formats, such as Dolby TrueHD/Atmos and DTS-HD Master Audio/:X are not accommodated at all on the original version of ARC.

eARC

Although there are some limitations with ARC, as part of HDMI ver2.1 (which was announced in January 2017), eARC (Enhanced ARC) was introduced which ups ARC capability by accommodating the transfer of immersive audio formats, such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, as well as audio from Smart TV streaming apps.

In other words, on TVs that include eARC, you can connect all of your audio and video sources to a compatible TV and the audio from those sources can be transferred from the TV to the home theater receiver via a single cable connection. You should see eARC capability in TVs and home theater receivers beginning in 2018.

Unfortunately, TV makers don't always publicize what audio formats are necessarily supported on each specific TV, and not all details are outlined in the user manual.

However, since the introduction of the original Audio Return Channel feature in 2009, all TVs and Theater Receivers now incorporate ARC, but activation steps may vary for different brands/models - check your user guide for details.

Some Sound Bars Also Support Audio Return Channel

Although Audio Return Channel as initially designed for use between a TV and Home Theater Audio system, some soundbars also support this practical feature.

If the soundbar has its own built-in amplification and an HDMI output, it may also feature Audio Return Channel. If you already own a soundbar that has an HDMI output, check for the ARC or Audio Return Channel label on the sound bar's HDMI output, or check your sound bar's user guide.

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

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

IMPORTANT NOTE: Audio Return Channel (ARC) is not be confused with Anthem Room Correction, which also goes by the moniker "ARC".

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