What HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) Is

How HDMI ARC and eARC simplify TV audio connectivity

Audio Return Channel Illustration showing built-in tuner, audio cable and HDMI connections

HDMI.org

HDMI ARC (aka Audio Return Channel) simplifies sending audio from a TV to an external audio system. It was introduced in HDMI ver1.4 and works with all later versions.

The Benefit of HDMI ARC

HDMI ARC provides for transferring audio from the TV back to a home theater receiver with the same HDMI connection that's used to transfer video from a 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 having to also connect analog or digital optical audio cables between the TV and home theater system.

HDMI-ARC Connection Example – Home Theater Receiver

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

How Audio Return Channel Works

If you receive TV signals via an antenna, audio from those signals goes directly to your TV. To get the audio from those signals to a Home Theater receiver, you have to 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 you have connected to the TV and the home theater receiver can transfer audio in both directions. In addition, audio sources connected directly to the TV via internet, digital, analog, and, in some cases, HDMI inputs may also be accessible via 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.

How to Activate Audio Return Channel

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

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, easy, solution for sending audio from a TV to a compatible external audio system, there are some inconsistencies, based on how specific TV makers implement its capabilities.

  • A TV manufacturer may only provide HDMI ARC to pass two-channel audio, while in other cases, both two-channel and an undecoded Dolby Digital bitstreams may be included.
  • HDMI ARC is sometimes active only for over-the-air broadcast, and if the TV is a Smart TV, its internally accessible streaming 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 necessarily pass audio or just pass two-channel audio.
  • Since HDMI-ARC works in conjunction with HDMI-CEC, glitches can occur since HDMI-CEC communication features vary amongst 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

To overcome the limitations of ARC, eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel), was developed and incorporated into HDMI ver2.1, which 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 via a single HDMI cable connection.

HDMI eARC Comparison Chart
HDMI eARC Comparison Chart. HDMI Licensing

Unfortunately, TV makers don't always publicize what audio formats are supported on each specific 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 are not HDMI 2.1 compatible cannot be upgraded to accommodate eARC.

Some Sound Bars 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 you have a soundbar with 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 sound bar 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.

Audio Return Channel (ARC) should not be confused 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.