What Audio Return Channel Is

Audio Return Channel - How It Works Illustration
Audio Return Channel - How It Works Illustration. Image provided by HDMI Licensing (HDMI.org)

Introduction To Audio Return Channel

Audio Return Channel (ARC) is a very practical feature that has been introduced in HDMI ver1.4 and later. What this function 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 between the TV and the home theater receiver to transfer audio in both directions.

Note: 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 - at the manufacturer's discretion - check 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 of 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 make 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.

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.

To make things more confusing, ARC audio format support can change from model year to model year.

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 sound bars also support this practical feature.

If the sound bar has its own built-in amplification and an HDMI output, it may also feature Audio Return Channel. If you already own a sound bar 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 your 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.

Since the introduction of The Audio Return Channel feature in 2009, all TVs and Theater Receivers now incorporate ARC. Also, for the 2016 model year, some examples of Sound Bars that also incorporate this practical feature include:

Selected Models From The 2016 Vizio Sound Bar Line

Yamaha YSP-2700 Digital Sound Projector

Nakamichi ShockWafe Pro 7.1 Sound Bar

For more possibilities, check out some of the entries in About.com's 7 Best Sound Bars To Buy In 2016.

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

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