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HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel): Why it doesn’t always work

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Our question and answer section is full of it; questions about HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel). This standard promised so much beauty, but it often causes problems. Why does HDMI ARC sometimes not work and what exactly does the standard entail? We put it together for you in this article.

What is HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel)?

Let’s start with what exactly HDMI is. This connection is currently still the best way to connect your peripherals to your TV (and each other). An HDMI connection is purely digital, so that the signal can be transmitted in optimal quality, plus there is enough bandwidth to send a lot of extra information about image and sound. In addition, HDMI can communicate in two directions; from the device and to the device, and that’s where HDMI ARC comes in.

HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) can be found on almost all TVs, home cinema systems and soundbar systems today. The function makes it possible to communicate in two directions. On the one hand, your home cinema system can send audio and image to your TV via ARC, and on the other hand, the home cinema set can receive audio back from the TV. The same goes for the TV; the HDMI port with ARC support can receive audio and image but can also return audio.

The big advantage of HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) is that you only need one cable to, for example, send audio and image from your Blu-ray home cinema system to your TV and receive audio from your TV back on the speakers. of your home theater system. The same applies if you have an amplifier or receiver with ARC. Both TV and home theater system or receiver must have Audio Return Channel, and you must use the HDMI port with ARC.

Of course you don’t use this at the same time; the one time the image of a film goes to the TV and the other time the audio from a TV broadcast goes to your home cinema system. Previously you had to lay a separate audio cable from the TV to your audio system to get the sound from TV broadcasts (via the built-in tuner) over your speakers, now one HDMI cable is sufficient.

Why does HDMI ARC sometimes not work?

HDMI ARC thus sounds like an ideal system, which only makes the use of home cinema equipment easier. However, many people still experience problems with it. The reason for this is one that we see a lot in the AV industry. The implementation of the standard is done by each manufacturer in its own way. So you do not know in advance exactly how Audio Return Channel is supported on your device.

First of all, we describe the ideal situation, the ideal operation of HDMI Audio Return Channel. In this situation, the audio from all signals entering the TV will be sent back to the receiver or home theater set through the HDMI ARC port. We are talking about all devices connected to the TV (players, consoles, decoders, etc.), the analog TV signal, the digital TV signal (CI +) and the audio from apps located within the smart TV platform. . This is the ideal situation, where all your audio will be played over your speakers.

Unfortunately, it often does not work that way and many users experience problems with HDMI ARC. This is because manufacturers do not enable everything that is in this ideal situation. TV manufacturers are free to decide for themselves what is and isn’t sent via HDMI ARC. For example, they can choose to only send audio from the analog TV signal, so you don’t hear the audio from smart TV apps and connected devices. Or you can hear the connected devices, but not only the smart TV apps. Manufacturers are also free to determine the quality of the sound themselves; they can transmit simple stereo sound or a Dolby Digital bitstream signal (higher audio formats such as DTS: X, Dolby Atmos , Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio are not supported via ARC anyway).

In short, what you can expect from HDMI Audio Return Channel can often differ. And unfortunately, manufacturers are not very clear about the functions of ARC. In the manual you can often find exactly how the function works and what is possible, but in most cases you unfortunately only read it after purchasing your TV. And even that manual sometimes doesn’t contain all the details about how ARC works. It is therefore often a question of trying and finding out for yourself exactly how the ARC function of your equipment works.

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