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What is HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) and how does it work?

There are different HDMI standards, and therefore cables, but there is also an extra function that is called HDMI Audio Return Channel (ARC).
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HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel)

HDMI is a connection that we see on almost all new TVs, Blu-ray players and receivers with which image and audio can be sent from the source to the receiver. There are different HDMI standards, and therefore cables, but there is also an extra function that is added to many HDMI-equipped equipment; HDMI Audio Return Channel (ARC).

We see this term more and more often, but many people do not even know that their TV or receiver has it, what it exactly means and how you can use this function. Not surprising in itself, since manufacturers pay almost no extra attention to files except for the phrase ‘HDMI ARC support’. Still, it is an interesting function that gives you more options with one cable.

What is HDMI ARC?

Audio Return Channel is a function that is supported from HDMI version 1.4 , also known as High Speed ​​HDMI, and can be found on TVs, receivers and home cinema systems. In principle, it is a very simple function that makes it possible to send audio of which the TV is the source (think of the built-in tuner) via a connected HDMI cable to the home cinema set or receiver so that you get the sound over your speakers. All this goes via the same HDMI cable that sends audio and image from the home cinema set or receiver to the TV. So it works both ways, hence Audio Return Channel.

In short, you only need one HDMI cable for both the display of image via your receiver or home cinema set (such as a Blu-ray / DVD films) towards the TV and listening to the audio coming from your TV. 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 installation to get the sound of TV broadcasts (via the built-in tuner) over your speakers, now one HDMI cable is sufficient.

An additional advantage is that you can often control the volume of your set with the remote control of your TV.

HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel)

How does HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) work?

Audio Return Channel works in two ways. Firstly, the audio that the TV itself produces, via the built-in (digital) TV tuner or even audio from applications used in a Smart TV platform, can be sent to the receiver or home cinema set and you can therefore transfer this audio over your speakers. Second, audio from HDMI sources connected to the TV can be sent through the cable. For example, if you have a digital TV decoder connected to your TV via HDMI, you can send the audio from the TV to the receiver or home cinema set. The TV serves here as a hub for audio transmission. The latter method is not implemented by all manufacturers, nor is it clearly defined. Unfortunately, that is often a matter of trying.

However, this second option is not necessary in most cases, as many home cinema systems and receivers have multiple HDMI inputs or extra digital audio connections. This allows you to connect devices such as the digital TV decoder directly to the home cinema set or receiver, after which the image is forwarded to the TV via one of these systems and the audio remains for playback through the speakers. In this case, the home cinema set or receiver serves as a hub for your audio and video.

If the Audio Return Channel function is interesting for you because you have a home cinema set (or soundbar) that only has an HDMI output or too few inputs, it pays to look at a TV that offers ARC support. Most new mid-range and high-end models have ARC, although it is often not clear at first glance whether the above-mentioned two forms of ARC are supported. Please note; the home cinema set, soundbar or receiver must also support this for the whole to work.

Once two devices with ARC are connected (using the correct ARC HDMI connection on both devices), the ARC function should work automatically. You will also find an HDMI ARC option in the settings for most TVs, home cinema sets and receivers, where you may be able to activate or deactivate additional settings. In principle, any HDMI cable should work, but technically you must have an HDMI 1.4 (or higher) variant. If the cable causes a problem, a new cable, which does not have to cost more than a few euros , could solve this.