Understanding HDMI eARC

When shopping for a TV that bursts with fantastic sound and has no lip-syncing issues, you are going to have to make sure that HDMI eARC is listed among its features. 

Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of the term or if you are only half-sure about what it means. This article will explain what eARC is, how it works, and – if you consider yourself a connoisseur of sound – why you definitely need it!

What is HDMI eARC?

HDMI eARC stands for Enhanced Audio Return Channel, and it’s an improvement on the older HDMI ARC feature (see the next section for a quick handshake with HDMI ARC to get more background information regarding both versions).

In a nutshell, the newer version called HDMI eARC is linked to your TV’s ability to handle audio signals better so that sound appears more crisp and natural. 

Most TVs “squeeze” audio signals before sending them through HDMI cables, and this compression has an unfortunate result – you experience a reduced quality of sound. 

The eARC feature allows audio signals to travel freely and uncompressed through an HDMI cable, and this results in full-resolution sound or surround sound.

What is HDMI ARC?

HDMI ARC was mainly designed to solve two annoying problems. The first issue that HDMI ARC overcame was to greatly reduce the number of cables running between people’s TVs and external devices like soundbars and home theatre systems. 

Secondly, it also improved the audio signal’s latency and sound quality by allowing the signal to travel to and fro between all devices with more uncompressed freedom. 

But what is the main difference between HDMI ARC and the next-gen HDMI eARC? 

Enhanced Audio Return Channel has more bandwidth and speed than the older version. This extra boost allows your TV to transmit higher-quality audio to other devices like an AV receiver or soundbar. In simple English, HDMI ARC gave us better sound, but HDMI eARC turns audio into a stellar experience. 

Do you need HDMI eARC?

Whether you need HDMI eARC or not depends on how you prefer to connect your devices. To start with, eARC is a definite must if you want the best sound and you also connect all of your content devices to your television’s HDMI input ports. 

The presence of eARC is also preferable if you own soundbars that are Dolby Atmos-capable (like Sonos Arc or the Sonos Beam gen-2), as these models lack HDMI inputs of their own.  

Speaking of ports that aren’t there, when a TV lacks an eARC port, it cannot transmit high-resolution audio to other devices, even when the latest models are known for good sound features (for example, the best Blu-ray player). Not even the presence of Dolby Atmos or other formats will help. 

As important as HDMI eArc is, you don’t truly need it if you would rather plug your content devices into a soundbar with an HDMI input or an AV receiver. Then, devices with high-quality audio can give you amazing sound without having to rely on the sound features of your TV. 

Is eARC backwards compatible with ARC?

If you have an eARC-enabled TV, but the device you want to link to it only has ARC, it’s pretty normal to wonder how things will pan out. Unfortunately, the quick answer is “no,” eARC TVs are not 100 percent backward compatible with ARC devices. 

That doesn’t mean that sound will come out scrambled when you do link them up. You will still get sound, but because the signal will stay slightly more compressed, you won’t get the high-resolution audio that HDMI eARC can provide. 

HDMI eARC and HDMI 2.1

When shopping for a new, or the latest, TV you’re bound to run into the term “HDMI 2.1.” Since it shares an entire acronym with eARC – HDMI – it’s natural to wonder what these two have in common and how they relate to each other. 

HDMI stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface, and eARC and HDMI 2.1 do have a connection. In short order, HDMI 2.1 is the latest HDMI specification that brings more bandwidth to displays, and it ensures that your TV or computer screen bursts with high-definition movement and colour. 

HDMI eARC is a feature of HDMI 2.1. While there are more technical explanations and details involved, the most important thing to know is that whereas HDMI 2.1 provides more speed and bandwidth for visuals, eARC’s job is to do the same with sound. 

Do I need a special HDMI cable for eARC?

The good news is that you don’t have to take on any extra expenses when it comes to which cables you need to run eARC. The chances are that you’re already using a standard HDMI cable with Ethernet, and then your eARC feature should work just fine. 

That being said, if you want to upgrade to HDMI 2.1 High-Speed cables or Ultra High-Speed cables (both with Ethernet), then that will work too. It might be better to invest in these newer types of cables due to the extra bandwidth that audio signals require over eARC. 

You don’t have to wonder which cables are eARC-compatible, either. In January 2020, HDMI.org implemented a mandatory certificate program to make things easier for consumers. Basically, what that means is that any cable that carries the label “Ultra High Speed” automatically supports HDMI 2.1 and all of its features, including eARC. 

What is compatible with HDMI eARC?

To understand which devices and systems might be compatible with HDMI eARC, we first need to look at the specifications of this feature; or more precisely, its load-bearing capacity. 

HDMI eARC has the scope to handle up to 32 channels of audio, even eight-channel, 24bit/192kHz uncompressed data streams running at speeds of up to 38Mbps.

This means that most devices and formats that allow a high bit transfer rate will be compatible with HDMI eARC. 

A few examples include: 

  • Blu-ray discs
  • 4K Blu-ray players

Some streaming services that are also compatible include: 

  • Dolby TrueHD
  • DTS-HD Master Audio

Format examples include:

  • Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.

Some soundbars and AV receivers are also compatible with HDMI eARC. Just some of the brands that are starting to incorporate both HDMI 2.1 and eARC in such products are Onkyo, Pioneer, Denon, Sony, and LG. 

Just double-check a product’s specifications before you settle on purchasing anything – not all models or manufacturers support eARC across the board. 

How do I know if I have HDMI ARC or eARC on my TV?

If this is your first time dealing with HDMI ARC or eARC, there are easy ways to check if your TV is equipped with either of these features. 

Look at the panel on the side or back of your TV where all the ports are. HDMI ports that are compliant with ARC or eARC are usually clearly marked with the letters “ARC” and “eARC.” This makes it really easy to see if a TV set has either feature. 

Most compatible TVs will only have one ARC-type port, so it’s rare to see two separate ports marked “ARC” and “eARC” on the same port panel. You are more likely to discover a single port marked “ARC/eARC.”

But what if you don’t see these words? Unfortunately, that means that your TV likely does not support the ARC or eARC functionalities. There is a small chance that they might still support eARC, so before you give up on your TV, first check the owner’s manual or the brand’s website for more support and information. 

Pros and cons of HDMI eARC

The benefits of HDMI eARC

  • Provides more bandwidth and speed for audio signals than ARC.
  • Improves your movie, gaming and music experience.
  • Ensure lip sync correction; sound matches movements on your TV.
  • Works with a standard HDMI cable (but you’ll get better results with High-Speed cables).
  • Automatically incorporated into most TVs with HDMI 2.1.
  • Easy to set up and run.

The drawbacks of HDMI eARC

  • eARC is not backward compatible with ARC.
  • Some older hardware and devices are not eARC compatible. 
  • eARC might struggle with older cables.

When would you use HDMI eARC?

When you’re fine with normal sound, then HDMI eARC is not really something of a necessity. But, this feature comes in handy when you only want the crispest audio on your TV or sound bar. 

HDMI eARC does not only deliver more pristine audio, but should you experience any problems with audio and visuals being out of sync with each other, eARC will iron out that wrinkle as well.

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Marcel Deer

As a qualified journalist and 'veteran' gamer, Marcel has loved all things tech since the halcyon days of the 'scart lead'. When not writing about the latest tech, he's reviewing indie video games or trying to convince his wife the TV is too small...again.

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