HDMI has emerged as the top format for connecting TVs, AV setups, and projectors. Over the years, HDMI has expanded to a one-stop- solution connection for different audio and video formats. HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) has been developed based on HDMI protocol and can simplify AV setups.
But now, you have another format called eARC. Is it superior to ARC? Should you use it?
We will tackle each question and explain all you need to know about HDMI ARC and eARC.
What is HDMI ARC and eARC?
TVs use ARC to send audio to soundbars or amplifiers. ARC also works for Blu-ray players, game consoles, and even streaming apps like Netflix inside your TV.
ARC brought quite a few improvements over older connection formats like fiber-optical cables and RCA cables. The most significant advantage over older formats was the bandwidth- as ARC supports 1 Mbps, while older cables like RCA can reach a maximum of 384 Kbps of bandwidth.
ARC satisfied the needs of audiophiles for over 15 years and supported multi-channel compressed audio. But ARC is not compatible with 5.1 uncompressed audio or newer technologies like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.
eARC is the iteration of the ARC standard and hit the market with the HDMI 2.1 standard. eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel) is superior to ARC on many grounds and supports up to 37 Mbps of bandwidth. It can also support 8 channel uncompressed audio with a 192kHz sampling rate and 24-bit resolution. In theory, eARC can even play 32 channels of audio.
eARC is also compatible with technologies like-
- 4K video and audio
- Dolby TrueHD
- DTS-HD Master Audio
- Dolby Atmos
Manufacturers are free to choose the technologies they want to implement in their HDMI eARC. That means you can get an eARC that doesn't support 8K video resolution.
You will need eARC connectors on both AV devices to get the most out of the standard. eARC is also compatible with older ARC standard, but you will not be able to enjoy the full bandwidth.
When to Use ARC and eARC?
ARC and eARC are both standards for connecting AV devices. Let's imagine you have a TV, Xbox and Blu-ray player, all connected to the TV via HDMI.
Now, you want to hear the audio of the TV over some external output like speakers or amplifiers. Previously, you needed many cables to create the setup. But with ARC or eARC, only a single HDMI cable does the job.
You can also enjoy higher bandwidths, bitrates, and audio quality.
Do You Need eARC?
The high bandwidth of eARC may not make sense to the average person. After all, most of us can't differentiate between 44.1kHz/16-bit audio and 48kHz/24-bit audio!
So eARC may be suitable only for the audiophiles who claim to be able to discern the slightest change in audio quality.
But we also must say that a high bandwidth is never a bad thing. It will let you enjoy songs and audio encoded in advanced and immersive formats like DTS:X, Auro 3D and Dolby Atoms. Above all, you will be able to listen to HD quality audio at par with Blu-ray or Ultra HD Blu-ray formats.
Do I Need New Cables for eARC?
Any HDMI cable should be able to support ARC. Most HDMI 2.1 cables support more bandwidth than the 1 Mbps demand of ARC. When you are using eARC, you will need more bandwidth, but you still may not need a new cable.
HDMI.org says that any standard HDMI cable with Ethernet will be fine with eARC. You can also use High-Speed HDMI cable with Ethernet and Ultra High-Speed HDMI cables without any issues.
Very old cables may struggle to support the high bandwidth requirement of eARC. You should give your old cable a try before you invest in a new one.
Is eARC Backward Compatible with ARC?
You will need eARC support from both devices to enjoy the advantages of the format. If one of the devices is incompatible, sound quality will be compromised.
For example, let's say your TV supports eARC, but your soundbar doesn't. Now, if you connect both, you will hear a sound sans the high bitrate quality of eARC. That means eARC is not backward compatible with ARC.
You might be able to upgrade your device to eARC through firmware updates. But you need compatible hardware and support from your manufacturer.
TVs with eARC Technology
Many manufacturers have started shipping TVs with eARC. Sony was the pioneer in this field and introduced the format through its A9F and Z9F Master Series. Both the models were top-of-the-line products and had a big price tag. But Sony has now made eARC available in even mid-range TVs like the XBR 950G.
You can find the format on most of the 2019 models of LG TV. Samsung had a late entry to the market as they believed Dolby Digital Plus would eliminate the need for eARC. But things turned out different, as you can't play Dolby TrueHD stream with Dolby Atoms over Dolby Digital Plus. Finally, Samsung made eARC available through a firmware upgrade for the 2019 QLED TVs with a OneConnect breakout box.
We can expect mid-range and low-range TVs to sport eARC within the coming years. Even sub-$1,000 TVs are experimenting with advanced technology like Quantum Dots, which has been a forte of Samsung. So an affordable TV with eARC might become a reality soon!