You may have seen on the back of your new shiny television, amongst the sea of HDMI ports one labelled HDMI (Arc). This little treasure is probably the most overlooked port on your TV. So to understand ARC, we’re going to have to take a look back at the HDMI cable since its birth.
Where did HDMI Come From?
The first iteration of HDMI version 1.0 was released in December 2002 thanks to a joint effort from some of the major brands in audio and visual technologies. HDMI then and still is the perfect solution for TV/device manufacturers for connecting high definition souruces like Playstation and Xbox consoles as well as blu-ray players.
At its launch HDMI did have the digital connection to itself, there was another contender already on the market DVI (digital visual interface) although some people didn’t agree the image quality of DVI and HDMI are pretty much identical. The only real difference is that HDMI also carries audio, although with HDMI 1.0 this was not the case for DVD audio as this was not supported, it wasn’t until May 2004 and HDMI 1.1 that this was introduced.
So Back To ARC then
Fast forward to May 2009 and the introduction of HDMI 1.4 and ARC. This is the real reason you’re all here. Audio Return Channel otherwise known as ARC is that handy little port on the back of your TV. It’s there to make home cinema setups a little less wirey, if that’s even a word. As the name suggests it allows you to send audio back a forth through the same cable. Think of it like a motorway (highway for you Americans) two directions of traffic passing side by side at high speeds.
In theory this means you can connect your blu-ray player to your sound bar or surround sound system, then to your Smart TV, and still be able to use the TV’s built in tuner or apps such as Netflix or Amazon Instant Video and have the sound coming out through the surround sound system or sound bar.
Another use is to have all of your devices connected to your TV, then all audio sent through the ARC HDMI slot to your home theatre system. It will also allow one remote to turn on whatever is connected in that slot, so you turn on your TV and the sound bar turns on as well, the same can be said for the volume too.
Not only does this mean you can cut down on the amount of remotes you need, it also means you can cut down on the amount of cables too. For example; the optical cable, which is one less thing to fish through the wall for bracket mounted TV setups.
Now everything has a pitfall and ARC has a couple of its own. Firstly, some TV manufactures only use two channel audio (2.0) on their ARC slot meaning your fancy 5.1 setup will only have sound coming through the two main speakers and secondly, ARC only supports Dolby Digital, so any blu-rays with Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD will not pass through ARC. This is down to the tech and not the TV manufactures, but still, you need to be aware before throwing out essential cables.
So if you are looking to simplify your setup or even diving into to home cinema pool be sure to do your research, as it could mean a lot of money spent on excess cables for nothing.