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The Audio Return Channel (ARC) feature built into HDMI is one of the easiest ways to set up an audio system. And since an audio system is vital to getting good sound with movies and TV, ARC is important to understand. I mean, who doesn’t want better sound, reduced cabling, and simple control of your entire system. So what is ARC, and how do you take advantage of it? Find out after the break.
Audio Return Channel is an optional feature of HDMI introduced in version 1.4. It permits owners to maintain all the TVs HDMI connections while sending the audio back down to a sound bar, HTIB, or surround sound receiver. Put simply, instead of needing an extra audio output cable from your TV to a sound device, the ARC enabled HDMI jack on an HDTV doubles as an audio output, sending all the TV-connected sources to HDMI ARC-equipped audio component.
There are many applications where this becomes useful. Smart TVs have Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming content that can carry 5.1 audio streams. The integrated HDTV tuner has stereo and 5.1 audio tracks with broadcast programming. Then, of course, there’s Blu-ray players and gaming consoles that send surround sound audio to your display. All of these audio sources can be sent out over ARC to an external sound system instead of using the lower quality TV speakers.
Setting It Up
What do you need to take advantage of ARC? First, you need a display that supports it. Every Panasonic model this year, LCD and Plasma, has ARC support. Many Sony models do as well. Samsung models with Smart TV features usually include it. The LG 55LA7400 we recently reviewed has support as well. Even though most TVs now include ARC, spec sheets often don’t list it. You may have to read the manual, or check the actual HDMI input labels, to see if it enables use of ARC.
Second, you need an external audio device with HDMI and ARC support. Many surround sound receivers and processors include ARC support. Many sound bars with HDMI also include ARC support, like models from Samsung, Sharp, Toshiba, and Panasonic. Once equipped with a compatible TV and sound device, how does it work?
Most components will mark the Audio Return Channel-compatible HDMI port(s) with “(ARC)” so you can determine the correct one. If it isn’t marked, your owner’s manual will tell you. Any HDMI cable should work, but you will need one additional HDMI cable (between your TV and the audio device). We like the inexpensive High-Speed HDMI cables. Finally, ARC may need to be enabled in the TV setup menus, so check the TV owner’s manual.
With a sound bar, the best option is to switch inputs using the TV (as in, connect everything to the TV, with just a single HDMI cable to the sound bar.. Sound bars usually have fewer HDMI inputs compared to a TV making ARC connection the best way to go. ARC also permits the use of HDMI Consumer Electronics Control (HDMI-CEC), enabling the TV remote to control the sound bar’s volume as well. So your TV remote will switch inputs, change channels, and control the sound bar volume.
With a receiver, the same setup as the sound bar will work. The best audio format supported by HDMI ARC is Dolby Digital 5.1, sadly the higher-resolution audio formats on Blu-ray aren’t supported.
Implemented correctly, ARC provides many benefits. It also has many optional features that aren’t required, so aren’t always fully implemented. Some HDTVs only send stereo audio over ARC (instead of 5.1). Not all ARC connections will handle up to Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio. Check our list below and your owner’s manual if you want to connect to a 5.1 system to verify compatibility. If ARC is not listed, call the HDTVs customer service phone number. As TVs drop optical audio outputs, ARC will be the only way to get 5.1 audio from a TV in many cases.
Please note: some HDTVs only permit the internal audio (i.e. the audio from the built-in tuner and Smart TV features), not incoming audio from a cable/sat box or Blu-ray player, so it’s best to verify the implementation.
Wrapping It Up
ARC makes it easy to enhance an HDTV with better audio. As long as your devices support it, and are connected e to the appropriate HDMI inputs, improving the audio should be quick and painless.
List of 2013 HDTVs with ARC support (Note: we are still waiting for ARC capability verification from a number of manufacturers. We will update when we receive additional information. Models and format capability data supplied by manufacturer’s media relations department unless otherwise noted.)
Samsung’s ARC is typically on HDMI3
Samsung only supports PCM Stereo (2.0 channels) from external sources such as cable box or Blu-ray player. Internal tuner and streaming will send up to Dolby Digital 5.1 through HDMI ARC
LED LCD-All Smart TV model series
ARC is on HDMI 1; LG ARC supports Stereo
Supports up to Dolby Digital 5.1
Source-Panasonic customer service
Formats-Unknown; Source-Vizio customer service
All model LED LCD . Supports up to Dolby Digital 5.1
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