What is HDMI ARC Input?
HDMI, or High Definition Multimedia Interface, is the most widely used format in modern consumer goods for transferring high-definition video and audio from a device to your TV or monitor. Designed in 2002, HDMI has been available on most digital TVs and monitors since 2007. In present day, most devices have more than one HDMI port. HDMI ARC was introduced with HDMI version 1.4 in 2009, and most TVs and monitors have only one HDMI ARC port, though it has become widely supported.
What advantages do people have when using HDMI ARC?
ARC stands for Audio Return Channel, and adds an extra benefit to HDMI. With a traditional HDMI port, you can transfer video and audio from a device to a TV or monitor. With HDMI ARC, however, you can also transfer sound back from the TV or monitor to an external sound source, such as a soundbar or surround sound system. This eliminates the need for extra audio cables and is supported on most modern sound systems and TVs. Typically, HDMI ARC offers higher quality as well.
Why use HDMI ARC over Optical?
Optical Cables are still offered on most devices, are virtually immune to interference, support PCM 2.0, and are typically good enough for any soundbar, as well as surround sound up to 5.1 channels. If you use a 7.1-channel surround sound system, Optical Cables won’t be able to support it. Optical Cables also don’t support multichannel LPCM, TrueHD, DTS HD, Dolby Atmos, or Dolby Digital Plus, whereas HDMI ARC does. However, if you have a 7.1 channel surround sound system, you will need an HDMI eARC cable (‘e’ standing for ‘enhanced’), which is available with HDMI 2.0 and HDMI 2.1 (with the HDMI 2.1 offering better video quality). Optical Cables also tend to be more expensive to manufacture due to the materials used, and are reducing in availability.
What to do if your TV doesn’t support HDMI ARC
Ports that support ARC will be specifically labeled as some variation of “HDMI ARC” or “Audio Return Channel” depending on the manufacturer. If you don’t see this then it is very likely that your TV or monitor doesn’t support ARC. Whether you have an older system or simply a brand that does not have support for HDMI ARC, you have a few different options in how to set up your audio system.
1 – Use an Optical Cable
While you can’t get 7.1 surround sound or the support that is offered with HDMI ARC, an Optical Cable is still a great stand-in.
Just as with HDMI, both your sound device and TV must have available ports supporting this cable. They should be labeled “Digital Audio in (Optical)” and “Digital Audio out (Optical)” on the external speaker and TV respectively. Simply plug the cable into these ports, set the sound output on your device to “Audio Out/Optical”, and you are all set up!
If these ports are not available, then you will not be able to use an Optical Cable and will have to use one of the other means listed below.
2 – Use a Digital Coax
Digital Coaxial Cables are similar to RCA video cables, but provide a cleaner audio transfer. These cables also tend to be more common than Optical Cables, so you may already have one on hand. These Cables support DTS and Dolby Digital 2.0/5.1 surround sound. They are also able to play Dolby Digital EX, DTS-ES Matrix, and Discrete 6.1 soundtracks without issue. However, it does not support Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X or high-definition audio such as DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD. Just as with the Optical Cable, while it does support PCM 2.0, it will not be able to support multichannel LPCM, nor will you be able to use 7.1 surround sound.
In order to use a Digital Coaxial Cable, your TV and external speaker will both need to have Coaxial female RCA connectors. These will typically be color-coded orange or black (though this can vary) and should be labeled “coaxial”, but can also simply be labeled as some variant of “digital out/in”. You should need only one cable if it’s for a smaller device, but if it’s for a larger sound system or other large equipment, you may need two cables. If both of your devices support this connection, then plug the cord into the correct ports and set your sound out settings to “coaxial” or “digital out” and you should be all set!
3 – Use a 3.5mm Line Out or RCA
You are very likely familiar with 3.5mm line out from older phone and tablet models, although they are now being phased out on newer phone models, these are typically used for plugging in wired headphones/earbuds. These can often be found on older TVs, as well as RCA outputs and are only for analog sound. You will not be able to get true surround sound with RCA.
If your TV or external speaker has either 3.5mm or RCA, but not the other, then there are adapters you can get to convert 3.5mm to RCA and vice versa. For example: if your TV has RCA Output Jacks, and your external speaker only has a 3.5mm input, then you can use an adapter for the RCA cables to convert them to a 3.5mm to plug into the external speaker.
The 3.5mm will look like a small port, the same as it does on older phone models, tablets, etc. If there is a port labeled “headphones” or “Line Out” and a 3.5mm won’t fit in there (either because it is too big or too small) then this is because it is made for a different sized jack. If that is the case, you can easily buy an adapter from 3.5mm to the needed size (typically 2.5mm, 4.4mm, or 6.35mm). Once you know you have the correct size for the port, plug this into the port on one end then into the port of the other device, or into an adapter for RCA Cables.
Basic RCA cables appear very similar to coaxial cables, but come with two cords (one red and one white). These often come with component cables for video data transfer as well. Simply match the colors when plugging in the jacks and that should be it.
4 – Bluetooth
To use Bluetooth to connect your TV and external speaker, you will need for your external speaker to be Bluetooth capable (which you should be able to find out through the product’s manual, or a search of the model online). You will also need for your TV to either be Bluetooth capable, or have a different type of audio output (3.5mm AUX, RCA, or Optical) and you will have to get a Bluetooth transmitter.
If your TV is Bluetooth capable, you should be able to open the menu on the TV and find a setting for Bluetooth. If both your TV and speakers are Bluetooth capable, then simply pair them and that’s it.
Otherwise, you will need to connect a Bluetooth transmitter to your TV with one of the previously listed audio cables. You can then pair your external speakers, and if everything is connected properly, you should be all set up! Note: You will likely only be able to connect one device at a time and may experience latancy and audio quality dropping.
If your external speakers are not Bluetooth capable but your TV is, then you should be able to use a Bluetooth adapter in a similar manner to get the same result.
5 – Aux Cable
Auxiliary Cables and 3.5mm line out have the same construction and function the same. However, unlike the Line Out, Auxiliary Cables are made only in one size (3.5mm) and instead of being mainly for headphones, are meant to be used for other audio devices as well. Auxiliary Cables can have a lower quality than Line Outs, but should be able to be used in the same way.