What is HDMI eARC?

8K TV is the next revolution in the home cinema experience. With these massive improvements in displays, there is also a demand for improvements in the quality of the audio experience. New standards have been developed to handle the more data-intensive resolution on the displays as well as provide enhanced audio information to the latest generation of soundbars and home cinema audio receivers.

One of the latest features coming out on the newest 8K sets is eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel). It is a part of the new HDMI 2.1 standard, replacing the original ARC (Audio Return Channel) and was developed to ensure that 8K owners could hear the very best quality sound to go with their ultra high definition picture. But while improvements are in store for those who take advantage of eARC, many consumers don’t quite understand ARC and may have trouble understanding the benefits of the new standard.

You are likely familiar with HDMI as the cable that connects your Blu-ray player, streaming device, or gaming system to your TV. But that cable does far more than provide the picture. You may know that it is also the conduit for the audio travelling to your display and eventually to your speakers. What some consumers don’t know is that this same cable can allow information to travel in two directions.

What is HDMI ARC?

While this doesn’t do much for users who are still using their built-in speakers, ARC is a fantastic feature for home cinema enthusiasts who listen through a home cinema receiver or soundbar. In a standard setup, you may have your video components connected to your receiver or soundbar via an HDMI cable. An additional cable sends the video portion of the signal to the TV. That works great unless you want to view content from your TV, from an antenna or via your display’s built-in streaming app. Without ARC, you would need to connect another cable, usually HDMI or optical, from your TV back to the receiver or soundbar. With ARC, the audio information can travel two ways, meaning that you can send the audio from your TV back to the receiver or sound bar using the same HDMI cable.

What is HDMI eARC?

eARC is part of the latest HDMI 2.1 standard which has made a substantial improvement to the previous versions of HDMI, especially for 8K TV owners. The new cables will offer enough bandwidth to carry 8K content at up to 60 frames per second. It also supports variable refresh rates and the very latest Dynamic HDR. They will also be equipped for eARC.

With the increased bandwidth available over HDMI 2.1, there is a lot more room for enhanced audio. With the previous standard, you were quite limited in the quality of sound available over that ARC connection. That return channel might have been limited to simple two-channel compressed audio or the older Dolby Digital and DTS standards. Now with eARC, the return channel can handle much higher bandwidth audio in Dolby True HD, DTS, HD, and even new immersive sound like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X. eARC also includes standard lip sync correction built in to ensure that the dialogue is synced perfectly with the picture.

What Do I Need to Use eARC?

Manufacturers have been rushing to catch up with the change in HDMI standards. Most manufacturers are now including eARC capability in their latest 8K TV offerings. Some are providing firmware and even hardware upgrades for previous models that didn’t initially come equipped. If eARC is an important feature for you, double check the specifications on your next TV to be sure it is supported.

The good news is that, if you aren’t ready to upgrade your entire system, HDMI 2.1 is fully backward compatible. This means that you can still use your old soundbar or receiver, but you won’t get the enhancements that eARC brings. If you want the full experience, you will need to upgrade your audio system and replace your cables with 48 Gbps, HDMI 2.1 models.

In terms of soundbars and receivers, you will need to shop carefully. The latest high-end Dolby Atmos and DTS:X enable soundbars and receivers are equipped with eARC. But, again, you will need to look carefully at the manufacturer specifications. There are also some recent models with available firmware upgrades to add the capability of existing units.

It won’t be long before the HDMI 2.1, and eARC standards are universal, especially with the move to higher resolution TVs. In the meantime, it is up to each consumer whether to wait for more widespread adoption or make the switch now for the ultimate home cinema audio experience.