With all the different HDMI cables out there, figuring out which one will transmit the best sound can be challenging. That’s especially the case for the latest Dolby Atmos sound format. So, can HDMI 2.0 transmit Dolby Atmos, or do you need the newer HDMI 2.1 cable?
Dolby Atmos sound can be transmitted through any HDMI cable, including HDMI 2.0. However, you also need to be sure that all devices involved, such as the TV, are capable of delivering Atmos. For equipment that can handle HDMI eARC, HDMI 2.1 cables are recommended, but HDMI 2.0 cables will work fine.
Although HDMI 2.0 is acceptable, the video refresh rates and resolution would improve with HDMI 2.1. Still, the difference might not be evident unless your devices use heavy PC graphic cards or a few selected devices. Let’s look at the various HDMI versions in detail to figure out which one is best for you.
Do You Need an HDMI 2.1 Cable for Dolby Atmos?
No, you don’t need an HDMI 2.1 cable. HDMI 2.0 works perfectly for Dolby Atmos, even HDMI 1.3 cables support Dolby Atmos. HDMI 2.1 isn’t necessary for Atmos at all.
HDMI 2.1 does offer support for quite a few more things than HDMI 2.0, though. For instance, if you are connecting a few select high-end devices, like a PlayStation 5 or a powerful and high-end PC graphics card, you’ll need to use an HDMI 2.1 cable that supports up to 48Gbps to get a 4K video at a 120Hz refresh rate.
Otherwise, HDMI 2.0 is sufficient enough to support 4K video at 60 Hz. It can manage almost any video content apart from higher than 60Hz refresh rate 4K gaming.
HDMI vs. HDMI ARC for Dolby Atmos
With the introduction of HDMI ARC, HDMI cables started supporting audio transmission in the reverse direction. For example, you can connect a soundbar or A/V receiver to a TV’s HDMI ARC port to receive a video signal into that input, but it can also send out audio signals to the speakers.
HDMI ARC can typically process Dolby Atmos audio too. This means one can create a surround sound experience with just one cable.
Note: HDMI ARC only supports the Dolby Digital Plus audio codec to enable Atmos sound. This is a lossy compression instead of lossless. Thankfully, the new HDMI 2.1 with an HDMI eARC port supports the Dolby TrueHD codec for lossless compression. Read more on HDMI ARC and Dolby Atmos support.
What About HDMI eARC?
HDMI eARC is the most recent update that supports the Dolby TrueHD audio codec, where you can get lossless compression for the best sound quality.
There always tends to be some confusion regarding normal HDMI and HDMI eARC, so let’s make a few things clear:
- If you are connecting a media device (typically a Blu-ray player) directly to a soundbar or A/V receiver, then HDMI ARC/eARC doesn’t handle the audio for that device. The audio and video signals are sent directly to the soundbar or receiver via HDMI, then the video signal is passed to the TV.
- If the media device is connected directly to the TV and a soundbar or receiver to connected to the TV’s HDMI ARC/eARC port, then HDMI ARC/eARC is responsible for sending the audio signal to the connected audio devices.
In scenario 1, where the media device is connected directly to the audio device, it doesn’t matter if you have HDMI ARC or eARC, you’ll get the highest audio quality available from the media device and for what the audio device can support.
In scenario 2, if you are using HDMI ARC, the best you can get is lossy Dolby Atmos via Dolby Digital Plus. But if you have HDMI eARC, you can get lossless Dolby Atmos via Dolby TrueHD.
There’s a noticeable difference between Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD. It’s even more noticeable if you have a higher-quality sound system.
What’s Different About HDMI eARC?
There are many updates that you can uncover with HDMI eARC, along with various enhancements over HDMI ARC.
HDMI ARC supports 1 – 3 Mbps of data processing speed while HDMI eARC enables 37 Mbps of data processing speed
HDMI ARC works with lossy compression that affects the receiver’s sound quality. However, with lossless compression, HDMI eARC can support almost all the lossless audio codecs.
With HDMI ARC, there are often problems related to audio lagging. This results in issues with syncing between the video and the audio. While one can correct the problem through manual adjustments, it isn’t the simplest hack. On the other hand, HDMI eARC enables syncing automatically.
HDMI eARC doesn’t depend on CEC for pairing or discovering other devices. In its latest improvements, HDMI eARC brings with itself the dedicated data channel that is responsible for sharing information between devices.
Last but not least, HDMI eARC is backward compatible. Hence, if one of your devices has an eARC port and another ARC port, the data transmission will still happen. However, you will be limited in terms of sound codec. Your eARC will work as ARC in this scenario, offering a lossy compression.
Dolby Atmos Content — What Can You Watch, and Where?
Streaming Dolby Atmos content has become much easier nowadays. With so many video platforms hosting Atmos content, you don’t need to go to cinemas to experience surround sound. Just pair the suitable devices together and enjoy the 3D audio.
Video Streaming Services From Built-in Apps
If you have a smart TV at home and a soundbar supporting Dolby Atmos, you can watch supported content through video streaming apps. Most of the streaming apps today host selected content in Atmos sound.
Just check the content title to confirm if the video is available with Atmos sound. Online video platforms such as Netflix, Disney+, Vudu, Prime Video, and others are among the most popular choices among users for browsing Atmos content.
For setup, check if your TV and the soundbar host HDMI eARC/ARC ports. If they do, you can connect one end of the high-speed HDMI cable to your TV and the other end to the soundbar.
Browse Atmos Content Through Media Devices
There are several media devices available that support Atmos content. Some of the most common choices for users are Apple TV 4K, Amazon Fire TV Stick, Roku Ultra 4K, and more. Using these devices, you can browse the video streaming services and look for Atmos content to play.
Talking about the setup, the process is a breeze. Connect the media device to the soundbar and the soundbar to your TV using the eARC or ARC port.
Alternatively, connect the media device to your TV and your TV to an Atmos-supported soundbar using the HDMI eARC/ARC cable.
Watch Atmos Content on Blu-Ray Discs
To play a Blu-ray disc, naturally, you’ll need a Blu-ray player. Make sure to choose a Blu-ray player that supports Atmos technology because, surprisingly enough, not all players support Dolby Atmos. Apart from Blu-ray players, some versions of PlayStations and Xbox can also process this sound format.