If you are like me, you spend a lot of time in your family room. After I bought my television, I realized the speakers on it left a lot to be desired. This lead me to start looking into how I could turn my family room into a full home theater. To do so, I started with a Soundbar. There are plenty of different Soundbar models available so finding the right one for me really came down to the sound quality and the cables needed to make it work.
So why do Soundbars have HDMI (or even HDMI eARC for that matter – our top 7 list)? HDMI cables relay both video and audio signals between source media and a Soundbar. Because you need only one cable, HDMI allows you to achieve quality sound and picture without having to use multiple cords to do so. HDMI ARC, in particular, helps you to maintain control over multiple devices from a single remote making your home theater even easier to manage.
With so many Soundbar options to choose from, the technical terms can often feel overwhelming. Below, I explain what HDMI and HDMI ARC mean to you and why they are commonly included features on your Soundbar stats.
What Does HDMI Technology Mean to Consumers?
While many of us use HDMI cables, few of us truly realize the versatility of this technology. High Definition Multimedia Interface, or HDMI, technology emerged in 2004. HDMI 2.0 gave consumers increased 4K Ultra HD speeds, improving capabilities with a single cable. (To be clear, HDMI 1.4 did include 4K technology. However, it limited it to 8-bit color and only supported resolution up to 30 frames per second. HDMI 2.0, however, supports 12-bit color and up to 60 frames per second.) Ever evolving, HDMI technology continues to relay efficient, quality video and audio signal between various consumer electronic devices.
In 2017, HDMI 2.1 was announced. HDMI 2.1 will be capable of relaying even faster 4K (up to 120 frames per second), 8K (up to 60 frames per second) and even 10K signals at speeds never before supported. What does this mean to the consumer? It means that signal transmissions will be faster and clearer regardless of the enormous amount of bandwidth needed to relay them.
But HDMI can be used for more than just relaying signals between your television and Blu-ray player or PS4. HDMI cables relay “handshake” information. (This refers to information relating to copy protection data, components types and possible capabilities and restrictions.) HDMI also is designed to support Consumer Electronics Control (CEC) systems, which allow one remote to control up to 15 devices. However, with all the various consumer electronics manufacturers today – CEC is not always possible. This is where HDMI ARC comes in.
What Are the Benefits of HDMI ARC?
HDMI ARC allows audio signals to travel both “upstream” and “downstream”. This means a single HDMI ARC cable can relay audio signals back and forth between devices, providing both convenience and quality.
Audio Return Channel, or ARC, helps support CEC operability. For casual users, HDMI ARC helps to ensure all of the most common audio functions are supported through one remote regardless of the type of device. As long as they are connected through HDMI ARC cables, your remote should be able to control a host of these features, including volume and power.
In certain cases, the HDMI ARC cables will also automatically detect the connection to external speakers, like your Soundbar and relay audio signals to them instead of your television’s built in speakers. This streamlines audio control and helps even those who are not technically savvy achieve quality sound with just the touch of a button.
HDMI manufacturers are also challenged to continue to keep emerging technology backwards compatible. This means, as enhanced ARC, also known as eARC, capabilities emerge – these cables will still work with earlier HDMI 2.1-supported devices. (In case you were wondering, eARC will deliver full 3D sound, like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.)
For those looking for a high-quality home theater system, HDMI ARC is highly advised. Whether you are planning to integrate your devices through a full system, just looking for the cheapest way to improve sound or piecing you home theater over time, HDMI technology is likely to remain at the forefront of the audio and video world.
Does A Soundbar Need HDMI?
Soundbars, which can be hooked up to turntables as well (our walk-through), are available with more than just HDMI connectivity. However, you want to reconsider if you are thinking of purchasing a Soundbar without it. (If you are interested in learning more about Soundbars, check out my Complete Soundbar Buyer’s Guide.)
Almost all modern devices now include HDMI ports. This includes Blu-ray players, game consoles like PS4 and Xbox, home theater projectors, and even computers. This versatile cable allows you to seamlessly stream media from one device to another without relying on an overly complicated system of wires plugged into various ports.
Whether you use an Audio/Video (A/V) receiver or not – the use of HDMI ARC with your Soundbar preserves your audio quality while streamlining your controllability over multiple devices.
Is HDMI ARC better than optical? Yes! Digital Optical cables, also referred to simply as Optical cables, only allow for audio signals to be relayed between your source device and the speaker. However, HDMI ARC relays both audio and video signals through a single cable. This means you need to rely on fewer cables and wires to produce both sound and pictures for your home theater. In addition to this, both HDMI ARC and Optical cables cost relatively the same – meaning you can save on having to buy more wires and just invest in the HDMI ARC.
Is there a difference between HDMI and HDMI ARC cable? Yes. HDMI ARC is an added feature that makes controlling multiple devices even easier. While many HDMI cables include ARC capabilities today, older models may not. Only HDMI 2.1 will require you to have compatible devices. All other versions remain backwards compatible. (The reason for this lies in the resolution/bandwidth updates that future devices will need.)