HDMI ARC Vs Optical

July 09, 2022 10 min read

HDMI ARC Vs Optical

HDMI ARC Vs Optical: How to Get the Best Sound?

HDMI ARC VS Optical, which is better, and which offers more benefits. This article explains everything from sound quality to video resolution they support. They both are crafted to satisfy your entertainment needs. But HDMI ARC and Digital Optical part their ways in many respects.

And since most TVs, gaming consoles, home theatres, and soundbars use one of these two mediums, you must spare little time to make clever buying decisions.  

This short and well-researched read has broken down this complex concept into a simple topic that a kid can understand.

In it, you’ll read why HDMI and Digital Optical were introduced. And which you should pick? Moreover, it’ll tell you about how a fiber optical cord used in a home can be life-threatening.

 

What is An HDMI ARC?

Since the word HDMI is in common use. Supposing you are familiar with it. Let's begin with the word “ARC”. In simple language, ARC stands for Audio Return Channel. 

The Audio Return Channel (ARC) brushes away the need for separate composite audio or optical cable. ARC connects your TV and audio system with a single High-Speed HDMI cable. 

Most TVs nowadays have a few HDMI inputs. One of them will typically be labeled as ARC.

To testify to this claim, you can hold on to this reading and check it by yourself. 

Not only that, if you’ve got a fancier TV, Chances are it might’ve eArc, which stands for Enhanced Audio Return Channel. Since ease and comfortability are what make you happy, all standards of HDMI are designed for this purpose. 

So, HDMI ARC is again a targeted attempt to reduce the number of cables between your TV and an external Home Theatre System or Soundbar. But there are variety of unique types of HDMI cables for different gears.

 

Do You Really Need Arc?

It depends on your taste. If you are happy with the in-built speakers of your TV, you don’t need an ARC. But, if you want near cinema-like sound quality, you’ll have to attach a soundbar or home theatre. And since the purpose of ARC is to transport audio from your TV to an external audio device, you’ll need an HDMI ARC cable.

 

How Does HDMI ARC Work?

HDMI ARC works by sending the audio-video signal to ARC compatible receiver.  HDMI ARC provides a unified audio response of multiple devices through one medium (soundbar). 

It’ll be of maximum use if you’ve more than one device to connect to your TV. 

Suppose you’ve XBOX ONE, Fire TV, and Apple TV connected to your TV, the audio signal will still be sent back to the ARC output connected to the soundbar.   

However, sometimes, ARC functioning may cause problems. So, make sure CEC on your TV is enabled.

The HDMI cord runs at full throttle if it is installed with proper settings.

Setting Up an HDMI ARC Connection

Setting up an area is the easiest thing in the universe if you follow these 7 steps in exact order. 

  1. Find the HDMI ARC port on your television
  2. Plug in an excellently built and branded HDMI Cable connector
  3. Push the button to turn on the TV 
  4. Turn on your audio device
  5. Hold the other end of the HDMI cord in hand and plug it into your audio device’s ARC port
  6. Disable “TV Speakers” in TC’s settings 
  7. Setup ARC or HDMI CEC in the TV's settings

Once you follow these 7 steps, cross-verify that sound is resonating in your room through the speaker.  

HDMI ARC and Optical Works Differently

To completely fathom Digital Optical, you must know how it works? Avoiding science and theory, let’s get straight to the point. 

Digital Optical uses light to transfer signals from one place to another.

And that is why you might have seen a light coming out of one end of the Digital Optical cable. 

Another common term you might’ve heard related to Digital Optical is TOSLINK. --because Digital Optical uses Toslink Connectors. Toslink and CD audio format share the same age i.e. 1983. It was wildly incorporated into high-end CD players. 

After this success and its acceptability by the consumer market, Toslink was hurriedly adopted by home theaters. In short, it spread, like a fire in the forest. 

You will be amazed to know devices that still use Digital Optical.

Devices That Can Have Digital Optical

  • Satellite Tv or Cable
  • Digital Video Recorders (DVRs)
  • UHD Blu-ray Players
  • Media Streamers
  • Game consoles (Xbox, PS4, etc.)
  • DVD Players
  • Home theater receivers
  • Televisions 
  • Vehicle stereo receivers
  • Soundbars
  • Audio processors
  • Receiver/ Preamp

Irrespective of the warm welcome they received, its shortcomings aren't hidden. 

Hold tight. 

We’ll discuss the major differences between HDMI ARC and Digital Optical shortly. For now, we’re unveiling the biggest incapacity of Digital Optical. 

Unlike HDMI, Digital Optical doesn't support high resolutions.  

But when it comes to audio, Digital Optical is Thanos. 

Be it crystal clear multi-channel surround sound, Uncompressed PCM audio, or compressed 5.1 to 7.1 surround system, Digital Optical is unbeatable. It provides crisp sound quality that takes you to 7th heaven. So, In choosing HDMI ARC Vs Optical, Optical seems more profitable. 

From here on you’ll come to know of 5 stark dissimilarities suggesting a completely unique function of both. “Keep these differences in mind and compare them whenever you’re planning to purchase your entertainment system”. 

 

What Is the Difference Between HDMI ARC And Digital Optical?

What Is the Difference Between HDMI ARC And Digital Optical?

 

1 - What’s Missing in Digital Optical Cable?

HDMI and Optical are capable of handling multi-channel digital audio signals–they can’t process your video (SAD?). Only HDMI was built with the motivation to carry both audio and video data. 

On the other hand, Optical cables are only capable of transferring digital audio. If you love to hear music and enjoy the beats to the fullest, Digital Optical is your thing.  

That’s why it’s not wiped out. You can find it on video gaming consoles, Blu-ray players, and televisions.

In short, it makes connecting a source to a single output, simple and easy. 

 

2 - Superiority Of HDMI

Although HDMI’s capability to support Higher Resolutions gives it an edge over Digital Optical cable, both are able to support high-end audio signals. 

HDMI ARC for instance supports a 5.1 surround sound channel with enhanced sound quality. Modern versions of HDMI such as its 2.0 and 2.1 revisions ensure its compatibility with modern technologies. If you are clueless about the capability of HDMI 1.4 and 2.0, you can explore here

[HDMI 1.4 Vs 2.0: What is The Major Difference]

Technologies That Are Supported by HDMI

  • Dolby Atmos
  • TrueHD
  • DTS HD
  • Dolby Digital Plus

If you’ve ever experienced them, you may know how exceptionally can they improve sound quality. 

Even Dolby Atmos seems emitting light sound waves that compel you to live the sound. 

And what if you are hearing your favorite singer or gazing your eyes at your favorite movie, Dolby Atmos will surely take you to another dimension. HDMI 2.1 cables can even enable 7.1 surround sound, making it the only option for high-end audio systems.

 

3 - HDMI ARC Vs. Optical: Built Differences

HDMI and optical cables are also constructed differently. 

As discussed earlier, Digital Optical Cable or Toslink uses light to transport signal from source to input. The cutting-edge technology it uses is commonly referred to as fiber optics. Therefore, it’s effectively constructed of refined, processed glass. 

The unparallel benefit these cables offer– and which HDMI lacks– is that it ensures a continuous flow signal–no losses.  And thus, it reduces the chances of signal integrity loss along the cable.

On the contrary, HDMI loses vibrancy as you increase the length.

Also, since HDMI cables are often constructed of copper, they needstrong shielding to ensure a high-quality, interruption-free connection.  No such extra layer of the guard is necessary for optical cable. 

But this should not make you love Digital Optical as they triple the cable mess around your devices, creating living irritations.

4 - HDMI is All-Rounder: Ready for Every Test.

Besides the differences mentioned in points 1, 2 and 3, there is another prominent difference. 

While HDMI is an all-rounder– as it has both A/V channels–Digital optical cable can only transmit audio signal. This distinction has made HDMI cable preferable

How?

You can link one single HDMI cable to bond your media sources, such as a Blu-ray player or gaming console to an external A/V system. And another HDMI cable to link the external A/V system to a Television. To boil it down, by allowing you a two-way communication, HDMI reduces the number of wires to a minimum. This has also sparked a crazy spread of ethernet enabled HDMI cables.

Dangerous Facts About Digital Optical 

These cables contain tiny pieces of sharp glass, and thus, can harm you. A little miss handling of these cables can result in their breakage and spread invisible glasses around your living space. In the worst-case scenario, these minute pieces can enter the stomach through food, causing internal bleeding. Due to this lethality, the majority of Optical cables carry warning signs and disclaimers. 

Now that you’ve consumed what an HDMI Arc is, how it works and why it enjoys superiority over Digital Optical Cable, time to address some of the always-asked questions starts.

5 - HDMI ARC VS. Digital Optical: How Length Can Be Problematic?

The length of the HDMI Cable may impact transmission quality, while Digital Optical maintains quality at a longer length.

Placing your soundbar, laptops, and digital optical at the location where it suits the best is what you all wish for. However, the only problem you face in this regard is the length of the cable. The length of the Cable in most cases affects its performance. 

Compared to HDMI, Digital Optical maintains quality at a longer length. A normal Digital Optical cord can stretch up to 50ft. But when it comes to HDMI mere 15ft length can raise concerns about disruption in Audio and Video. 

Well, this should not lead you to doubt the efficacy of HDMI.

To overcome this shortcoming, HDMI has proposed solutions. But before we unfold how these solutions do wonders, you need to know about Active and Passive HDMI Cables.

Active HDMI Cable 

It carries an internal processor to boost signals. Active HDMI Cable either carries power from the external power supply or the connector of the port. 

Passive HDMI Cable 

Standard HDMI cables are called passive HDMIs. Because they are not expensive, the majority of people use them. They are not very long, for they can’t ensure the smooth flow of data at a longer distance. 

An active 2.1 HDMI will meet both tasks. It’ll retain complete signal communication at a considerable length. 

If higher bandwidth isn’t your urgent requirement, or you can get by with an HDMI ARC connection rather than HDMI eARC, HDMI passive cable can reach up to 25 feet before signal integrity is compromised. 

Here are a few inquiries that concern all tech geeks. Their decent explanation will empower you to take the most intelligent decision regarding cables as well as devices.

What You Must Check Before Spending Money On A/V Receiver or Soundbar Speaker?

If you are planning to visit the market for your new A/V receiver or soundbar, be sure they support both HDMI ARC and Digital Optical. Compared to Digital Optical, HDMI ARC is still a new feature. --introduced in 2009. Therefore, many new models still lack an HDMI ARC input port. 

If one of your devices doesn't support HDMI ARC, you will end up buying another HDMI cable, costing you money. 

The Ideal Option would be to have a device that accepts HDMI ARC and an Optical cord. 

Is HDMI ARC Better Than Optical For Sound?

HDMI ARC  supports modern sound technologies such as Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos, and uncompressed audio up to 7.1 channels. Digital Optical, on the other side, only supports Dolby Digital and up to 5.1 channels of uncompressed audio. 

So, HDMI ARC, on the other hand, is a clear winner.

Does HDMI ARC Reduce Quality?

Yes. or maybe NO! Some TVs have been reported to have reduced audio output via ARC. They even turn 5.1 audio channels from 6 to 2, losing depth and immersion. The quality of audio and video thus depends on your TV's make and model.  If your device is well made, a mediocre HDMI ARC will perform well. 

 

Is Digital Optical Better Than HDMI?

Both have their pros and cons, but the pros of HDMI cables designate it as the BOSS's cable. It can carry high-resolution audio/ video signals which means it aligns with Dolby Digital Plus or Dolby TrueHD audio codec (both contain Dolby Atmos audio). 

With HDMI Cables you have range of HDMI Switches and Splitters to connect your entertainment devices 24/7 without swapping the cables to create extra space. 

Digital Optical is, however, totally opposite. It doesn't support Dolby Atmos. Also, Digital Optical cables can handle audio channels of up to 2.1. It collapses, as you upgrade to advanced surround sound systems.

Interesting Fact

Do you know what is the ratio of HDMI to Digital optical port in an ordinary device?

It’s 4:1

For more clarity, you can have a look at the following image comparing both HDMI and Digital optical.

 

Difference between HDM cable Vs digital optical
HDMI Cable Vs Digital Optical

Does a Better Audio Cable Make a Difference?

Unlike HDMI, the quality of Digital Optical doesn’t really create a big difference. But there is one factor that you can’t ignore.

It’s durability. A poorly built audio cable gets fatigued, thereby decreasing its performance.  So, it's the durability that you must consider for optimum level of audio output.

 

What Kind of Cable Do You Need for The Digital Optical Output Port On TV?

Gurus recommend a standard digital optical cable to use on the TV’s Digital Optical output connector.

A fiber optic cable with a TOSLINK connection on both ends is widely acceptable and readily available.

In-demand Digital Optical cables are manufactured using fiber optics. They carry a TOSLINK connection on both sides. You can scroll up to have a crystal-clear understanding of what a TOSLINK connection is.

 

HDMI ARC VS. Digital Optical: Final Words from UNI

Most laptops, PCs, and Consoles have selected HDMI standards as the ultimate remedy to amuse your ear-drum with honey-sweet sound and life-like imagery.

 Digital Optical connectors are still relevant but will lose the race in the next few years. If you are planning to change or upgrade your device, you must ensure it stays relevant for years to come. 

The central aim of Uni’s research is to help you to make informed and budget-friendly decisions. 

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.


Also in Blog

HDMI Version 2.0 vs 2.1
HDMI 2.0 Vs 2.1: Does HDMI 2.1 Make a Big Difference?

August 07, 2022 5 min read

Read More
HDMI Vs DisplayPort: Which Is Perfect for Gaming / TV / Monitor
HDMI Vs DisplayPort: Which Is Perfect for Gaming / TV / Monitor

July 31, 2022 9 min read

Read More
HDMI 2.1 stops screen tearing
HDMI Versions: The Differences That Matters

July 24, 2022 9 min read

Read More