HDMI ARC vs Optical: Are there any differences?

Author: Anirban Saha

Last Updated On:

The HDMI ARC is becoming increasingly popular in the home entertainment world. However, technology is surrounded by a lot of confusion.

I am often asked by people which is better, ARC or optical.

The two are very similar in that they both send audio over an optical connection.

If you are looking for a comparison of HDMI ARC and Optical, this is the right post.

Let’s get started!

HDMI ARC vs Optical

Cable UsedHDMI cable is made composed of four shielded twisted pairs, with an impedance of the order of 100  Ω(ohm) (±15%) (version HDMI 1.4 and above can be used)75 Ω(ohm) coaxial or optical fiber cable S/PDIF (Sony/Philips Digital Interface)
Carries Audio/VideoCarries both Audio and VideoCarries only Audio
PCM AudioUncompressedUncompressed
5.1/7.1 AudioCompressedCompressed
Max DistanceMore, generally, an HDMI cable can be 50m but it will be lossy as the length increases.10 m
HDMI ARC vs Optical

What is HDMI ARC?

The HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) is a feature on HDMI designed to send audio from your TV back to your AV receiver or soundbar.

Several current HD televisions do not come with an optical audio port and rely entirely on HDMI. 

If you want to use your TV’s audio system without the need for a separate audio connection, you need to use the ARC port.

how HDMI ARC works
Source: DoubleT091, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What Is Optical Audio? (TOSLINK)

The TOSLINK (also known as Optical Audio) from Toshiba Link is an audio interface standard for transferring audio over optical fiber. Optical Audio transfer is used in many digital audio appliances, such as home theater systems, soundbars, and receivers. 

It is also used for transmitting audio over the Internet. Optical Audio is the most commonly used audio standard for broadcasting.

Image of Optical Audio cable (TOSLINK)
Source: User Cyvh on en.Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

HDMI ARC vs Optical Sound Quality

Audio Quality is an essential factor when looking for an HDMI Audio type connector like an HDMI ARC or an Optical Cable.

We’ve all been in a situation when trying to connect our devices to the TV. 

Most of the time, it’s with a sound system, and we encounter a dilemma whether to use HDMI ARC or Optical Sound Quality.

Both of them allow us to transfer audio and video from one device to another. 

Optical sound quality is better when the cable is longer and less lossy as compared to HDMI ARC.

HDMI ARC vs Optical Video Quality

The video quality is the main advantage that HDMI ARC has over Optical. The video quality of HDMI ARC is much better than optical cables. 

Optical cables are unable to support 4K video. HDMI ARC is capable of supporting 4K video and supports 3D video, which is not supported by any other cable. 

The video quality of HDMI ARC is not only high but also consistent. The video quality of the HDMI ARC is not affected by the distance, unlike optical cables. 

The video quality of optical cables is affected by distance. The video quality of HDMI ARC is not affected by the type of device plugged into it. 

HDMI ARC vs Optical Cable Length

When it comes to audio and video cables, many different factors affect how a cable works. One of the most significant factors is the length of the cable.

The longer the cable, the more likely it is for the signals to be lost. 

In most cases, an HDMI cable is going to have a maximum length of 50 feet.

If you have a longer distance that you need to run your cable, it’s going to be best to use an Optical Audio cable. This will ensure that you have the best experience possible.

HDMI ARC vs Optical Delay or Latency

Does HDMI ARC have Audio Delay? 

HDMI ARC is great! I can finally use my TV as a sound system without placing speakers in the right place. The best part is, that there is no delay in the audio.

This is great for watching shows and movies without having to set the speakers to sync to the picture manually.

Not only does it work for audio, but it also works to display video in 4K and 3D.

I would recommend anyone in the market for a new TV and who has a home theater to invest in one!

Does Optical have Audio Delay?

The question of whether Optical has audio delay is a question that’s been asked by many people.

Optical audio has been used in computers for now, but people are starting to wonder about the audio delay. 

Optical audio is a form of transmission that utilizes light. Light has a significantly higher speed than electricity, which is what is used in electrical audio.

This allows audio to transmit from computer to speaker or television much faster.

If anything, you would expect an audio delay with optical audio, but some users have reported some audio delays. 

Related: Read More about Coaxial Speaker Cables

HDMI ARC vs Optical: Which is better for Soundbar?

There is a lot of confusion out there about what exactly HDMI ARC and optical audio are.

You can use both of these technologies to transmit audio from your television to your sound system.

One of the most significant differences is the distance that they can transmit. 

If you’re looking for a direct connection from your TV to your receiver, then HDMI ARC is the way to go.

If you’re planning on using a soundbar or want to run an extension to your receiver, then you’ll want to use optical.

How do I know if my TV has HDMI ARC?

HDMI ARC is a relatively new technology, so you should check your TV’s manual. But there are a few common things to look out for. 

The first step is to locate the HDMI ports on the TV. You should be able to find these ports on the back or side of the TV. 

The HDMI ARC port would look like an HDMI port only, but it would be labeled as HDMI ARC or ARC.

If you find this, then your TV supports HDMI ARC. You can also find ARC in the settings menu of the TV. 

Where to buy HDMI ARC or Digital Optical Sound Cable?

If you are looking for a high-quality cable of either HDMI ARC or Optical Sound Cable, then you will find the excellent option at Amazon.

Here are some of the great HDMI cables which you can use with your ARC-supported soundbar and TV.

Last update on 2024-03-27 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Here are some of the great Optical Sound cables which you can use with your soundbar.

Last update on 2024-03-26 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

FAQs on HDMI ARC vs Optical

Q: Is HDMI ARC good for gaming?

Yes, HDMI ARC is good for gaming as it fully supports the transmission of Dolby Atmos with the Dolby Digital Plus audio codec and does not have any audio lag or latency issues.

Q: Do you need an Optical cable with HDMI ARC?

HDMI ARC does not need a separate optical cable for Audio.

Q: What does ARC mean on HDMI?

ARC on HDMI means Audio Return Channel.


Let’s conclude the post on the comparison of HDMI ARC vs Optical.

I hope you enjoyed reading the post.

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