HDMI ARC vs Optical – Which is Better? Explained!

When it comes to connecting your audio and video devices, two of the most popular options are HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) and Optical (also known as Toslink or S/PDIF). Both options have their advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between the two often comes down to the specific needs and requirements of your home entertainment system. In this article, we’ll compare HDMI ARC and Optical, explaining their key features and helping you decide which is the better choice for your setup.

HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel)

HDMI ARC is a feature found in many modern HDMI cables and devices, which allows audio to be sent back to a compatible audio system, such as a soundbar or AV receiver, without the need for an additional cable. HDMI ARC essentially combines audio and video transmission into a single cable, simplifying your home entertainment setup.


  • Simplicity: HDMI ARC allows for both audio and video signals to be transmitted through a single cable, reducing clutter and making setup easier.
  • Audio Quality: HDMI ARC supports a wide range of audio formats, including high-resolution formats such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, providing an immersive audio experience.
  • CEC (Consumer Electronics Control): HDMI ARC also supports CEC, which enables the control of multiple devices using a single remote.


  • Compatibility: Not all devices and HDMI cables support ARC, so you may need to upgrade your equipment to take advantage of this feature.
  • Limited Audio Channels: While HDMI ARC does support various high-resolution formats, it only supports up to 5.1 channel audio, which may be limiting for those looking to set up a more advanced audio system.

Optical (Toslink or S/PDIF)

Optical cables, also known as Toslink or S/PDIF, are another popular option for connecting audio devices. They use light to transmit audio signals, resulting in a high-quality audio experience that is less susceptible to interference.


  • Audio Quality: Optical cables provide a clean audio signal, free from interference, and support up to 7.1 channel audio, including Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound formats.
  • Compatibility: Optical cables are widely compatible with various audio devices, including older equipment that may not support HDMI ARC.
  • Affordable: Optical cables are generally less expensive than HDMI cables, making them a cost-effective choice for many audio setups.


  • Additional Cable: Unlike HDMI ARC, optical cables only transmit audio signals, meaning you’ll need a separate cable for video transmission.
  • Limited High-Resolution Audio Support: Optical cables do not support high-resolution audio formats like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, which can be a drawback for those looking for the most immersive audio experience.


Do you need an optical cable with HDMI ARC?

No, you do not need an optical cable with HDMI ARC. HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) is a feature that allows audio to be sent from your TV to your soundbar or AV receiver over an HDMI cable. To take advantage of HDMI ARC, you’ll need a television and audio processor (AV receiver or soundbar) with matching ARC-enabled HDMI sockets. If your TV has an HDMI ARC port, and your soundbar or AV receiver also has an HDMI ARC port, you can use an HDMI cable to connect them and carry both audio and video signals. In contrast, optical cables are a separate type of cable used to transmit audio signals only, and they are not required when using HDMI ARC.

Is HDMI ARC better than optical?

HDMI ARC is generally considered as a better option than optical for transmitting audio. HDMI ARC supports higher sound resolutions and has video support, which optical cables do not have. HDMI ARC cables are also cheaper, as they are made of copper material. However, it should be noted that both HDMI ARC and optical cables transmit a multi-channel digital audio signal, but where optical cables are limited to just that digital audio, HDMI was designed as both a video and audio transmission cable.

Overall, the choice between HDMI ARC and optical will ultimately depend on your specific needs and equipment.

Does HDMI ARC sound better than AUX?

Comparing HDMI ARC with AUX is not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. HDMI ARC is primarily used to transmit audio signals from a TV to an external audio device, whereas AUX is a type of analog audio cable that can be used to connect various audio devices.

That being said, HDMI ARC is capable of transmitting higher-quality audio signals compared to AUX. HDMI ARC can transmit lossless audio formats like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, which are not possible with an AUX cable. However, the quality of the audio signal also depends on the device’s specifications and compatibility with HDMI ARC.

HDMI ARC is capable of transmitting higher-quality audio signals compared to AUX, but it’s not a direct comparison since they serve different purposes.

Can I use HDMI ARC and optical at the same time?

Yes, it is possible to use HDMI ARC and optical audio at the same time. However, both the TV and the connected audio device must support both HDMI ARC and optical audio connections. When using both, set up the TV to send audio via optical while using HDMI ARC for video signals. Some TVs may have limitations on simultaneous audio outputs, so it is important to check the TV’s manual or website for specifications.

Additionally, it is worth noting that the newer version of HDMI ARC, known as eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel), has a higher bandwidth and faster speed, allowing for higher-quality audio to be sent from the TV to a soundbar or AV receiver.


Choosing between HDMI ARC and Optical ultimately depends on your specific needs and the devices you are connecting. If you have compatible devices and are looking for a more streamlined setup with support for high-resolution audio formats, HDMI ARC may be the better choice. However, if you have older devices or want to minimize costs while still achieving high-quality audio, Optical might be the way to go. Assess your home entertainment system and preferences to determine which option is best for you.

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