Home entertainment is an investment. Just think about the satisfaction it brings to have a space to enjoy an uninterrupted cinematic experience, play games, and enjoy good music; all without stepping out of your house. Thanks to the technology today, you can relate to this experience by having a set up with a projector, game consoles, soundbar, A/V receiver, and good smart TV.
Now that you have all these, what about all the wiring? Back then, one would need a set of coaxial cables or standard HDMI, which would mean many wires running around your entertainment center. But we would leave this for technological cave dwellers.
That’s where connectors like HDMI ARC and Optical come in. These let you connect all your devices without taking up much space. They give you the coveted surround-sound quality, and they’re pretty easy to work with. So, which connector is better: HDMI ARC or Optical?
Let’s start by defining the two.
What Is HDMI ARC?
High-definition multimedia interface, best known as HDMI, is a modern trending technology for HD signal transmission. It guarantees the transfer of high-definition audio and video from your device to the screen. HDMI cables are easy to obtain, come in various lengths, and are affordable.
ARC (Audio Return Channel) helps you connect your sound system and TV through one HDMI cable. This configuration eliminates the need for more cables to support two-way visual or audio transmission. The HDMI ARC system can improve quality, consistency, and convenience in transmitting audio signals in your home.
What Is Optical?
Optical, also called Toslink, is a form of HDMI cable. It allows you to transfer audio from devices to an AV receiver or soundbar through a standardized Optical fiber connector system. The configuration is typical in old audio equipment like DAT recorders, DVD players, and most game consoles.
Some devices don’t have an HDMI port for audio-visual connectivity. Optical audio can guarantee good signal quality across all the connected devices. Toshiba was the first to introduce Optical cables in the 80s, and they became the easiest way to transmit Dolby Digital and DTS to your AV receiver.
HDMI ARC vs. Optical: Side-by-Side Comparison
Here are the differences between HMDI ARC vs. Optical Audio.
|Optical Audio||HDMI ARC|
|Audio Bandwidth||384 Kbits/s||1Mbits/s|
|Discovery||No||HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control)|
|Dolby Digital (Lossy)||Yes||Yes|
|Surround Sound 5.1 (Compressed)||Yes||Yes|
|Surround Sound 7.1(Compressed)||No||Yes|
|Surround Sound 5.1(Uncompressed)||No||No|
|Turn ON TV to Turn ON Audio||No||Yes (CEC)|
|TV Controls (Mute and Volume)||No||Yes (CEC)|
|Audio Sync Correction||No||Optional|
|Dolby TrueHD (Lossless)||No||No|
|DTS-HD Master Audio (Lossless)||No||No|
|Dolby Digi-Plus (Lossy)||No||Yes|
HDMI ARC vs. Optical: What’s the Difference?
There is little to separate HMI ARC and Optical regarding audio services. They deliver high-speed audio transfer from one device to a soundbar or AV receiver. They allow the transfer of multichannel audio like Dolby Digital.
HDMI ARC and Optical provide better performance when compared to the analog format (white and red cables). The significant difference between them is that Optical can’t transfer video signals.
Besides the lack of video transfer, HDMI ARC and Optical audio also differ in their material construction. HDMI cables are mainly manufactured using copper, which is standard across electronic cables. Copper is an affordable manufacturing material widely used in the consumer market. However, it has an issue with electromagnetic interference.
Meanwhile, Optical audio cables are created using fiber optic strands, which are easily broken. The main drawback to this manufacturing process is cost. Optical transmits a signal via light, meaning they don’t fall to electromagnetic interference.
The differences are outlined in detail below.
Optical Cables and HMDI ARC are made up of different materials. Copper is the primary material used in the production of HDMI cables. It is inexpensive and malleable, which makes the production process easy. Copper has also survived the test of time within the data transmission industry despite being susceptible to interference from electromagnetic waves.
Optical is made from glass strands which are converted into fiber optic. The production process is complex and, thus, costly. Signal, therefore, moves within the fibers in the form of light waves, unlike electronic waves in HDMI, which do not experience interference.
If you’re upgrading your devices, ensure that they’re compatible. Some TVs don’t have Optical audio ports, and some affordable soundbars lack HDMI ARC ports. Before purchasing any cable, check the ports and inputs of your source device and soundbars. Some devices don’t come with HDMI ports, while others use them.
If your device lacks HDMI ports, ensure the cables are supported to replay audio or video signals between the devices. Most people place orders expecting a type of connection without confirming if the cables they want are supported.
Blu-ray, Game consoles, and similar devices support HDMI cables. A Digital Optical Cable can offer audio quality if your device doesn’t support HDMI cables. The Optical Fiber can produce great sound without streaming signals between your devices if you want to repay audio signals only.
Both HDMI ACR and Optical can transmit multichannel audio and support several audio formats. Optical audio matches that of HDMI ARC connection in an average home. Optical cables can only support sounds like Dolby Digital, DTS, and Stereo.
This means that one can only access 5.1-channel surround audio. This is not something to pout over because it is satisfying by most standards. However, Optical audio doesn’t offer sound profiles such as 5.1.2 or 7.1, or 7.1.2. Moreover, Optical audio doesn’t support Dolby Digital Plus, TrueHD, or DTS HD.
HDMI ARC can access the latest audiophiles, including the playback of modern audio formats like Dolby TrueHD, DTS:X, DTS HD Master Audio, and Stereo. However, it could be improved when it comes to the 7.1.2 audio setup.
Optical Fiber cables don’t support video. People have turned from Optical to HDMI ARC because of this shortcoming. HDMI cables support video, but the quality depends on the cable type.
A good example is how HDMI 2.1 allows up to 120FPS in 4K videos, unlike its counterpart, the 2.0, which allows only 60FPS. The bottom line is that HDMI ARC supports video, but Optical doesn’t.
Therefore, if your entertainment system requires video transmission, the best option would be to invest in a good HDMI ARC rather than an Optical and cheap HDMI cable.
Cable length is a factor when it comes to sound clarity and interference. However, most users are not concerned about it because their AV receiver, soundbar, and TV are close.
The optical cable can maintain sound quality for up to 30 meters. This property is helpful if you want to connect between devices far apart. HDMI ARC cables cannot transmit good sound quality past 15 meters because they are low-voltage devices.
Optical vs HDMI ARC Bandwidth Rates
HDMI ARC has high bandwidth rates because they carry video signals. Remember, video signals consume a lot of bandwidth, so they degrade more quickly than Optical cables.
HDMI ARC Vs Optical: 2 Must-Know Facts
- HDMI ARC supports Dolby Digital and Dolby Atmos, whereas optical supports only Dolby Digital.
- HDMI ARC supports 7.1 and 5.1 multichannel PCM.
HDMI ARC Vs Optical: Which One Is Better?
Optical would be suitable for a simple setup involving external speakers and a TV. But for high bandwidth multiple devices, the HDMI ARC would suffice. HDMI eARC is an advancement to the HDMI ARC that supports object-based audios like DTS:X and Dolby Atmos. HDMI technology is advancing.
As you can see, HDMI ARC and Optical are different. An HDMI ARC is the best option if you want the best audio quality. It’s very convenient, easy, and simple to set up. You can use it on all devices, and it supports all audio formats. Plus, it can help you avoid clutter and tangled cables.
Moreover, Optical cables give decent sound quality. They’re a better choice in the long run as they’re immune to electromagnetic interference. They are also good if you want to transmit audio signals for a longer distance. So, deciding on the correct cable type depends on what you’re looking for.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Negro Elkha/Shutterstock.com.