What’s the difference between HDMI ARC vs Optical?

HDMI ARC vs Optical

If you’re looking to connect your TV to an audio device, such as a soundbar or external speakers, you have a few options. Two of the most popular options are HDMI ARC and optical. But which one is right for you? And how do HDMI ARC vs Optical compare?


In this article, we’ll take a look at HDMI ARC and optical, and we’ll compare the two, enabling you to decide which is the best choice for your needs and equipment.


While both are good options that allow you to enjoy superior sound quality to your TV’s built-in speakers, many consider HDMI ARC to be more advanced technology. Come with us as we explore HDMI ARC vs Optical.



Where did HDMI and Optical come from?

If you were born before 2000, you’ll have grown up with SCART cables and phono cables of various configurations. And while both options still exist, they are pretty old school tech!


Both HDMI and Optical are their modern replacements. They allow you to transmit audio and video signals between devices. As with the SCART, HDMI and Optical are industry standards that allow you to connect devices from different manufacturers in a single cohesive system.


Optical is an older technology that is less expensive and easier to set up than HDMI. However, Optical does not support the same high-quality audio and video signals as HDMI. Also, HDMI supports more advanced features, such as 3D and high-definition audio formats.



optical cable



What is Optical technology and how does it transmit audio?

Optical technology is a way of transmitting audio signals using light. It’s fairly old compared to HDMI as it’s been around since the late 80s. But it’s still a good option for connecting your TV to an audio device.


It works by using a fibre-optic cable to transmit audio signals. The cable has a small glass or plastic core that’s surrounded by a cladding material. The cladding material reflects the light back into the core, which helps to keep the signal from being lost.


Your TV or audio device will have an optical port on it, usually labelled “Optical” or “Toslink.” To link your TV and a soundbar, for example, you’d plug an optical cable into the optical port on each device, allowing the TV to pass a signal to the soundbar.


When you play audio on your TV, the signal is converted to light and transmitted through the optical cable. The light signal is then converted back to an audio signal by the audio device.


Optical technology is good for connecting your TV to an audio device because it is simple and affordable. And if you are not concerned about the highest possible sound quality, optical is a great choice.


That said, optical technology does have some limitations. It doesn’t support the same high-quality audio formats as HDMI. Also, as a unidirectional connection, you can’t use your TV remote to control the volume of your soundbar or AV receiver.


Thankfully, HDMI ARC solves this issue! Let’s take a look at that, and then we’ll compare HDMI vs Optical.



Is HDMI ARC more modern?

HDMI was invented by several large home appliance companies, including Sony and Philips, and was first released in 2002. A few versions came and went before they released HDMI 1.4, which included the ARC system.


HDMI ARC stands for Audio Return Channel. It is a feature that allows audio to be transmitted from a TV to an audio device, such as a soundbar or AV receiver. It offers several advantages. These include a higher sound quality, such as Dolby Atmos and DTS: X.


The system allows audio to be transmitted in both directions, which means that you can use your TV remote to control the volume of your soundbar or AV receiver. Simply, connect the devices using a HDMI cable and you’re good to go.


Many HDMI ARC-enabled soundbars will automatically turn on when they sense a signal. So you don’t have to find the remote or manually turn the soundbar on. Ideal if you don’t want a pile of remotes on the coffee table!


Some consider HDMI ARC a simpler connection to set up than Optical.



hdmi cable



Comparing HDMI ARC vs Optical

Comparing HDMI ARC vs Optical is tricky as they are both good options for connecting your TV to an audio device.


Optical is a simpler and more affordable connection. However, it does not offer the same sound quality as HDMI ARC. While more expensive and complex to set up, HDMI ARC offers better sound quality and a bidirectional connection.


The choice might be out of your hands as you’ll be forced to use whatever connection ports your equipment offers. For example, if you’re trying to connect a TV and soundbar but only the soundbar has an HDMI ARC port, your only option is to use an optical cable.


However, if both devices have the correct HDMI ports and work with HDMI ARC, you can use an HDMI cable to connect them together. Where possible, we recommend using HDMI ARC over optical, but you’ll need to try both and decide for yourself.