If you yearn for an impressive listening experience out of your home theater audio, HDMI ARC vs Optical can be an amazing pair of lifesavers.
However, picking the better of the two can be a hard nut to crack. This is why our team of experts has created this article to help you decide.
HDMI ARC or Optical?
Features of HDMI ARC and Optical
HDMI ARC (High-Definition Multimedia Interface Audio Return Channel) and optical both transmit multi-channel audio from one system to another. Both HDMI ARC and optical cables also have support for a wide range of audio formats.
Optical cables are limited to 5.1 surround sound, meaning they only support Stereo, Dolby Digital, and DTS.
On the other hand, HDMI ARC supports playback for more recent devices that use audio formats, such as Stereo, DTS HD Master Audio, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X soundtracks, and Dolby TrueHD. Although HDMI ARC doesn’t support 7.1 surround speakers (which the HDMI eARC does), it supports more sound formats than optical cables.
Winner: HDMI ARC
Unfortunately, optical cables don’t have video support. It’s one of the primary reasons people ditch the cable for HDMI ARC cables, as the latter has support. However, the video quality varies on each HDMI cable.
For instance, HDMI 2.1 cables offer 120 FPS in 4K videos, whereas HDMI 2.0 cables are limited to 60 FPS in 4K. However, the most significant thing here is they’re both compatible with video, while optical is not.
Winner: HDMI ARC
HDMI ARC and Optical: Build
Material construction is another significant difference between the HDMI ARC vs optical. HDMI cables are mainly made of copper, a standard material for constructing electronic wires. Copper is cheap and has been in production for ages, which is why it’s commonly used.
Contrarily, optical cables are designed with fiber optic strands, which are glass type material. Unlike copper, they are somewhat expensive to produce.
Apart from material construction, the main difference between the two is the transmission. Copper is prone to electromagnetic interference, whereas optical cables aren’t because they transmit signals via light rather than electrical currents.
Input Options for HDMI ARC and Optical
While these HDMI ARC cables are pretty much standard, not all electronic devices have an input option for it. If you’re using an older device, you will be stuck with optical.
Like our experts mentioned in this Optical vs HDMI ARC article, HDMI ARC cables support more recent devices, so if you’re not thinking of upgrading to newer systems, you’ll be pretty happy with optical cables.
In terms of minimal interference and sound clarity, the cable length is a factor, although it doesn’t matter to most people since their TVs and A/V receivers or soundbars are close to each other.
Optical cables retain sound quality at a maximum of 30 meters. This is good if you want an extensive connection around your house.
On the other hand, HDMI ARC cables don’t retain sound quality beyond 15 meters. The reason for this is HDMI cables use low voltage, which doesn’t allow it to carry signals that extensive.
HDMI ARC and Optical Bandwidth Rates
HDMI ARC cables have higher bandwidth rates, mostly because of the video signals. However, they tend to degrade faster than optical cables because video signals consume massive bandwidth.
When to Use HDMI ARC
The device(s) you want to connect to plays a major role regarding when to use HDMI ARC cables. If your device supports high-resolution audio like DTS HD Master Audio, Dolby Atmos, DTS:X soundtracks, and Dolby TrueHD, you should use an HDMI ARC cable.
If you want to upgrade to a high-end audio system, need to watch Blu-rays, or to plan to set up a home theater system, you should use HDMI ARC cables since they support both video and audio with one cable.
When to Use Optical
If you still have a 5.1 surround sound system and older devices, an optical cable will work just fine. Since it has less interference, it’s a better option than HDMI.
Which is better optical audio or HDMI ARC?
HDMI ARC is better than optical audio. If you want an immersive audio and video experience, HDMI is the better option. It’s also cheaper than optical audio cables.
Can you use HDMI ARC and optical at the same time?
You can use HDMI ARC and optical at the same time since both cables follow a different path and have their functions.
Overall Winner: HDMI ARC
In this HDMI ARC vs optical comparison, our experts conclude that the HDMI ARC is the better option and will produce better sound quality than the optical.
HDMI ARC cables have video support and support higher sound resolutions, which optical cables don’t. HDMI ARC cable is also cheaper, as it’s made of copper material.