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Why Connect HDMI Audio to an External Soundbar
Does HDMI Carry Audio?
The answer to this common question is "Yes," which makes HDMI sources less likely to send audio to other equipment in your TV system.
Traditionally, audio and video were transmitted separately through different interfaces, such as CVBS for traditional TVs and component video connectors for DVD players and game consoles.
The introduction of HDMI revolutionized this paradigm. HDMI unified the transmission of audio and video, greatly enhancing user convenience. Displays nowadays often incorporate built-in speaker systems to play audio and video from the same HDMI source.
Nevertheless, users seeking higher audio quality often prefer external audio devices over the built-in speakers of their displays. As modern TVs now feature slimness, high-end speakers become unlikely to be incorporated since they require more space for resonance or setting up multiple speakers for surround sound. This is where the demand arises to extract the audio from HDMI and play it on external audio devices like a soundbar.
Increasing Audio/Video Sources
Today, many set-top boxes and Blu-ray players offer separate audio interfaces for connecting external sound systems or speakers. As the variety of audio-visual sources continues to expand, a single display and speaker system may have to afford three to five or more sources. Though, this is less of an issue for displays, as most now come with three or more HDMI inputs.
However, in situations with multiple sources, connecting your audio device to each source can be complicated over wiring.
Smart TV with Built-in Streaming Services
Another significant trend is the rise of smart TVs, which integrate AV sources such as TV streaming services within the television itself. This eliminates the cabling from sources to displays and speakers, as audio and video are bound to the display device, making it less likely to extract them.
Connect HDMI Audio to Soundbars
HDMI Audio Extractor vs. HDMI ARC: Setup & Comparison
HDMI Audio Extractor
Extract audio to external audio equipment
Bind the display and the audio equipment
Extract audio from HDMI source
Audio output interfaces
HDMI, SPDIF optical, 3.5mm, etc
Displays and audio equipment must support HDMI ARC/eARC
1. A switcher is needed to switch between sources. 2. Inapplicable to Smart TV.
Yes, you can connect to multiple devices and control them at one time.
Yes, HDMI ARC can be used with Smart TV.
When to use
Your displays and soundbar/audio equipment all support HDMI ARC/eARC.
Your displays and audio equipment are from different generations and have different specs.
How Does HDMI ARC Work?
HDMI ARC vs. eARC
ARC (Audio Return Channel) and eARC are essentially the same; they are designed to bind the TV and the external audio device together. Regardless of the number of source devices, any audio played by the TV will be automatically passed to the external audio device. Consider the TV, AV receiver, and external soundbar as one integrated system; the soundbar will play any audio transmitted to the TV from any source.
HDMI ARC/eARC Setup Features
First, we need to understand the design logic of ARC/eARC. The ARC technology was driven by users' control needs of several devices. In the past, using speakers in multi-source scenarios required selecting speaker & TV input and controlling the source inputs themselves (e.g., DVD player). This also resulted in complex wiring and installation challenges.
As a result, the key features of HDMI ARC setup are:
The TV distributes audio to external audio devices.
HDMI cables with a single specification (compared to the various cables used by audio devices).
Multiple source inputs share a single HDMI cable with ARC functionality for audio transmission.
This means that no matter how many different audio-visual devices are connected, as long as the screen is displaying, the soundbar will output audio as the TV and soundbars are synchronized.
Of course, there are soundbars available on the market that come with built-in ARC functionality, but we will explore this feature in detail in the future.
Limitations of HDMI ARC/eARC
Despite their convenience, ARC/eARC have limitations. The most significant limit is that the display and the external audio device must support ARC or eARC. It's important to note that not every older device supports ARC or eARC. In this situation, you may consider using another convenient tool, the HDMI Audio Extractor, to achieve audio extraction.
Why Use an HDMI Audio Extractor?
In high-end audio-visual applications, audio equipment is replaced less frequently than displays. There are three main reasons:
The cost of replacing speakers, soundbars, and other audio equipment is higher in applications focused on sound quality. In such cases, the replacement frequency for audio equipment may be 5 to 10 years, while TVs are often replaced every 2 to 3 years.
Audio technology advances at a slower pace. 5.1 channel audio was introduced as early as 1979 with the release of the movie Apocalypse Now, and 7.1 channel audio came into play with the release of Star Wars: Episode I in 1999. Although many technologies nowadays support up to 12 channels, 7.1 remains the mainstream choice.
Installing and replacing audio equipment can be more complicated than video equipment, especially in home theater applications.
How Does HDMI Audio Extractor Work?
HDMI Audio Extractor extracts audio signals from the HDMI transmission. For example, with SC&T HAE01, HDMI signals can be split into HDMI video output and HDMI audio (for a soundbar or speakers), SPDIF optical, or 3.5mm audio output.
When your audio devices encounter connectivity issues between different generations or do not support the HDMI ARC function, audio extractors are extremely helpful. You can also choose an HDMI audio extractor in the following situations:
When the resolution of speakers differs from that of a new display. (Check if the audio extractor comes with a scaler.)
When speakers lack HDMI interfaces.
When the source device has only one HDMI interface (connected to the display) and no other interfaces for speakers.
An HDMI Audio Extractor connects to an HDMI source device, a display, and external audio devices, extracting and transmitting signals via HDMI cables. However, smart TVs have built-in audio/video sources, which do not require HDMI cable, rendering HDMI audio extractors unable to connect to source devices and extract audio. Fortunately, most smart TVs support ARC/eARC, so external audio devices can still be used as long as they meet the ARC/eARC specifications.
Does HDMI Audio Extractor Degrade Audio/Video Quality?
Sample Rate Determines the Fidelity of HDMI Audio
HDMI is a digital signal. Generally, HDMI signal sources can support various audio formats such as LPCM, Dolby TrueHD, and DTS-HD MA, each with different sample rates, bit depths, and channel counts that affect audio clarity and detail. If the audio format and quality of the HDMI signal source are not already high, then an HDMI audio extractor cannot enhance them.
The HDMI version also significantly affects the sample rate, with HDMI 1.4 supporting a sample rate of 768 kHz, while HDMI 2.0 and 2.1 support a sample rate of 1536 kHz.
Choose an HDMI Audio Extractor with a Downscaling Function
Video and audio devices of different generations may have different HDMI versions. If your display and audio devices have different HDMI versions, you should use an HDMI audio extractor that has a scaler. A downscaling function ensures that even when upgrading to a 4K@60Hz display, the audio device that supports only 1080p can still operate. Therefore, it is advisable to choose an audio extractor with a downscaling function to avoid impacts on your video quality.
Cable Length Also Affects Audio Quality
If your audio devices are connected with HDMI cables (such as soundbars with HDMI input interfaces), consider the cable length. Even if the display and audio devices have matching and fixed sample rates, cable length can affect the time it takes for the audio transmission from output to input. Generally, shorter cable lengths are preferable within the required range.
HDMI Audio Extractor with Multiple Sources Setup
If you require many sources, you can use an HDMI switcher before the audio extractor based on the number of sources. This allows you to quickly switch between audio sources without altering the rear-end configuration.
Alternatively, you can choose an HDMI matrix switcher with an HDMI ARC and Audio Extractor capability, such as HDMI Switcher Audio Extractor (HS42M-4K6G). It can cater to the needs of controlling multiple devices and extracting the audio when signals pass through the switcher.
Now, you may be wondering how to select the right HDMI Audio Extractor for your needs. Here are some recommendations:
Input and output options: Ensure that the Audio Extractor has sufficient input and output options to meet your needs, allowing you to easily connect multiple devices.
Audio quality support: Check if the device supports high-resolution audio formats like DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD. This ensures the best audio quality experience.
Ease of use: Choose an Audio Extractor that is easy to set up and operate to save you time and hassle.
Brands: Opt for products from well-known brands, as this typically signifies better quality and reliable customer support.
In summary, HDMI Audio Extractors are excellent for ensuring both audio and video quality, elevating your multimedia experience. Make sure you purchase a device that suits your needs and budget to enhance your audio-visual experience.
Conclusion: When to Use HDMI ARC or Audio Extractor?
There are various ways to play HDMI audio on external audio equipment, including HDMI ARC and audio extraction. However, the choice largely depends on the compatibility of your source and display/audio equipment. In general, the latest configurations may utilize designs like ARC or eARC, but if you have older devices that need to be compatible, consider using an HDMI Audio Extractor to meet your needs. If you have any questions, please feel free to discuss them with us.
1. All specifications are subject to change without notice. 2. Brand and product names mentioned are trademarks of their respective companies. 3. The terms HDMI, HDMI High-Definition Multimedia Interface, HDMI Trade dress and the HDMI Logos are trademarks or registered trademarks of HDMI Licensing Administrator, Inc.