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HDMI ARC vs. Bluetooth - Is ARC/eARC Better Than Bluetooth?

Find out if HDMI ARC or Bluetooth is best and the differences between them.

HDMI cable Brandon Jones / TechReviewer

Last Updated: July 27, 2022

Written by Brandon Jones

HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) and Bluetooth are similar technologies for sending audio from a device to speakers. But there are some crucial differences between them, including sound quality and compatibility.

If you are wondering whether you should use HDMI ARC or Bluetooth, this article will help you decide which option is best for your setup. You will also learn what HDMI ARC and Bluetooth are, how they work, and which one is best to use.

HDMI ARC

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HDMI ARC (Audio Return Channel) allows audio to be returned from a TV over an HDMI cable to an audio receiver. This would typically require another cable from an audio receiver to your TV. Video from a receiver to a TV can still be used through the same HDMI cable while also sending audio from the TV to a receiver when using ARC.

ARC directly connects to your sound system, opposed to connecting it wirelessly, so that you won't have any out-of-sync audio, but instead the highest quality sound your speakers can support. Using HDMI ARC, you can connect your TV with any sound system that supports it without needing extra wires.

HDMI eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel), supported on newer HDMI 2.1 devices, enables you to play the latest uncompressed 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound, 32-channel uncompressed audio, and high-bitrate audio formats up to 192 Khz at 24 bit. It also supports Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby TrueHD, creating next-level surround sound.

To take advantage of HDMI eARC, you will have to have devices that support all of those listed features, along with the correct cable version (see my recommended cables below).

Bluetooth

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Bluetooth is handy and easy to use with mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, but it is not the best choice for watching movies for several reasons.

While it's a cleaner-looking option, there are a few downsides to using Bluetooth with a sound system. The most noticeable issues include possible cut-outs from unreliable connections, latency issues, and audio being out of sync with the video. Bluetooth is also heavily compressed from the source and may not sound as good as other connections such as HDMI. Bluetooth is great for music, depending on the audio device, but watching movies will be worse than using an HDMI cable, especially if the audio is out of sync with the video.

Most Bluetooth-only sound systems also don't support true 5.1 (or higher) surround sound but instead upscale it to sound like its surround audio so that it won't sound nearly as good.

Using Bluetooth is mainly suitable for listening to a soundbar is excellent for casual use or for someone who doesn't mind enjoying music from a 2.1 channel audio system.

HDMI ARC vs. Bluetooth Conclusion

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Bluetooth speakers/soundbars can be tempting to use since they might make your theater system look cleaner, but they offset those benefits by not matching the audio quality of using HDMI ARC.

With Bluetooth, there may always be the chance of issues, like disconnects or audio being out of sync, and it doesn't support high-quality surround sound as HDMI eARC does. You should use HDMI ARC if you want the best audio quality and most reliable connection, or use Bluetooth if you want a cleaner setup and don't care as much about the best audio quality.

You can also get the benefits of both if your sound system supports ARC and Bluetooth, so you can use the ARC connection for movies and the Bluetooth for playing music from your phone. Many sound systems advertised as wireless also support ARC and the capability of having the speakers wired (not just for power).

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Which HDMI Cable Type Should You Get?

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Since HDMI 2.1 is backward compatible with older HDMI versions, it's probably best to buy an HDMI 2.1 cable for future-proofing. You will ensure that you'll get the most out of your display without worrying about which one to buy. HDMI 2.1 is also needed for devices that support eARC, for better quality audio to soundbars and audio receivers. If you want to make it even easier, be sure to check out my recommended HDMI 2.1 and 2.0 cables below.

With that said, to get all of the features and speed increase, be sure to check if your display and device (PCs, game consoles, etc.) both support HDMI 2.1 and its features.

Keep in mind that HDMI cables can only go up to specific lengths. If you want a very long HDMI cable, you may need to go with HDMI 2.0 instead and follow one of these HDMI extension methods.

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Shorter HDMI 2.1 Cable

Longer HDMI 2.1 Cable

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Shorter HDMI 2.0 Cable

Longer HDMI 2.0 Cable

Max HDMI Cable Length

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Each type of HDMI cable has a limitation of how long it can reach. There's no specific "max" length a cable can go, but a limitation from the material they're made with.

Most newer copper HDMI cables reach around 15 to 25 ft (5 to 7.5 m). HDMI cables made with fiber optic can reach much farther. On average, fiber optic HDMI cables can reach around 50 to 200 ft (15 to 60 m).

Below are the three types of copper HDMI cables with their average length limits and resolutions they can handle at their max cable length:

Max Length of Copper HDMI Cables
TypeMax Cable LengthSpeedSupported Resolutions
Standard HDMI 49 ft (15 m) < 10 Gb/s 720p 60 Hz | 1080i 60 Hz
High Speed HDMI 15–25 ft (5–7.5 m) 18 Gb/s 1080p 60 Hz | 4K 30 Hz
Ultra High Speed HDMI 10–15 ft (3–5 m) 48 Gb/s 4K | 5K | 8K | 10K 120 Hz

Why HDMI Cables Have a Max Length

Most HDMI cables are made of copper, limiting the cable's length because it loses signal strength the farther it reaches. Signal loss can happen with cables made of other materials also. This signal loss (attenuation) is measured in decibels per distance—the greater the distance, the more signal loss.

The signal level may not be high enough if an HDMI cable is too long due to too much attenuation. If you need to support a longer distance, you'll need an extender, repeater, or fiber optic HDMI cable. Otherwise, you will need to find a way to use a shorter HDMI cable.

How to Extend HDMI 2.0 Cables

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HDMI Repeater

An HDMI repeater extends the connection for shorter runs by connecting two HDMI cables and amplifies the signals for better transmission.

Determining the max length when using a repeater depends on the HDMI repeater and the HDMI cable type, but I give the average ranges below. Remember that HDMI repeaters are directional, so be sure to use the device's correct input/output sides.

HDMI Repeater Range
ResolutionLength
4K @ 60 Hz 60–100 ft (18–30 m)
4K @ 30 Hz 100–130 ft (30–40 m)
1080p @ 60 Hz 135–195 ft (40–60 m)

To be safe, assume a repeater can reach only the shorter end of those ranges.

Fiber Optic HDMI Cable

Fiber optic HDMI cables are like standard HDMI cables but made with optical fiber inside the cable and meant for farther distances up to 164 ft (50 m) for 4K @ 60 Hz.

These cables aren't meant to be used with an extender, repeater, or switch and should be used alone. They also must be installed in the correct direction, with the output/display label connecting to the side with the display.

Learn more about fiber optic HDMI cables in my article: What Is a Fiber Optic HDMI Cable and Is It Worth Getting?.

HDMI Over Ethernet Extender

The HDMI over Ethernet extender is similar to an HDMI over fiber optic extender but uses an Ethernet cable for a shorter extension. An HDMI over Ethernet extender can extend the connection up to 130 ft (40 m) for 4K @ 60 Hz or 230 ft (70 m) for 1080p.

Learn more about HDMI over Ethernet in my article: HDMI Over Ethernet - How to Extend HDMI With Cat 5e/6a.

HDMI Over Fiber Extender

An HDMI over Fiber extender uses an optical fiber cable to transmit the data to reach a much farther distance. You could use an HDMI over Fiber extender to extend the connection up 1,000 to 3,300 ft (300 to 1000 meters) for 4K @ 60 Hz.

Learn more about HDMI over fiber in my article: HDMI Over Fiber - How to Extend HDMI With Fiber-Optic Cable.

Learn About TVs

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Want to learn more about TVs? Check out the articles in my TV series:

Learn About HDMI

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Find answers to your HDMI questions by checking out the articles in my HDMI series: