Will My AVR Decode Atmos from My TV’s HDMI ARC Port?

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Q My new Denon A/V receiver has an eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel) HDMI connection, and my TV has a regular HDMI ARC connection. Here’s my question: Will the Denon A/V receiver be able to decode both Dolby Atmos/Dolby True HD and DTS:X/DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks that are routed to it from the TV’s HDMI ARC port, or do I need to connect sources such as an Ultra HD Blu-ray player and streaming box directly to the AVR to make that happen? —Andrew Last, via email

A While a TV with an HDMI eARC port should have no issue routing all manner of soundtracks to your Denon receiver for proper decoding, sets like yours with a regular HDMI ARC port — typically models built prior to 2019 — are subject to limitations, with soundtrack format pass-through largely dependent on the capabilities of the TV.

Most TVs with an HDMI ARC port can pass-through compressed Dolby Digital 5.1 audio to an A/V receiver or processor, and many also support pass-through of DTS soundtracks. Some newer HDMI ARC-equipped sets are also capable of Dolby Atmos pass-through via Dolby Digital Plus, though that capability isn’t as common, and the audio bitrate is limited compared to what you’d get with Atmos on Blu-ray or Ultra HD Blu-ray disc.

A TV with an HDMI eARC port, in contrast, will be capable of full bitrate Dolby True HD and Dolby Atmos soundtrack pass-through, and some sets also support pass-through of DTS-HD Master Audio and DTS:X soundtracks. (The Sony XBR-65A8H OLED Ultra HDTV, for example, supports pass-through of both Dolby True HD and Dolby Atmos and DTS-HD Master Audio and DTS:X soundtracks.) The reason for this is that the HDMI eARC spec provides considerably higher bandwidth than the HDMI ARC spec, which is based upon the same S/PDIF specification used for optical and coaxial digital audio connections (which are limited to pass-through of lossy core 5.1 Dolby Digital and DTS bitstreams, and on some TVs to stereo-only output).

Since your TV has a regular HDMI ARC port, I’d recommend that you connect sources such as a Blu-ray player, an Apple TV or Roku streaming box, and an Xbox or PlayStation game console directly to the Denon receiver. That way, it’s guaranteed that you’ll be hearing soundtracks on disc at full resolution, and experiencing enhanced sound quality from streamed movies and TV shows.

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