ARC, along with help from CEC, can simplify your home theater system in two important ways. The first, and perhaps most useful feature HDMI ARC brings to casual users is the ability to use one remote for all of your audio device’s most common functions. For this example, you may need to go into your TV’s settings and activate CEC (Consumer electronics Control), usually found in the general settings. Once everything is set up, your TV remote control could power on your A/V receiver or soundbar at the same time as your TV, and control the volume of either of those devices. Simplicity is the name of the game here.

The ARC HDMI port can also be handy for connecting outboard components like streaming devices, and make controlling them easier. Plugging a Google Chromecast into your TV’s ARC port, for instance, may allow you to automatically switch sources or even turn on your TV when you click the cast icon on your phone or tablet. You may find similar results with other components as well, including Blu-ray players.

We’ve teased some of what eARC can do, but here’s a little more explanation on how it does it, and what other benefits it offers.

The “e” in eARC, stands for Enhanced (Audio Return Channel), and is new standard feature of HDMI 2.1 designed to the best possible audio resolution to come from your TV. The new configuration will require eARC support from both your TV and your audio device, which means your devices must support HDMI 2.1 — older HDMI versions will not support eARC.

With eARC, full-resolution sound signals — including top 3D surround sound like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X — whether they come from over-the-air broadcasts, internal streaming apps, and Blu-ray players or game consoles connected directly to your eARC-enabled TV, can be passed back and forth from your TV and audio systems.

Previously, decoding high-bit-rate audio like Dolby Atmos required plugging your source device directly into a compatible audio/video receiver, soundbar, or powered speakers, as most TVs are limited to outputting compressed surround sound or even stereo audio. With eARC, you’ll be able to plug your HDMI devices directly into your TV, and the TV will then send the uncompressed, high-quality audio to a soundbar, receiver, or amplifier directly from the eARC port.

In other words, this is a gradual evolution, and not one that should keep you from enjoying the still burgeoning world of 4K HDR TVs and Dolby Atmos/DTS:X-enabled audio devices. Like all technologies, the future of home theater is announced and planned long before it becomes the standard. Yes, it is impossible to stay on top of the very latest and greatest from home theater land — and that’s OK.