Can you connect two monitors to your computer using an HDMI splitter? Sure, but it depends on what sort of dual monitor setup you want to do. Your PC or laptop usually only has one HDMI output linked to your graphics card. Ideally, you should have monitors that are the exact same. However, it can get quite problematic if you want to go extended mode on them. Mirroring the same output on two monitors is the likelier possibility. Having both monitors double the width of your screen with a splitter is a bit more issue-laden and complex with HDMI.
Sending Video Output on Two HDMI Monitors at the Same Time
Here’s the deal on how to set up dual monitors with HDMI splitter. You can do it, but HDMI splitters merely supplicate the screen so that you’ll get the exact same output on two screens. If you wish to extend your desktop for the sake of editing videos or doing graphic design, you’ll need a dual output graphics card that supports DisplayPort 1.2 to allow chaining monitors together from a single DP output. You need specific devices like the right graphics card and a lot of know-how in order to make an HDMI-based dual monitor work.
If you want to merely mirror video output on two different monitors, you can use HDMI splitters and the right graphic cards to accomplish this end. However, you can’t simply use just any splitter. You need one that works excellently for the least amount of money to ensure that you’ve gotten a cost-effective investment when push comes to shove. In this article, we’ll cover why finding the right splitter is kind of complicated and learn what to look for when it comes to HDMI splitters and cables.
What is an HDMI Splitter?
An HDMI splitter is a device that splits the HDMI video output from a device such as Roku, your laptop, a Blu-Ray or DVD player, a cable box, or a game console (such as a Nintendo Wii, Wii-U, and Switch; a PlayStation 1-4; or an Xbox, Xbox 360, or Xbox One) to allow two separate streams. Typically, a splitter splits the audio stream with a video stream. In this instance, it’s about splitting or mirroring the video signal into two separate monitors instead. It’s one video feed split into two so that it can accommodate two monitors.
Alas, many splitters aren’t dependable for this job. Some are adapters for legacy monitors while others simply don’t work at all. Still, others have issues due to the anti-piracy measure built into all HDMI hardware known as High Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP). HDCP is what keeps splitters from splitting the video stream into a separate monitor for fear of digital piracy or recording the feed. Only approved HDMI hardware can receive the signal from one HDMI source device to another HDMI display.
HDCP is the Problem With HDMI Splitters
Streaming devices that use HDMI such as HDTVs, cables, and so forth all have HDCP. In fact, HDMI might have been promulgated by the different companies back in 2002 specifically because it’s so anti-piracy. It has since replaced various older formats such as VGA, coaxial, and so forth as well as overtaken other HD formats like Digital Visual Interface (1999) and DisplayPort (2006). HDCP safeguards against people recording the digital data just short of simply recording the monitor itself.
- How It Works: HDCP works by protecting the content through a special verification process that confirms what you’re using is an HDMI-approved device that won’t be recording the high-bandwidth content directly from HD sources like a Blu-Ray disc or a game console’s videogame disc. Any HD feeds from satellite or cable boxes are also blocked by this verification process. This ensures that an HDMI connection is only used to display content from a game console, video player, or cable box.
- Verified Connections and Encryption: After a verified connection has been established, HDCP encrypts the signal for the sake of preventing unauthorized content recording that has been running rampant since the early 2000s. This arrangement in viewing content naturally prevents content owners from viewing their own content through video setups more complicated than a simple HDMI-to-HDMI connection between AV source and display. It certainly has made developing your own home entertainment center more interesting, to say the least.
- The Trouble with HDCP and Splitters: A video that’s HDCP-protected will not play on any setup that isn’t HDCP-compliant, as in the case of some of the cheaper and more ineffective HDMI splitters out there. You might get an error message from your second monitor or simply get a blue screen declaring no signal. If you have older equipment, you won’t be able to watch content that’s been legally purchased unless you find a way to bypass the HDCP. This is also an issue with adapters and converters as well.
HDMI Splitters That Bypass HDCP
You do have a fallback when it comes to dealing with your HDCP blues. You need to specifically find splitters, switchers, matrix switchers, adapters, and converters that are HDCP-complaint, such that the device makes the HDMI signal from your device HDCP-approved. However, this typically involves falling back to a lower resolution like 720p if the equipment isn’t a complaint. There’s a downgrade to allow the delivery of the signal.
- Fallback Mode Is Your HDCP Loophole: Activating fallback mode is typically your best bet when viewing HDMI content on non-HDCP-compliant legacy devices. This is because fallback mode rarely gets triggered by devices other than when you’re using a splitter. Therefore, if you have an issue mirroring your content or making a dual monitor setup with your splitter, you can use fallback mode to get around the HDCP digital safeguard. Ideally, it should cost $40 or less if you’re looking for the fallback mode models.
- Cheap Splitters That Bypass HDCP: Ironically, some cheap splitters can accidentally bypass HDCP, allowing for a dual monitor setup without further incident. Due to some budget manufacturers of splitters not bother paying for a license for HDCP, they shouldn’t be able to play HDCP-encrypted content at all. However, because they trigger the fallback mode of your HDMI device, the content can get downgraded to a lower resolution that allows them to play on one or both of your monitors with the split video feed.
- Features to Look for in a Dual Monitor Splitter: If you’re searching for a splitter by yourself, be on the lookout for some specific features or specifications. First off, the splitter should come with its own power adapter or be self-powered. Secondly, it should be compliant with HDMI 1.3a, 1.3b, or 1.4 as well as 2.0 and 2.1. The most common splitters are 1x4 (one input and four outputs) and 1x2 (one input and two outputs). 1x2 is enough for dual monitors and 1x4 might be overkill unless you wish to try out a quad-monitor setup instead.
- How About Audio and Video Transmission? You need a graphic card with two HDMI outputs if you wish to deliver audio and video to each individual monitor. Splitters that deliver AV transmissions to both HDTVs are either quite expensive or can downgrade one or two of those streams. Your best bet is a dual HDMI output. For a single HDMI output, you can get a converter that allows you to use one HDMI monitor and one DVI monitor (no audio). DVI is basically the same as HDMI save for lack of audio. From there, run your audio from external speakers.
- The Best HDMI Splitters for Dual Monitors: The highly recommended splitters for monitor mirroring purposes are the ViewHD VHD-1X2MN3D and the Orei HD-102. Orei and ViewHD have identical features that make them ideal for a mirrored monitor setup. Both support HDCP or at least gets it in the fallback mode for your extra monitor. They also include power adapters as well. They’ve gotten positive reviews by customers from Amazon. They’re proven dependable for your monitor needs. We can vouch that they worked with our monitor setup without any HDCP hiccups.
Is Splitting an HDMI Signal Illegal?
It’s only illegal to split an HDMI signal if you’re planning to use it to illegally copy and distribute HD content. If you instead wish to do it for the sake of mirroring your display unto two monitors or extending your display to two square monitors to form a cinema resolution screen without letterboxing then no, it’s not illegal. You can even record content by you playing videogames for your Let’s Play channel or making legal backups that’s your own properly.
You can also record copyrighted content for fair-use applications, like making a video parody for YouTube or something. It’s only illegal if you’re pirating content. At any rate, if you’re mirroring content between two monitors, you should use an HDCP-compliant splitter or a cheaper splitter that activates the fallback mode. Otherwise, for desktop or movie screen extensions, you need a dual monitor graphics card and/or DisplayPort 1.2 hardware to allow you to daisy-chain your HDMI monitors together with a DP-to-HDMI adapter setup.