A High-Definition Media Interface (HDMI) switch or switcher is a device that takes multiple HDMI signal inputs then makes one output for it, so that’s multiple media devices like game consoles or Blu-Ray/DVD players hooked up to one HDTV, computer monitor, or projector. It’s the opposite of an HDMI splitter. A splitter takes one HDMI signal at its input then makes multiple outputs for it. It splits the HDMI signal to allow two or more HDTVs to share them. You can depend on a splitter to see the same content “mirrored” unto multiple screens, like in a Karaoke Bar or Sports Bar.
With that in mind, do HDMI switches reduce the quality of the signal being received from the source media or not? Is it the same deal with an HDMI splitter?
A Summary: HDMI uses a digital signal, so even if you’re using splitters or switchers, it shouldn’t affect the quality. If it does, then you’re using a bad switch or splitter device. Any signal loss from such devices can be attributed to either a faulty connection or a poorly made device.
The HDMI Switch Difference Explained
An HDMI switch or switcher allows you to switch between different media source inputs on one monitor while a splitter enables one input to be split into multiple outputs or ports to allow multiple displays to mirror or even extend a display. A switch can also send a single input to your choice of multiple monitors so that you can switch from one monitor to another. It’s a mirror or a display switcher.
So do these switchers or even splitters degrade your HDMI signal or not?
- Four or More Inputs to Work With: A switcher or switch box is handy because after hooking up your devices to it, you can link the box to the HDTV and then push a button to move from 4 inputs or more. You have 4 or more inputs to work with as opposed to the default 2. The usual devices that make use of these inputs are your cable/satellite box, DVD/BD player, game console, and perhaps something vintage like a VCR or Betamax hooked up to it with an HDMI adapter. With all these hookups, the most obvious concern among users is the degradation of picture quality.
- The Question of Quality Degradation: If a switcher degrades the HDMI signal, then that HDMI switcher is defective more often than not. It might have input and output issues or it’s not compatible with the devices you’ve hooked up to it. As a rule of thumb, a switch is nothing more than a port extension or a way to increase the number of ports so that a monitor can switch from different devices, from one game console to another. From HDMI 1 and HDMI 2, you now have an extra HDMI in the form of HDMI 3 all the way up to HDMI 6 and beyond.
- HDMI Is Digital So It Shouldn’t Degrade: Whether you’re using a Samsung S34E790C, Xonar DX, Samsung 850 EVO 500GB, MSI 980, TX750w v2, Corsair 2x4GB, Hyper 212+, 2500k 4.4ghz, P8Z68-V Pro, or Corsair 500r, the digital signal shouldn’t degrade. Maybe if you’re hooking up a device that requires an HDMI adapter or is a vintage appliance using RCA connections, you can expect some “degradation” or lower than 480p resolutions. However, for HDMI inputs there shouldn’t be any degradation whatsoever because HDMI is a digital signal. If there is, it’s not a feature but a bug.
- Analog versus Digital Degradation: Digital high-definition signals like HDMI doesn’t degrade the same way analog or older VGA signals from magnetic videotapes do on old VCRs and Betamax players would. There’s no snowy noise from having signal interruptions or generation loss from copying a copy of a copy of a videotape. Instead, if you lose the signal from something digital, it’s typically due to a faulty connection or a poor quality switch. It’s also possible that the High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) is acting up because your switch is a pirated or third-party one that the HDMI holders don’t approve of.
- Digital Generation Loss: HDMI was adopted by more devices, companies, and content holders because of its HDCP features. The reason for this is because the old analog generation loss safeguard of VCRs and VHS tapes to prevent ubiquitous piracy of content has been eliminated by digital technology. When used correctly, generation loss is completely eliminated using digital copying. When one copies a digital file, you get the exact copy as long as your equipment is operating optimally. Content holders don’t like that and digital pirates have taken full advantage of this feature during the better part of the 2000s and 2010s.
- The Perfect Digital Copy and Piracy Concerns: Digital tech’s trait of perfect copying files has given rise to valid concerns from copyright and content holders regarding piracy. Indeed, torrents and streaming sites have popped up all over the Internet taking advantage of the ease of unauthorized copying. Before digital tech became widespread, a record label could be confident that the unauthorized copies of their music tracks would degrade after each copy or would never be good as the master copy. Quality loss happens from generation to generation. This isn’t the case with the perfect copying of digital tech.
- HDCP as an Anti-Piracy Tool or Pirate Deterrent: HDMI was chosen over Digital Video Interface (DVI) as the digital linkage format of choice for HDTVs and media players everywhere exactly because HDMI had copy protection in the form of HDCP. Because there’s no loss of quality from digital copies that end up with the same output of the uncompressed original, HDCP handshakes deter pirates from easily copying HDTV broadcasts and recording HD Internet streams. As a consequence though, unauthorized HDMI switches might get signal loss, degradation, or lower resolutions due to this HDCP hurdle.
- It’s Usually Something Else Causing the Degradation: If you’re getting a low-quality image after connecting your devices to a switch, it might be because something is wrong with your switch. It’s also possible that the degradation came about coincidentally with your switch hookup and something else has failed with your HDMI connection. Check if your HDMI cable is working properly. Maybe it’s been pinched, bent, or otherwise damaged. You should also check out the ports of your HDTV. Maybe you didn’t switch from HDMI1 to HDMI2 even though your switch is linked to the HDMI2 port.
- Faulty Connection from a Bad Hookup: If nothing is wrong with the pins of your HDTV’s HDMI ports or the cable you’re using to link up 4 or more devices to your switch, then the problem might be a bad connection since you’ve introduced the switch middleman. Something as simple as a loose plug or huge hood on the input can keep them from hooking up correctly to the HDMI switch. The image corruption or even resolution drop can be solved by making sure the hookup is solid. A loose connection can also activate the HDCP protection feature of all HDMI display and source media devices, so make that connection a solid one as much as possible.
- What to Look for in an HDMI Switch: An uncompressed raw image will produce better images than a low-resolution digital image. HD is all about delivering uncompressed high-detail videos and images from the device to display. Therefore, when searching for an HDMI switch to use for your home cinema needs, get a first-party one made by one of the companies that backed HDMI. Otherwise, read reviews about the HDMI switch so that you don’t end up with a low-grade cheap knock-off that will degrade the resolution of whatever your watching because the HDCP features of your HDTV are misidentifying the device as piracy or digital recording device.
- Specific Switch Recommendations: A good HDMI switch that allows for at least 3 inputs that come with its own handy remote is the Kinivo 501BN Premium Wireless Adapter and HDMI Switch. Kinivo not only doubles as an adapter for non-HDMI devices. It also acts as a multi-input switch so that you can extend or increase the standard 2 HDMI ports of your HDTV. It’s compatible with the HDCP requirements of many an HDTV out there to ensure you won’t get degraded video or signal loss from this device. Another good switch recommendation is the Fosmon HD1832 Intelligent 5×1 HDMI Switch whose main claim to fame is having 5 ports.
HDMI uses a digital signal, so even if you’re using splitters or switchers, it shouldn’t affect the quality. If it does, then you’re using a bad switch or splitter device. Any signal loss from such devices can be attributed to either a faulty connection or a poorly made device. It can also happen if you’re using a pirated HDMI switcher that can’t overcome the anti-piracy protocol of HDMI known as HDCP. If there’s the loss of picture, stuttering, freezing, image corruption, artifacting, and the like, then it’s a connection problem.
Ditto when it comes to lowered resolution, like a 1080p picture becoming 720p or a 4K picture being reduced to 1080p. The fact of the matter is that if you have a high-quality HDMI switcher on hand, it doesn’t default into lower-quality images. You shouldn’t expect that unless your product is defective. The switch has one job, which is to take multiple HDMI inputs and allow a single display to choose or switch between them for viewing, giving you more inputs than the standard two inputs available on HDTVs and monitors.