The Ultimate Guide to HDMI Switcher

How To Use An HDMI Switcher For Multiple HDMI And Input Sources

You can make use of what’s known as an HDMI switcher or switch to connect and operate a number of devices through a single HDMI port. A switcher allows you to use multiple devices while a splitter allows you to use multiple monitors. You can indeed add multiple devices to your TV through what’s known as an HDMI switcher. No need to buy a new TV, just get the switcher and you’re good to go. A splitter is what you use to connect different monitors to one device.

hdmi switcher

A switcher is what you want to use to connect different devices to one monitor. Many TVs at present only come with one or two HDMI ports. This means that you either buy a splitter/switcher or you have to disconnect a device in order to connect another device, whether it’s different consoles or different Blu-Ray players as well as speaker and base connections.

History of HDMI

First thing’s first, here’s what HDMI means. It stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface. It’s a video and audio interface that enables the transmission of uncompressed and high-quality video data as well as compressed or uncompressed audio data from an HDMI-compatible source to a display monitor like a computer monitor or a high-definition television screen.

  • HDMI Source and Current Standard: Your HDMI source can be a smartphone, a computer, or a Blu-Ray/BD player. The display can be anything from a video projector to a computer monitor and, of course, a television set. If you’re merely transferring audio data, any HDMI-compliant audio device will accomplish the task. HDMI is the current standard for audio/video transfer, replacing the analog standards of yesteryear such as RCA, composite video, and VGA cables and connectors. 
  • Multiple Founders: Unlike some other technologies out there founded by one person or one company, HDMI has multiple founders leading to its development. Originally, it was developed by the likes of Toshiba, Thompson, Philips, Panasonic, Silicon Image, RCA, Sony, and Hitachi. Technically speaking, every company made their own version of the HDMI tech, but each and everyone works essentially in the same way but for their specific hardware, allowing universal compatibility with HDMI-compatible connectors and cables.
  • Date of Development: April 16, 2002, is when HDMI technology was initially developed. On July 23, 2003, the first ATC or Authorized Testing Center opened its doors in California care of Silicon Image. The aim was to make an AV or audio-video connector that has backward compatibility with the DVI or Digital Visual Interface that was an interface created by the Digital Display Working Group. The reason for the backward compatibility was because DVI was the main tech for connecting HDTVs to other devices.
  • Newer HDMI Versions Galore: Ever since it was initially incepted, there have been several HDMI versions released to the public, each one improvement to the last. Several of these newer HDMI releases were made for the sake of color specification improvements as well as increasing the video, audio, and resolution capacity possible when displaying any given HD video.
  • A Continuing Evolution of HDMI: In other words, the overall performance or limits of HDMI has been increased after each new release. Other versions were more concentrated on putting in more features such as Ethernet data transmission, CEC or Consumer Electronics Control, and better 3D support for 3D object rendering in videogames to ensure smoothness in appearance and movement. However, to view such improvements in frame rate and resolution, you’ll need a new TV, a new monitor, or new hardware.
  • The Development of HDMI 2.0:  HDMI 1.0 had limitations in terms of the allowable frame rate in certain resolutions. This is why HDMI 2.0 was developed. It’s a version of HDMI capable of rendering 4k video over an HDMI connection at 60 frames per second. It’s the HDMI version to have when dealing with 3D HD games or the latest BD releases with high frame rate and high resolution. You’re given the maximum possible frame rate and resolution through this latest tech.

What is an HDMI Switcher?

An HDMI switcher or switch, as opposed to an HDMI splitter, is a switch that allows you to toggle from one HDMI-connected device to another. It also gives out multiple input ports for use in tandem with a splitter when establishing an HDMI matrix. You can switch from your game console to your Blu-Ray player with the switch. A switcher and a splitter are two different HDMI connection devices or adaptors. Don’t confuse one over the other. A splitter merely splits one HDMI connection into several connections without the toggling option.

  • The Literal Definition of an HDMI Switcher: An HDMI switcher or switch is a device you use to select the video source for the TV or monitor through the HDMI interface. For instance, a DVR, DVD player, Blu-ray Player, and cable box might all have HDMI outputs while the TV only has one. In such cases, you can buy a 3-port HDMI switcher to allow all 3 HDMI outputs to be plugged in for your television without you unplugging one or two to use another. It works kind of like a splitter but better since you can switch between sources rather than turn off one to go to another.

hdmi switcher

  • A Must for Home Entertainment Centers: Most home entertainment centers include more than one or two HDMI-based devices to connect to your TV or monitor as well as the projector. You might even need that HDMI to link your computer or laptop to your TV for good measure for Internet streaming purposes! At present, the average home might have a gaming system, a DVD and/or BD player, a cable box, and a computer requiring all connections possible. To save yourself the hassle of plugging and unplugging systems, you have a switcher that switches to different devices for you.
  • A More Unified Experience When Push Comes to Shove: The main aim of the HDMI switcher is to make sure your sources of entertainment and devices, from your cable box to your Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or Nintendo Switch to your DVD or BD players to your HDTV and so much more can unify together in one neat place using a matrix switcher that combines all of them together in neater ways you cannot accomplish with a regular single HDMI switch or standalone splitter. You’re given a common control and consistent content in every room in your home.
  • Forget Plug and Play and Just Switch and Play: Your HDMI switcher allows your entertainment center to become a more unified experience. Forget plug-and-play compatibility; that’s a given. You now need a switch and play instead without ever needing to unplug or replug anything. You can switch from surfing the web, streaming, chatting, webcam video conferencing, playing videogames on your game console, watching movies on your DVD or Blu-Ray player, listening to music or the radio, and much more. When building your HDMI matrix setup, it oftentimes requires a remote control to simplify switching from one device to another once connected.

What is an HDMI Matrix Switch?

An HDMI matrix or HDBaseT matrix setup enables you, the consumer, to centralize all your audio-visual devices in order to make sure they’re hidden away using some combination of inputs and outputs, like 4 input ports using switchers and four output ports using splitters. A matrix switcher, therefore, is a switch that allows you to make an HDMI matrix in one adapter. Such setups create living spaces that are neater and less cluttered. They’re also less likely to cause a fire since it’s less of a fire hazard using this system.

With a matrix, you won’t get any octopus connections, overlapping cables, or you having to use your consoles or computers or video players one at a time. Mix and match splitters and switchers to make use of multiple audio-video devices and display monitors together. Afterward, just switch or toggle between them via the matrix setup.

  • It’s Cable and Connection Management for HDMI Systems: HDMI serving as a universal standard for all modern entertainment equipment allows people who wish to build their own entertainment systems a much simpler time in connecting these devices together. The matrix itself can quickly become quite complex due to the fact that it deals with many HDMI inputs and outputs at the same time. A 4×2 HDMI matrix, for instance, uses four input ports and two output ports. This matrix can, therefore, be utilized as a switch with two outputs or as a splitter with multiple inputs to avoid unplugging and replugging HDMI cables between the monitors.

  • The Bidirectional HDMI Switch: Did you know that there’s such a thing as a 2-in-1 HDMI input-output device? It’s called a bidirectional HDMI switch and it’s a fusion of the HDMI switcher and the HDMI splitter in one adaptive device. So instead of one input or output on either end, you get multiple inputs and outputs to allow multiple displays to connect and toggle between multiple devices all at the same time, which is a boon for the truly complex HDMI matrices out there using an entertainment center that can double as a command center for the U.S.S. Enterprise.

  • Warning Regarding The HDMI Matrix Switch: Certain HDMI switchers that are bidirectional or use multiple HDMI inputs and outputs will tend to, for example, have a video signal to two video displays that’s inferior to the other. One of them might display lower resolution video, such as 720p as opposed to 1080p or 1080p instead of 4K. In such cases, the output from this matrix switcher might default to the lower setting of the given resolutions on both displays. It’s better to buy a consistently high-resolution switcher if possible or have a desirable default lower-resolution display.

What To Look For An HDMI Switcher?

When establishing your own matrix setup for your home entertainment system, you should look for the right high-performance switchers for your matrix. It should be capable of routing HDMI signals to multiple devices while your splitter should be able to route HDMI signals to multiple displays. Your high-performance hardware should have specs such as data rates of 6.75Gbps, HD lossless audio formats, and Deep Color up to 12-bit.

You basically want something that’s precision-engineered with intelligent tech to help integrators guarantee dependable operation and compatibility between devices. Additionally, some switches can be operated automatically by priority, by remote control, and/or manually using buttons on the device itself. Pay attention to the specs and learn what they mean as far as the results are concerned.

  • Quality Consistency and Compatibility: Because an HDMI switch is responsible for connecting multiple AV devices to a display monitor—such as one or more of the latest gaming consoles, your smartphone, your laptop, your tablet, your media streamer, your cable/satellite box, and your upscaling DVD/Blu-Ray/Ultra HD Blu-Ray players—then you should search an HDMI switcher known for its HDMI quality in transmission. You should get the right framerate, no lag, no ghosting, or no blurring and loss of quality since the point of going HD is to get every detail pixel-perfect. 
  • Check The Switcher’s Video Specs: Let’s get into the specifics of the specifications. The currently available HDMI switches for consumers are at least 1080p and have compatibility with HD sound of the Dolby Digital or DTS variety. If you have 4K source components and 4K Ultra HDTV, your switcher should have 4K compatibility to not lose picture integrity. Also, you need your switcher to specifically pass HDR-encoded signals and 3D video signals as well. Don’t conclude that as long as you have a switcher available, it can do 4K video or pass the right signals by default.
  • Check The Switcher’s Audio Specs: All switchers universally pass audio signals of the DTS or Dolby Digital Surround, but if you’re routing the switcher output through a home theater receiver that provides advanced audio formats such as DTS:C, DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby TrueHD, then you will need to make sure that your HDMI switcher features decoding compatibility for them as well. Usually, having the AV source connected directly to your television will do the trick for standard HD audio but if you want to hear the even higher quality sound, you need to check switcher compatibility for such formats.
  • HDMI Handshake Requirements: HDMI handshake requirements must be met by your switcher in order to make it a worthwhile purchase. To be more specific, it should have High-Bandwidth Digital Copy Protection or HDCP 2.2 for 4K device protocol between the TV or monitor and the source devices. This is important when it comes to switching from one device to another. There’s a temporary handshake break or pause until a newly selected device locks in via a new handshake. Long story short, the handshake allows for faster switching without awkward pauses or load times.

How To Choose The Right HDMI Switch (A Guide To Buying An HDMI Switcher)

What is the best HDMI Switcher?

HDMI switchers are hassle-removers. You don’t have to constantly reach behind or around your entertainment center or television set to plug an unplug devices when using HDMI switchers. They’re also superior to splitters since you can do real-time switching from one device to the next, allowing you to use all devices at the same time by toggling versus having to turn on one or more devices to use another device at any given time.

No more unplugging and no more moving of one device to accommodate another in your entertainment hub. What could be better? On what note, here’s what you need to look for when it comes to finding the right HDMI switch or switcher.

  • Size and Weight as well as Appearance: When buying HDMI switchers or matrix switchers, you need to take into consideration the size and weight because you, of course, want to have a device that fits into your entertainment center cabinet or setup while having enough inputs and/or outputs to spare for all your available devices so that you won’t need to buy an extra switch or splitter. Get one that comes with an HDMI cable as well as a money-back guarantee. Have a sleek and stylish one if your switcher is on display instead of hidden behind the TV set.
  • Ethernet Compatibility and Proper Cabling: Outside of size and style, your HDMI switch should have a type of plastic housing that isn’t cheap or easily breaks. Avoid the ones that use nylon braiding cables as well, since those get frayed easily. On top of all of that, it should have universal compatibility with all video resolutions from 4K to 480p. Additionally, it should include automatic input detection and bypass its own ports without loss of signal. It should retain the memory of the most recently used device after it’s been rebooted.
  • 4K Compatibility Isn’t Created Equal: The best HDMI switchers are compatible with 4K video but some of them are better at 4K rendering at others, particularly if you’re playing modern games or consumer BD movies and you don’t want your frame rate to drop at 4K. Some switches have the latest hardware to allow HDMI 2.0 compatibility. Others are capable of detecting newly added input devices as soon as you plug them in. Once you’ve seen true 4K for yourself, you’ll be able to judge whether your HDMI switcher, outputs, inputs, or cables themselves are troubling you when transferring data from source to display.
  • Infrared Remotes Give You Control: A remote control is supposed to give you control of your switcher without you having to move anywhere near it to manipulate any manual buttons it might have. Some don’t even have buttons on them and rely exclusively on being controlled by a remote. Your switcher should make you feel more comfortable laying on your living room sofa, sipping a drink while watching football on cable, switch to a BD player to watch HD anime, switch to Netflix to marathon a series, or switch to a Nintendo Switch to play Mario Maker 2 or something all at the  push of  a button. 

HDMI Switches Versus HDMI Splitters 

Just as videogame consoles used to all be Nintendo or photocopiers used to all be Xerox machines or all vacuum cleaners used to all be Hoovers, so too do consumers mistake all HDMI adapters to be switches or switchers. An HDMI splitter isn’t a switcher and vice-versa.  The two aren’t the same thing. They do similar things but at opposite ends of the display and AV source. They’re usually interchangeable to consumers as shorthand for something to increase your number of HDMI outputs or inputs to allow more machines to plug to the TV that only has two HDMI outputs. 

Long story short, a switcher connects multiple devices into one display, a splitter splits the AV source into two monitors, and a bidirectional matrix switch allows you to connect multiple devices into multiple displays (usually two monitors).

  • Clearing Up the Confusion: If you have to connect to a single display device like a computer monitor or television with your multiple HDMI-compliant devices, then the HDMI switcher is usually the better choice between it and a splitter. A splitter has a cable with an HDMI plug input on one end and on the other end, you have two, three, or even four HDMI ports or outputs. A switcher is like a splitter but in reverse. It has an HDMI port on one end and multiple HDMI plugs on the other end.
  • Switchers Are Like HDMI Extension Plugs: Televisions come with only 1-2 HDMI ports by default. You use a switcher, which consumers might misidentify as a splitter, in order to increase those ports or outputs for you to put in more than two devices. With it, you can switch between multiple HDMI sources devices such as switching from the Nintendo Switch to the Xbox One to the PlayStation 4 or even other consoles with HDMI capabilities or adaptors. You can switch between your Blu-Ray and DVD player as well or go through different brands of players.
  • Splitters Split the Screens Into Two or More: Splitters work in reverse compared to switchers. Instead of plugging different consoles, players, boxes, gaming systems, computers, smartphones, tablets, and other media into one monitor or screen, a splitter allows you to hook up a device to multiple monitors or even a monitor and a projector in case you need to do a presentation or view a movie old-school with the lights out. A splitter is particularly handy when it comes to people doing editing or graphic design since it allows your laptop or desktop PC to have two monitors to truly lengthen your workspace.
  • Putting It Together with a Matrix Switcher: You can make a matrix setup by combining splitters and switches together in case your entertainment center or system looks like the multi-monitor CCTV setup of a guard in Alcatraz or The Architect in the second Matrix movie (the movie’s name has no relation to the name of the setup, that’s a coincidence). In turn, you can use a matrix switcher or a switcher that has multiple outputs and inputs so that it can double as a splitter to hook up multiple displays and AV sources together. A matrix switcher is essentially a regular switcher and splitter fused into one adapter.

Q&A

Here is the question and answer portion of the article covering various frequently asked questions about the HDMI switch.

How does an HDMI switch work?

This device works by adding outputs for your other AV sources to your television or monitor that usually only have maybe one or two HDMI outputs on it. It’s called a switch though because unlike a splitter that splits monitors or televisions for you to plug your AV sources to, it adds AV sources to one display. You’re required to switch from one HDMI device to another connected to your switch and HDMI interface since you’re only working with one TV or monitor. Switching usually happens with the help of remote control.

You can switch from a cable box, DVD player, DVR, Blu-Ray player, and computer console by picking their respective ports. Since your TV usually only has one HDMI output, it’s essential for a home entertainment center to have one of these devices. They’re the modern-day equivalent of the RCA or VGA adapter plugs and extensions of yesteryear, but way more convenient. Many switches have three ports or more in them. You might need to buy more switches to get more ports or buy a switch with all the HDMI outputs you need.

How to use HDMI switch

Place your HDMI switch somewhere that can be easily reached of all the AV or HDMI sources and the display you want to use. If it’s an HDMI matrix switch, you can have two or more displays used—a projector, TV, or computer monitor, for example. It should also be near a power outlet since it’s a device that requires power as well. No, it’s not powered by your TV when it’s connected to it via HDMI. You can put it in the middle of your entertainment center for easy access and control via remote. Plug the power cable to the power strip or wall socket. Connect your HDMI switch to your display’s lone HDMI output.

You can connect two HDMI switchers if you have two outputs. For example, if you have a 3-port HDMI switch, you can connect to those ports your standard collection of the cable box, DVD player, and videogame console. Now you have them linked to your HDTV. Each port has a button on the front or labels such as DVD, game console, and cable box. Match up your devices in accordance with the correct port. Turn on the input device, run through the input options, and check if all the audio and visuals are working properly on your display from device to device.

Different Types of HDMI Switchers?

As discussed above, there are 3 types of HDMI switchers. You have the regular HDMI switchers that add extra HDMI outputs for your multiple devices so that you don’t have to unplug and replug HDMI input cables into your monitor or TV just to access each and every device. It comes with a remote control that allows you to switch from port to port and device to device. Then you have your HDMI splitter that splits your HDMI input plug into two or more so that your device can access two display monitors.

When multiple televisions are used, you can either use the HDMI splitter or the HDMI matrix switch that both contain two or more input cables for them. The HDMI matrix switch or switcher is better than a splitter because it doesn’t only have one HDMI output to match its multiple inputs for TVs and monitors. It’s instead a fusion of the splitter and switcher, named after the setup wherein you use both splitters and switchers together in your home entertainment system to allow multiple devices access to multiple TVs or monitors. 

Do HDMI switches degrade picture quality?

A good HDMI switcher, splitter, or matrix switcher should be able to ensure high-fidelity sound and picture quality. However, since you’re not directly hooking up the display to the AV source, some signal loss is to be expected but at least the degradation isn’t as bad as when using VGA cables and adapters or something. This is because digital signals are more durable than analog signals, with them being copied exactly unless you have the wrong hardware for them (like trying to play 4K video on a switcher that can’t handle it). 

The loss should only happen with long HDMI cables connecting a display in another room or something. The longer the cable the likelier the signal will be lost and the shorter the cable the less likely the signal will be lost unless it’s a defective cable. A splitter can sometimes have an input cable that’s inferior to the other, like one that brings in 720p instead of 1080p or 1080p instead of 4K or 4K instead of 8k and beyond. This is also the deal with the audio transmission. The HDMI switch, unless it’s a factory defect, shouldn’t in and of itself significantly cause picture or even audio degradation.

How do I switch to HDMI on my TV?

Switching to HDMI on your television set is simple. First, locate the available HDMI port on your TV. Afterward, get the right HDMI cable and connect your device to your display of choice. It usually connects from, for example, your Blu-Ray player to your TV set. In the case of the HDMI switch, it serves as the middle connector that increases your amount of HDMI outputs for multiple devices that toggles you from one device to another.

Turn on your TV after securely connecting the cable. If your TV has multiple ports, take note of the HDMI port you’re using. If you’re using an HDMI switch, take note of which port and device you want to use. Afterward, switch to the HDMI source on your television. Use your TV remote’s SOURCE or INPUT button to select the HDMI port. After picking the correct source, the device’s image should appear on the screen. You should be good to go. Otherwise, read your TV’s manual for more details on how to switch to HDMI on your particular make and model of the TV set.

Do I need a powered HDMI switch? 

Yes. An active HDMI switch isn’t a simple adapter, after all. It’s a switch that switches or toggles you from one AV source to another, especially if you’re connecting 3 or more devices to your television set or monitor. These switches run on power. It’s able to respond to the commands of your remote control with a steady power supply. You should plug in the adapter to use it and configure whether you want to set switching manually, automatically by priority, or by remote control.

An HDMI that’s powered can transmit its signal far away, like beyond 20 meters. An unpowered or passive switch uses the power from the HDMI cable to run. They’re convenient in that they’re adapters that don’t require external power in order to work. They’re the more energy-efficient option but if your video source lacks enough power to make it work at about 5 volts (some cables transmit only 3 volts), the switch might not function at all. It also suffers from the signal loss at far distances and it certainly won’t travel beyond 20 meters.

 Do I need 4k HDMI switch? 

It depends on you. You don’t necessarily need it but the whole point of going HD and using HDMI is to have the highest definition of picture and sound quality possible. Currently, there are 4K videos available that you want to run at maximum resolution and frame rate, whether they’re from a videogame or a Blu-Ray release like The Hobbit or some new Marvel Superhero movie. You can settle for lower, like 1080p or 720p and get a relatively HD experience.

However, if you want to push the boundaries of your 4K TV monitor, you need a matching 4K HDMI switch to process that 4K signal in the highest fidelity it could muster.  After all, yes, even a 4K monitor will suffer from slowdowns or lowered resolution if your HDMI switch adapter isn’t able to handle it. Some switches might even downgrade display by default depending on the situation, like turning on all your HDMI source devices at the same time or something. This distorts the signal. 

HDMI switch powered vs. unpowered?

An unpowered or passive HDMI switch is perfectly fine if it works with your TV and the HDMI cable is able to transmit enough power to make it work. It’s probably going to either be a by priority switch or a manual toggle switch though. It’s certainly cheaper and more energy-efficient than its wired counterpart. However, if you dislike having a switch that doesn’t transmit the signal very far in case you have an extra-large den or man cave for your home entertainment hub, then it might not be for you.

Ditto if your switch refuses to function with your specific television. Again, perhaps it’s for the best to err on the side of caution and pay the extra bucks for a powered or active switch since it can transmit a quality signal for beyond 20 meters, it works with a remote, it’s usually for the models with multiple toggles or ports since switching for that many devices truly requires power, and so forth. So usually, HDMI switcher buyers buy the powered version just to be safe.

Going Wireless

Another option for a switcher combines wireless and wired connectivity together. There are several switches that will accept two or more HDMI sources or AV devices, but on the output side, the might include a wireless transmission as well as a physical HDMI output. There might be more than one wireless receiver on these switchers that use the HDMI output.

This also reduces HDMI cable clutter significantly over long distances. Even wireless outputs still need to support the formats and resolution you require for your HDMI source. You might even find wireless switchers that work just like your wireless Internet router, all with the usual issues associated with wireless technology in terms of signals and proper placement to maximize signals. 

The Bottom Line

It’s relatively simple to choose the correct HDMI switch, splitter, a combination of both, or a matrix switcher. Just go with which one makes the most sense for your entertainment center’s whole setup. You don’t even need to know much about the technical aspects of setting your devices up because the tech was specifically developed in order to be user-friendly. Just follow the manual or do trial and error on your own since it’s about as intuitive to use as a computer.

Once you start using it, you should be able to figure things out on your own by common sense or by typing questions on Google to find specific answers. With that said, when buying an HDMI switch, please take into consideration just how many devices you plan to hook up to the adapter. The default or standard switch has three ports but it can go beyond that number or even have multiple inputs for TVs or monitors as well if you decide to avail of an HDMI matrix or bidirectional switch that works as both a splitter and a switcher at the same time. 

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