Demystifying the HDMI Switch

Shopping for an HDMI switch or splitter is not nearly as simple as it should be for the newcomer. A big problem is that the industry is neither standardized nor completely honest, and companies market their products with buzzwords and esoteric specifications. Another problem is the great range of superior manufacturers for HDMI switches, including IOGEAR, Thor, Vivo and Xtreme/XtremeMac, as well as brands like Rosewill, which delivers budget-friendly yet high-quality items.

Certification is a selling point that confuses the newbie. Some manufacturers market their HDMI switches as HDMI 1.3b certified; others claim their implementation “enhanced,” and most do not publish any version at all. The difference between 1.3a, 1.3b and 1.3c is minor; there are no new features, and the revisions deal mostly with compliance standards. The 1.4 version, on the other hand, adds greater support for stereoscopic 3D and big resolutions.

HDMI Switch

Labels, like ‘enhanced’ or ‘super,’ do not mean much within the context of industry compliance standards. An enhanced HDMI splitter from IOGEAR, for instance, is no more compliant than a more generic offering from a maker like Rosewill. The label may, however, indicate a feature set beyond the specification, but that will likely be obvious to the consumer anyway. So these HDMI switch labels are simply tools to guide your attention, and you can safely ignore them.

HDMI Splitter

Another confusing issue is the shorthand notation that the industry uses to describe its products. For example, Xtreme/XtremeMac may label an HDMI switch as 1×2. With by-notation for switches, the value on the left indicates the number of inputs on the switch, and the value on the right indicates the number of outputs. Therefore, a standard 1×2 Vivo switch, for instance, would provide you with one (1) HDMI input and two (2) HDMI outputs.

HDMI Switcher

Further confusing the matter is that the industry uses different language to describe HDMI switches and splitters, and manufacturers often label splitters as multi way, such as a Thor 2 way splitter. It may be helpful for the novice to think of HDMI splitters as a single input to multiple outputs and HDMI switches as multiple inputs to a single output. So Thor 2 way splitters are an excellent means to expand the connectivity of that television that only has one side HDMI port.

Finally, some HDMI switches are automatic or auto-sensing, some, including all with a single input, are manual, and both types can come with remotes for ease of use. In addition, almost all automatic switches have manual capabilities as well so that the user can override the auto-sensing behavior. What automatic or auto-sensing means is that the HDMI switch will auto-magically detect the priority signal and switch to it, such as automatically switching to the Xbox 360.