HDMI has become the way to connect your home cinema devices to your HDTV. It’s easy to see why: High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) handles video and multichannel audio in a single cable.
You’ll now find HDMI ports on cable boxes and DVRs, Blu-ray players, game consoles, Apple TVs, and more. However, as the number of components in your home cinema grows, you may have more HDMI-enabled products than HDMI inputs on your HDTV.
Rather than constantly unplugging and replugging cables, there’s a good solution to the problem that doesn’t require buying a new TV: HDMI switches – also known as HDMI switchers or HDMI switching boxes – are hubs for your home theatre’s audio/video connection needs. These devices accept input from multiple HDMI sources and send the signal you choose to your HDTV through one HDMI cable.
Brands like Sony, IOGear, and RCA contribute to the plethora of HDMI devices on the market, which are available at a wide range of prices (from £25.99 for a three-port HDMI switch from Maplin [www.maplin.co.uk] to £60 or more). It can be hard to tell what you get for your money in HDMI switches; more expensive models, for example, will offer multiple outputs, so you can connect to more than one display. But for most home theatre users, a basic switch will do the job.
To switch between components, either select the device on the HDMI switch or use a remote control (most HDMI switches come with a remote, but you can often program a universal remote to do the job). Many current HDMI switches offer automatic switching – the most recently powered-on device gets selected.
In general, you want to find a switch that supports HDMI features that at least match your components’ capabilities. We had trouble finding switches that support HDMI 1.4, the latest spec, but many support HDMI 1.3b, which was good enough for the devices we own.
HDMI switches don’t work perfectly with all devices; always-on components such as DVRs never power off, and won’t release the HDMI switch automatically. Some HDMI switches support port prioritisation, which solves this problem. It gives priority to the device on input 1 over input 2, for example. This means that if you have a DVR on input 2, and then turn on the Blu-ray player on input 1, it switches. When you turn off the Blu-ray player, it reverts back to the DVR.
One potential drawback to a switch is that your devices will be sharing the same input on the TV, so they’ll all use the same colour profile. We noticed that Blu-ray movies looked dark when using the same settings we have for normal HDTV signal. To overcome this, we recommend trying to pair devices that use similar colour profiles on a single HDMI switch.
If you need to upgrade your home theatre A/V receiver, you can avoid an HDMI switch by selecting a receiver that does it for you. Many current receivers can take two or more HDMI inputs and use a single output in return. And you can always opt for the good old component cable route if your device supports it. It may require more cables, but it works pretty well, too.