What Is an HDMI Switch?

And why you might need one for your TV

As more enticing electronics have come out in recent years, you may have noticed a growing problem behind your television. Between the cable box, AV receiver, soundbar, Blu-ray player, gaming consoles, and other compatible devices, you might have more things that require a High-Definition Media Interface (HDMI) connection than your TV has available ports.

While it may seem like your only option is to manually swap cables whenever you want to use a different device, there's a simple solution that requires minimal effort once set up—an HDMI switch.

What Is the Use of an HDMI Switch?

An HDMI switch is a dedicated piece of hardware that allows multiple HDMI-compatible devices to connect to a television through a single HDMI port. An HDMI switch does this by only sending signals from a single source, despite how many separate sources are connected to the switch. It doesn't matter how many devices are trying to send their signal to the TV; if one of those devices is selected on the switch, only the selected device will show up on the screen.

One way to visualize how HDMI video switching works is to imagine a railway switch on a long set of train tracks. As three tracks head into a train station, they merge into one as they get closer to the platform. A railroad employee manually selects a track to connect to the single line rather than let all three operate simultaneously and risk a significant collision. As a result, only the selected train can get to the platform. Just as the railway switch prevented a crash, an HDMI switch prevents multiple signals from showing up on your screen all at once.

Why Do I Need an HDMI Switch?

Whether you're a tech enthusiast that always has the latest gadgets or an average consumer with modest interests, you've likely amassed a good amount of entertainment devices over the years. Conversely, TV manufacturers have often looked to cut costs on their end by reducing the number of HDMI ports they offer. As a result, you may quickly run out of available ports as you add more devices to your entertainment setup.

An HDMI switch allows you to consolidate some of your HDMI-compatible devices onto a single port, freeing up other connections for more devices. Instead of going behind your TV to manually change connections, you can choose the output by selecting the right one on your switch. Some HDMI switches make this process even more intuitive, as they will sometimes come with a dedicated remote that lets you switch connections from the couch. Others will automatically switch to the most recent active connection.

Regardless of which type of device you decide to use, an HDMI switch makes it so you can connect more devices to your television than you would otherwise be able to do normally.

What to Look for in an HDMI Switch

When shopping for an HDMI switch, there are a couple of things to consider. Primarily, you want to make sure the switch can accommodate as many devices as you need. In general, it doesn't hurt to look for a switch with more ports than you currently need; that way, you can add more devices to your setup as they come.

It's also imperative that you get a switch that supports your TV's resolution and HDMI cables. It wouldn't make much sense to get a 1080p switch that supports up to HDMI 1.4 when you have a 4K TV that supports HDMI 2.1. All you'll get is lesser image quality and compatibility issues down the road.

Other than that, you may want to look for additional features that make using the switch easier. Whether that means it comes with a remote or automatically switches to a device when you turn it on, that choice is ultimately up to you, your setup, and your budget.

What Is the Difference Between an HDMI Splitter and Switch?

One area of confusion to most consumers is the difference between an HDMI splitter and an HDMI switch. It isn't apparent because they both involve multiple AV connections but do so differently. When looking for a solution, you must understand the difference between the two.

An HDMI switch lets the user connect multiple devices into a single port. When it's time to use one of the connected devices, the user selects which connected device will send its signal to the television.

However, an HDMI splitter makes it so you can have one image source and split it across multiple displays. For example, if you wanted a single gaming console to display on multiple televisions, you would connect the console to a splitter and then have HDMI cables running from the splitter to separate televisions.

  • What is ARC on an HDMI switch?

    HDMI ARC, or Audio Return Channel, is the standard used to transfer audio from a TV to a home theater receiver with the same HDMI connection that transmits video from the home theater receiver to the TV. It was introduced in HDMI version 1.4 and works with all later versions.

  • Do HDMI switches reduce quality?

    No. Unlike analog connections, the image quality doesn't degrade with the addition of an HDMI switch. As long as the cable supports HDMI 2.0, you can transmit 4K video with no drop in quality.

  • Can I plug an HDMI switch into another HDMI switch?

    Yes. If you have multiple HDMI switches, you can string them together, but it's better to get a switch with multiple ports.

  • How many ports can an HDMI switch have?

    High-end HDMI switches support up to eight input ports. Most units have between two and five ports.

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