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What Does an HDMI Splitter Do and When Would You Use One?

Hdmi Splitter Guide

Updated:

HDMI splitters allow you to connect a single HDMI output to multiple displays. Learn when you would use one and how to choose the best one for your setup.

Have you ever wished that you could duplicate the output of an HDMI device?

Let’s say you’re working on your computer, and you’d like to display something not only on your computer itself but also on two other televisions.

Or maybe you’d like to show something from your laptop on your tv and a projector at once.

The way to do this is with an HDMI splitter. With a splitter, you’ll be able to replicate video through HDMI cords.

What is an HDMI Splitter?

An HDMI splitter is a device that “splits” an HDMI signal into multiple HDMI outputs. One HDMI input goes into a splitter box, and then multiple HDMI cords run from that box.

A splitter can work with any device that supports an HDMI input and output.

Importantly, a splitter will work with a single “output” device that will send information to the splitter.

The unit will then send the content to several other HDMI devices. Some splitters can support two devices. Other splitters can support more.

The model pictured here has one input and four outputs. This is often called a 1×4 (which is pronounced one by four):

1-In/4-Out Hdmi Splitter
1-In/4-Out HDMI Splitter

This device has all the ports on the same side of the unit. It is more common to have the input on one side, and the outputs on another.

The design may have a small impact on how you wire your hardware. It may be easier to run the cables in one side and out the other. This is also something you may want to consider before you buy.

Why Would You Want to Split an HDMI Signal?

There are many reasons you might use a splitter. You can use one for TV sets – connecting multiple TVs to the same output device.

You can also use a splitter for other types of HDMI displays, such as monitors or projectors.

Let’s say you were putting on a presentation and needed to show your information on two displays – or multiple projectors; you could use a splitter.

Likewise, if you were trying to display a single video on various televisions in your home, an HDMI splitter could be used.

You could send the output of a Blu-ray player or game console to more than one TV screen. Or, maybe to a TV and projector at the same time.

What’s the Difference Between a Splitter and an HDMI Switch?

Many people are confused by this.

A splitter directs the HDMI signal to multiple devices simultaneously. You will use this if you want to cast a single device to two televisions, as an example.

But an HDMI switch swaps between several HDMI devices. You will use a switch if you want to select which device you want to send to your television.

Hdmi Splitter Vs Switch
HDMI Splitter vs Switch

As explained previously, a 1-in/4-out splitter is often called a 1×4. And a 1×2 splitter will have one input and two outputs

Likewise, a 3-in/1-out switch is often referred to as 3×1.

In addition to splitters and switches, there are combination HDMI matrix switches/splitters. These tend to be more expensive but an invaluable addition to an A/V equipment package.

With an HDMI switch/splitter, you can choose to duplicate the same signal to multiple devices or swap the input signal between different devices.

To use either an HDMI switcher or a splitter, you’re going to need compatible HDMI cables running from the splitter or switch to the input and output devices.

How to Choose HDMI Splitters

You know you need an HDMI splitter. But how do you choose between the best HDMI splitters for your setup?

Any splitter is likely to work, but the graphical and audio fidelity is going to vary.

One of the significant benefits of HDMI is that it’s pretty universal and that it includes both audio and video signals — but there are still some things to consider.

  1. The number of outputs. Do you need to split the signal into two devices? Or three? Maybe even four? The number of output HDMI ports should be the maximum number of devices you’re going to need to split your signal to, but keep in mind that the splitter will become more expensive depending on the number of devices connected.
  2. Powered or passive. Passive splitters don’t require a separate power feed. A powered splitter is going to need to plugin separately. While it may be appealing to purchase a passive splitter, they usually don’t work very well; it takes energy to split separate streams of HDMI. A passive splitter is likely to introduce latency.
  3. 4K/1080p support. Many people don’t realize that their cord matters. Even if all your HDMI devices are 4K capable, you won’t get a 4K signal unless your cords are 4K capable, too. If you don’t want your splitter to be a bottleneck, you need to ensure that it supports the correct resolution.
  4. Audio formats. As with video, a splitter will support certain audio formats. For example, if you want to pass Dolby Digital or Dolby Atmos audio through to your display device, then your splitter will need to support them. If it’s important, always check the audio support before buying any device.
  5. HDMI Version Support: There are different versions of the HDMI specification and these support different features. For example, HDMI 1.4 provides support for the Audio Return Channel (ARC). And HDMI 2.0 offers 4K Ultra HD video resolutions. The model that you are looking at should tell you which version of HDMI it supports. Make sure that you get the right one for your needs. Learn more about the different versions of HDMI.
  6. EDID handshaking/HDCP. What is HDMI handshaking? When the unit connects using HDCP, it connects both ways; the splitter sends a signal to the devices to find out what data it can support. This means that the system operates faster and more seamlessly. For this to work and display content protected by HDCP, all the devices in your chain will need to be HDCP compliant – including your splitter. There is also an EDID command which allows each device to announce which audio and video formats it supports. A model that has an EDID switch may save you problems playing back certain types of video signal.

As with most peripherals, the choice between HDMI splitters will be based on quality and price.

You can spend a lot more money to get a splitter that is easier to use and produces a higher quality of video and audio, or you can get a cost-effective solution that may not have all the bells and whistles.

But it’s important to understand what factors are going to impact usage and fidelity.

How to Connect an HDMI Cable Splitter

Once you purchase an HDMI cable splitter, how do you install it?

Luckily, a splitter is one of the most straightforward devices to install. Let’s consider that you have a laptop that you want to split between a projector and television for a work-related seminar.

  1. First, you’ll run an HDMI cord between your laptop and the splitter.
  2. Then, you’ll run an HDMI cable between the splitter and the projector.
  3. Finally, you’ll run an HDMI cable between the splitter and the television. If your splitter is powered, you’ll need to connect it to a power source and turn it on.

You can see this in the following simple connection diagram:

Hdmi Splitter Connection Diagram
Using an HDMI Splitter to Share a Laptops Output

From there, the splitter should replicate what is on your laptop to both the projector and the television.

As you will realize by now, this can be very useful in many applications – especially for wiring your home theater.

For example, you could send the output of your streaming devices, cable box or Blu-ray player to the HDMI inputs of multiple TVs.

Or, if your AV receiver only has one HDMI output (some have two or three), you could wire the single output into a splitter and send the HDMI signals to different display devices.

What Is the Best HDMI Splitter?

Let’s say you need to split an HDMI signal. What’s the best all-around splitter for your needs?

There are many choices, but you likely can’t go wrong with the Blackbird 4K 1×2 HDMI Amplifier Splitter:

Monoprice Blackbird 4K 1X2 Hdmi Amplifier Splitter
Monoprice Blackbird 4K 1×2 HDMI Amplifier Splitter
Image Credit: Monoprice

The benefits of this HDMI splitter include:

  • It’s an affordable choice.
  • It splits a single HDMI signal into two — and there’s another model that can split signals into up to four.
  • It provides HDCP 1.4 protocol compliance.
  • It supports multiple resolutions including 4K@30Hz, 1080p@120Hz, and 3D-1080p@60Hz.
  • It supports multiple audio formats, including Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD, 7.1-channel LPCM, DTS, Dolby AC3, and DSD

For most people, the Blackbird 4K 1×2 HDMI Amplifier Splitter will be everything they need. Further, it’s an actively powered HDMI device with enough power to ensure a clear image and clear audio with relatively low latency.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do HDMI Splitters Really Work?

As with many things, it’s about the quality of the HDMI splitter that you purchase. Some very cheap splitters aren’t going to work effectively. The image is going to be delayed, slow, and choppy, or may cut out entirely. Additionally, the quality of your image will be impacted by the quality of your cords; if you have bad HDMI cables, your splitter isn’t going to matter. But if you get a good splitter, they will absolutely work.

Will an HDMI Splitter Degrade the Picture or Audio Quality?

It shouldn’t — but it can. A passive HDMI splitter may not have enough power to deliver the right picture and audio quality. You should also take a look at both the cord and the resolutions that the device supports. When adding audio/visual equipment, you should remember that the picture and sound will always be the quality of the worst component. You can have an expensive television and an expensive splitter, but if you have poor-quality HDMI cables, it won’t matter.

Do HDMI Splitters Add Lag?

A good HDMI splitter should not introduce any lag. A bad splitter might. If you see lag, it could be either the splitter box or the other HDMI device sending the signal to the splitter. A well-powered splitter will be able to process the split to the signal quickly on the fly.

How Many Times Can You Split HDMI?

You can split HDMI many times. Commonly, there are splitters that vary between two and eight splits. But each subsequent separation does increase the necessary processing capabilities of the splitter. So, the more HDMI splits you need, the more power you’re going to need to do that split. When looking for devices, you should look for the number of HDMI outputs the splitter supports; that will be the number of devices you can connect.

Do All HDMI Splitters Support 4K?

Not necessarily. You will want to look specifically at an HDMI 4K splitter. Today, most splitters and HDMI switches are going to support 4K. But not all of them. If you have an older splitter, it’s less likely to support 4K.

Is It Possible to Use an HDMI Switch as a Splitter?

There are combination matrix HDMI switches and splitters. Some HDMI switches only support a single output, so they cannot be used as a splitter. Other switches will send signals to multiple outputs – so they can. You will want to look specifically for an HDMI splitter or an HDMI switch/splitter combination.

What’s the Difference Between an HDMI Splitter and an HDMI Audio Extractor?

An HDMI splitter splits audio and video signals into multiple copies, sending both audio and video to each output device. An HDMI audio extractor will extract audio from the HDMI signal. Suppose you’re interested in sending a video signal to one place (such as a television) and sending an audio signal to another (such as a speaker system). In that case, an HDMI audio extractor will be better suited to the task.

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What Does An Hdmi Splitter Do?
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About Home Cinema Guide

Paul started the Home Cinema Guide to help less-experienced users get the most out of today's audio-visual technology. He has worked as a sound, lighting and audio-visual engineer for around 20 years. At home, he has spent more time than is probably healthy installing, configuring, testing, de-rigging, fixing, tweaking, re-installing again (and sometimes using) various pieces of hi-fi and home cinema equipment.

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