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HDMI Splitters: How to Watch Movies on Multiple TVs

HDMI Splitter Guide

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An HDMI splitter allows you to connect a single HDMI output to multiple displays. Discover how to choose the best model for your room and wire it together.

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

Say you’re working on your computer, and you’d like to see everything on your PC monitor and on two other televisions.

Or maybe you’d like to watch a movie on your TV and a projector at the same time.

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

What is an HDMI Splitter?

An HDMI splitter is a device that “splits” an HDMI signal into several HDMI outputs.

One HDMI input goes into the splitter box, and then multiple HDMI cords run from that box and connect to your display devices.

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

Importantly, a splitter will work with any single “output” device – which sends video and audio information to the splitter.

The unit will then split the content and pass it to several other HDMI devices. Some splitters can support two display devices, while others 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

The device pictured above has all the input and output ports on the same side of the unit. However, it is more common to have the input on one side and the outputs on another.

Therefore the design may have a small impact when you wire your hardware – because it may be easier to run the cables into one side and out the other.

So this is 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 watching TV – connecting multiple TVs to the same output device.

In this case, 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.

Or, if you were putting on a presentation and needed to show your information on two displays – or multiple projectors – you could use a splitter.

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

Many people are confused by this, but you must understand the difference, so you buy the correct device for the job.

A splitter takes the signal from one source device and simultaneously sends the HDMI signal to multiple devices.

For example, you will use this if you want to watch a movie on two televisions – you might have one TV in the living room and another in the kitchen.

However, an HDMI switch does things the other way around. It receives the output of several source devices – and displays them on one TV or projector.

You would then use a switch 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 will have one input and four outputs.

Likewise, a 3-in/1-out switch is often referred to as 3×1 – and will have three inputs and one output.

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

With an HDMI matrix switch/splitter, you can connect multiple devices in and out at the same time.

So you can choose to duplicate the same signal to multiple devices or swap the input signal between different devices. The best of both worlds.

To use either an HDMI switcher or a splitter, you will need compatible HDMI cables running from the splitter or switch to the input and display devices.

To learn more about switches, check out what is an HDMI switch for – and how do you connect one?

How to Choose HDMI Splitters

If you know you need an HDMI splitter, how do you choose the best HDMI splitter for your setup?

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

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

  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 need to split your signal to, but keep in mind that the splitter will become more expensive depending on the number of devices connected. Might you want to have one more port than you need right now for future upgrades?
  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 more 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 can pass 4K too. If you don’t want your splitter to be a bottleneck, you need to ensure that it supports the correct resolution – with the right cables to match.
  4. Audio formats: As with video, a splitter will support specific audio formats. For example, if you want to pass Dolby Digital or Dolby Atmos audio through to your display device, 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 additional features. For example, HDMI 1.4 supports the Audio Return Channel (ARC), and HDMI 2.0 enables 4K Ultra HD video resolutions. The model you are looking at should tell you the supported version of HDMI, so 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. An EDID command also allows each device to announce which audio and video formats it supports. A model with an EDID switch may save you problems playing back certain types of video signals.

As with most peripherals, choosing between HDMI splitters will be based on build quality, features 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 will 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.

Say you have a laptop that you want to split between a projector and television for a work-related seminar.

  1. First, run an HDMI cord between your laptop’s HDMI output and the splitter’s input. If your computer doesn’t have an HDMI out, you may be able to use an adapter to convert the connection to HDMI.
  2. Then, connect an HDMI cable between the first HDMI out on the splitter and the projector.
  3. Finally, run an HDMI cable between the splitter’s second output and the television.
  4. If your splitter is powered, you’ll need to connect it to a power source and turn it on.
  5. Enable the video output on your laptop, and make sure you select the correct inputs on your TV and projector. If supported by your hardware, your display devices may automatically switch to the HDMI port when they receive a signal.

You can see this in the following simple connection diagram:

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

Once you have wired things up, 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?

Now you’ve decided that you need to buy a splitter, 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

The Blackbird 4K 1×2 HDMI Amplifier Splitter will have everything you need in a simple setup.

What’s more, 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 will 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 lousy 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 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 have 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 lag, but a poor 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, splitters vary between two and eight outputs. But each subsequent separation does increase the necessary processing capabilities of the splitter. So, the more HDMI splits you need, the more power you will 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?

No, you will want to look specifically at an HDMI 4K splitter. Today, most splitters and HDMI switches will support 4K – but not all of them. If you have an older splitter, it’s less likely to support 4K. You will also need high-speed cables that support 4K resolutions too.

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 matrix switch/splitter combination.

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

An HDMI splitter splits video signals into multiple copies, sending audio and video to each output device. An HDMI audio extractor will extract audio from the HDMI signal and allow you to just connect the audio to a separate device. So, if you want to send video to one device – like a TV – and audio to another – like a speaker system – then an HDMI audio extractor will be well-suited to the task.

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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 been 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. You can find out more here.

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