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Introduction to the HDMI Switch

a hand holding an HDMI switch

If you have run out of HDMI ports on your TV, you might need an HDMI switch. Learn how to install an HDMI switcher and the best features to look for.

Have you ever run out of HDMI ports on your TV?

Do you wish your soundbar had more than one HDMI input?

If this is something you’ve experienced, this article is for you because it explains how a simple HDMI switch can solve your problem.

You will learn about what an HDMI switch is and how it operates.

Additionally, you will discover which features to look for when making a purchase and how to connect everything so your system runs smoothly.

An HDMI switch is the perfect solution to common connection issues in a modern AV system and is easy to install for newbies and experienced users alike.

HDMI Switcher Comparison Table

SGEYR 3x1 HDMI Switch
  • Connections: 3-in/1-out
  • HDMI 1.4 - 4K/30Hz, 1080p, 1080p 3D
  • Metal case
BENFEI 4K 2x1 HDMI Switch
  • Connections: 2-in/1-out
  • 4K/30Hz, 1080p, 720p
  • Can also be used as 1-in/2-out
Kinivo 5x1 HDMI Switch
  • Connections: 5-in/1-out
  • 4K/60Hz, 4K/30Hz, 1080p
  • HDMI 2.0, HDCP 2.2 and HDR

What Is an HDMI Switch?

An HDMI switch is a device that allows you to connect multiple HDMI sources into a single display port – and switch between them.

So, for example, you could connect your gaming console, Blu-ray player, and TV to the HDMI switch and then have the box select which device to display on the TV at any given time.

It is also called an HDMI switcher.

It is common to confuse an HDMI selector switch with similar devices like an HDMI splitter, HDMI matrix, or HDMI distributor – all of which are terms used to describe similar devices – but which do slightly different things.

Whether you need a switch depends on the number of HDMI sources you have and if you have enough inputs on your display device to connect them all.

When Would You Use a Switch?

Here’s your problem.

You have a TV with two HDMI inputs, but you want to connect:

  1. A cable box
  2. A Blu-ray player
  3. A PlayStation 5
  4. A Roku streaming stick

Four into two doesn’t go! So what can you do?

You could just leave two input devices disconnected – with the cables hanging loose somewhere around the back.

But if you do that, you must keep reconnecting things when you need the other devices.

This will get annoying pretty quickly, not to mention it looks untidy too.

If only there were an easier way.

Drum roll, please – step forward the humble HDMI switch.

For the above example, you would buy a switcher with four inputs and a single output.

You would then connect all four external devices to the inputs and have one HDMI cable to your TV from the switcher’s output.

And the best thing is that it still leaves you with a spare HDMI input on your TV.

Sorted. How cool is that?

This is the basic idea behind an HDMI switcher.

If you don’t have enough HDMI connectors on your TV, monitor, soundbar or projector – you can buy a switch that will allow you to connect all your devices in one go.

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

This is something that many people get confused about, and they often get mistaken for the same thing, but a switch and a splitter do different jobs.

A switch connects multiple devices to a single HDMI port on a TV, projector or soundbar, e.g., 3-in/1-out.

A splitter sends the output of one device to multiple screens or projectors, e.g., 1-in/3-out.

When you search for one of these in an online store, you may notice that some products use both terms to describe the same item.

And while some devices can perform both of these tasks in one box, not many do.

The seller will probably use both names because it is common for somebody to search for a splitter when they really need a switch – and vice versa.

So, if you get this mixed up, the clue is in the name.

A switch accepts different input devices and lets you switch between them.

A splitter takes the same video source and splits it to display on different screens.

When you see it written it down, it seems so obvious.

If it helps, check out the guide to HDMI splitters for more detail.

Got it? Great, let’s move on.

What Types of HDMI Switch Are There?

It’s important not to buy the first switch that you see.

If you take a little time to consider your options, you will ensure you buy the proper one for your needs.

There are several features that you might need – and some that you don’t.

So, what types of HDMI switchers might you come across?

Number of Inputs

The most important feature is the number of inputs. If you just have a couple of devices to connect, a simple 2-in/1-out switch will be sufficient.

However, it might be an idea to have extra inputs as a spare for future purchases. So, in this case, you might want a 3-in/1-out HDMI switcher.

You may see this written as 3×1 (pronounced ‘three by one’) – indicating 3 HDMI inputs and 1 HDMI output.

Inputs on a 3x1 HDMI switch box
Inputs on a 3×1 HDMI switch box

Typical HDMI switches for home use have a maximum of 5 or 6 inputs, but if this isn’t enough, you can always buy two switches to connect even more devices.

Can you get more than one output?

Yes, you can get HDMI switches with more than a single out – although technically, this is a different device called an HDMI matrix switch.

Image Resolution

Ensure that the switch you buy supports the video resolutions you want to send.

If your external devices only output 1080p video – like a standard Blu-ray player or older streaming sticks – then you only need a switch that supports 1080p.

However, newer audio-visual devices are more likely to output 4K resolutions.

If so, your switch must be a 4K compatible HDMI switcher and pass 4K/60Hz or 4K/30Hz video for everything to work.

Make a list of your devices’ output resolutions and ensure that your new switch supports the highest resolution required.

Other Supported Technologies

Aside from the supported image resolution, there are several other video and audio technologies that you should check that your switch will support.

These include:

Depending on your external devices, you may not need all of these – but give it a little thought before making your purchase.

Switching Options

There will be a button on the top of some switchers you will need to press to change between each HDMI source device.

Other devices will automatically change between each input when it detects a signal, and for some people, this is a good feature.

For others, automatic switching can be a pain – and they would rather change sources manually when they are ready.

HDMI switch remote control
HDMI switch remote control

Further still, some switches come with an IR remote control that you can use to swap between sources from the comfort of your chair.

Some switches may have all of these, so you don’t necessarily need to choose one or the other.

Passive vs. Powered Switches

Some switches are passive devices, meaning they don’t need an external power supply.

This would generally apply to smaller switchers with a couple of inputs, but for larger switches with more inputs, the unit is more likely to need external power.

A passive switch might be easier to install because you don’t need to consider running power from somewhere.

Whereas a powered switch might work better if you need a longer cable run or a particular HDMI device doesn’t output a strong signal.

How to Connect an HDMI Switcher

For many, connecting an HDMI switch box should be a simple process.

The main thing to think about is where you will position the switch.

Ideally, you should place the switch somewhere between your external devices and your TV so you don’t need to run your HDMI cables too far.

When wiring your home theater, it is usually best to keep the length of your cables as short as possible.

This will help keep things tidy and reduce the chances of low picture quality.

Other things to consider are:

  1. Do you have the correct length cables to connect all your devices and the TV?
  2. If your switch needs power, where will you connect the power supply?
  3. Do you need access to the switcher to change inputs manually?
  4. Does the switcher need to be in view for the remote control to work?

Once you have made these decisions, you should connect everything like this:

How to Connect an HDMI Switch Diagram
How to connect an HDMI switch

You should connect an HDMI cable from each external video source to each input on the switch.

For devices like Roku and Amazon Fire streaming sticks, simply connect them directly to the switcher input.

Then run a single HDMI cable to an input port on your TV or projector.

Which One Should You Buy?

The best HDMI switch is the one that ticks all the boxes for your setup, so make sure you consider all the features you need before buying.

Although HDMI switches come at different prices, you don’t need to spend too much to get a reliable unit that will do the job.

If you are looking for a good all-rounder that offers plenty of inputs and most of the useful features required in a switch, the SGEYR 3-in/1-out 4K HDMI switch is a good choice.

Top 3x1 HDMI Switch
SGEYR 3x1 4K HDMI Switch
What Is It: An HDMI interface for connecting three different devices into a single HDMI input.
  • 3-in / 1-out HDMI switch
  • Supports 2160p@30Hz UltraHD & 1080p
  • HDMI 1.4 and HDCP 1.4 support
  • Comes with remote control
  • Durable metal casing

It has a metal case, which is always reassuring in an AV device.

It doesn’t mean a device with a plastic case isn’t any good, but a metal casing is often a sign of a quality device and feels a bit more solid and professional.

The switcher supports most of the video formats you need, from 4K/30Hz to 1080p and 3D.

It comes with a remote control – but it will also switch automatically and has a large, easy-to-access manual switch button on the top – which covers all the bases.

It will work without connecting the power supply, but you have the option of connecting to power if you have a situation where you need some more juice.

They also have a 5-port version:

Top 5x1 HDMI Switch
SGEYR 5x1 4K HDMI Switch
What Is It: An HDMI interface for connecting five devices to a single HDMI input.
  • 5-in / 1-out HDMI switch
  • Supports 2160p@30Hz UltraHD & 1080p
  • HDMI 1.4 and HDCP 1.4 support
  • Compatible with Playstation and Xbox
  • Durable metal casing

And, before you ask, goodness knows how you pronounce the brand name.

It looks like they just grabbed a handful of letters from the Scrabble bag – it’s great!

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are the answers to some popular questions.

Are HDMI Switches Any Good?

Well-made HDMI switches will do a great job connecting several devices to a single HDMI input, but make sure they support the video resolutions and audio formats you need to send.

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

A switch connects several devices to a single HDMI port on a TV, projector or soundbar, e.g., 5-in/1-out. A matrix switch connects several devices to multiple destinations, e.g., 5-in/3-out.

Do HDMI Switches Need Power?

Not all HDMI switches need power. If there is a strong output HDMI signal from the source device, and the cable run isn’t too long, then a passive switcher without power will work fine. However, a switch with an optional power supply can help to improve performance in some situations.

Does an HDMI Switcher Cause Input Lag?

A well-made switch should not harm its signal, but a cheap switcher may cause issues, so be careful with budget models. Although, you don’t need to spend too much. Also, always try and keep your cable runs as short as possible to avoid creating problems.

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

Some switches are bi-directional and can operate as a switch or a splitter, i.e., 2-in/1-out (2×1) or 1-in/2-out (1×2). However, most switchers cannot do this and will only have one output.

Here is a model that does work either way:

Top Bi-Directional Switch/Splitter
JSAUX Bi-Directional 2x1 or 1x2 Switch / Splitter
What Is It: A versatile interface that can split one HDMI input into two - or allow two HDMI connections into one input.
  • Supports 4K@60 Hz
  • Works as 1x2 splitter or 2x1 switch
  • Comes with 3.3 foot HDMI cable
  • Works with Xbox, PS4, Roku, Chromecast
  • Can only switch between two monitors (not simultaneous)

So, you can use it to connect two video sources to a single output – or send a single source to two different TVs or monitors.

One thing to note. This device won’t display on two TVs simultaneously – it’s one or the other – so you’ll need a different model if that’s what you want.

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About The Author

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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