Updated: May 20th, 2021
An HDMI switch is one of the most basic and yet essential devices for a new or experienced home theater enthusiast.
Have you ever run out of HDMI ports on your TV? Or does your soundbar only have one input for connecting everything?
If so, then you need to read this guide to find a solution to all your problems. Well, an answer to this particular problem at least!
So what is an HDMI switcher, and how does it work?
In this guide, you will learn which features to look out for and how to connect everything.
Now, let’s look at the different switch types and see which one is right for your needs.
Table of Contents
- What Is an HDMI Switch?
- When Would You Use an HDMI Switch?
- What’s the Difference Between an HDMI Switch and an HDMI Splitter?
- What Types of HDMI Switch Are There?
- Number of Inputs
- Image Resolution
- Other Supported Technologies
- Switching Options
- Passive vs. Powered Switches
- How to Connect an HDMI Switch
- Which Is the Best HDMI Switch?
- Frequently Asked Questions
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 an HDMI Switch?
Here’s your problem. You have a TV with two HDMI inputs, but you want to connect:
- A cable box
- A Blu-ray player
- A PlayStation 5
- A Roku streaming stick
Four into two doesn’t go! So what can you do?
You could just leave two of the input devices disconnected – with the cables hanging loose somewhere around the back. But then you have to keep on reconnecting things – and that gets annoying pretty quickly.
And it looks untidy too. If only there were an easier way!
Drum roll, please – step forward the humble HDMI switch.
In this case, you could buy a switcher with four inputs and a single output.
You would then connect all your external devices to the inputs – and then have one HDMI cable going into your TV.
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.
By the way, an alternative solution is to buy an AV receiver. But that is more complicated – and more expensive!
What’s the Difference Between an HDMI Switch and an HDMI Splitter?
This is something that many people get confused about.
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 some products use both of these terms to describe the same item.
Some devices can perform both of these tasks – but not many do.
I think this is because it is common for somebody to search for a splitter – when what they really need is a switch. And vice versa.
If you are somebody who gets this mixed up – like me – 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 it on different screens.
Now that I’ve written it down, it seems so obvious!
Got it? Great, let’s move on.
What Types of HDMI Switch Are There?
Before you go wild and buy the first that you see, take a little time to consider your options.
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, then 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 – indicating 3 HDMI inputs and 1 HDMI output.
Typical HDMI switches for home use will go up to around 5 or 6 inputs.
Don’t forget that if this still isn’t enough, you can 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 – but technically, this is a different device.
In this case, you would want to look for an HDMI matrix switch.
Make sure that the switch you buy supports the video resolutions that 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.
Therefore, your switch will need to be a 4K compatible HDMI switcher and pass 4K/60Hz or 4K/30Hz video for everything to work.
Just make a list of your devices’ output resolutions and make sure 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.
- HDMI 1.3, 1.4, 2.0 or 2.1
- ARC/eARC (audio return channel)
- 3D video
- HDR/Dolby Vision
- Audio formats – Dolby Digital, DTS, DTS-HD Master Audio, Dolby Atmos etc.
Depending on the external devices that you have, you may not need all of these. But give it a little thought before making your purchase.
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 be able to change automatically between each input when it detects a signal. For some people this is a good feature.
For others, automatic switching can be a pain. They would rather change sources manually when they are ready.
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 which means that they don’t need an external power supply. This would generally apply to smaller switchers with a couple of inputs.
For larger switches with more inputs, then 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.
A powered switch might work better if you need a longer cable run or if a particular HDMI device doesn’t output a strong signal.
How to Connect an HDMI Switch
For most people, connecting an HDMI switch box should be a simple process.
The main thing to think about is where you are going to 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 you are wiring your home theater, it is usually best to keep the length of your cables as short as you can. This will help to keep things tidy and reduce the chances of low picture quality.
Other things to consider are:
- Do you have the correct length cables to connect all your devices and the TV?
- If your switch needs power, where will you connect the power supply?
- Do you need access to the switcher to manually change inputs?
- 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:
Connect an HDMI cable from each external video source to one of the inputs 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 Is the Best HDMI Switch?
The best HDMI switch is the one that offers you everything that you need.
So make sure you consider all the features that you need before buying.
Although HDMI switches come in a range of prices, you don’t really 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 – then I would suggest the SGEYR 3-in/1-out 4K HDMI switch:
It has a metal case, which I always find reassuring in an AV device.
It doesn’t mean a device with a plastic case isn’t any good, but I prefer metal where possible. It just feels a bit more solid and professional. Maybe that’s just me.
The switcher supports most of the video formats you need, from 4K/60Hz 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. All the bases are covered there!
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.
And, before you ask, I don’t know how to pronounce the brand name. To me, it looks like they just grabbed a handful of letters from the Scrabble bag!
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the answers to some popular questions.
What’s the Difference Between an HDMI Switch and an HDMI 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.
Are HDMI Switches Any Good?
Yes, well-made HDMI switches will do a great job of connecting several devices to a single HDMI input. Just make sure that it supports the video resolutions and audio formats that you need to send.
Do HDMI Switches Need Power?
No, 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 the performance in some situations.
Does an HDMI Switch Cause Input Lag?
A well-made switch should have no harmful effect on the signal it sends. A cheap switcher may cause issues, so be careful with real budget models. But, 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 an HDMI Splitter?
Maybe. Some 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 are not able to do this and will only have one output.
Here is a model that does work either way:
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 at the same time. It’s one or the other.
You’ll need a different model if that’s what you want.
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.