Switch it up to con­nect

The Timaru Herald - - Weekend Technology - Adam Turner

If you’re con­stantly rewiring your lounge room and fight­ing with a jun­gle of ca­bles, then an HDMI switch might help bring or­der to the chaos. Smart TVs have re­duced our re­liance on set-top boxes, but it still doesn’t take long to run out of pre­cious HDMI video in­puts on your tele­vi­sion. It’s not fun to spend your evenings squeez­ing be­hind the tele­vi­sion to shuf­fle ca­bles while your loved ones wait pa­tiently.

If this sounds like your cas­tle then an HDMI switch can save the day, turn­ing one HDMI in­put into many.

Sim­ply con­nect the switch to one of the HDMI in­puts on your tele­vi­sion, then plug a hand­ful of de­vices into the switch, such as a Fox­tel box, Ap­ple TV and games con­sole. You can choose be­tween them with the press of a but­ton, and some switches come with a re­mote con­trol so you don’t even need to get off the couch.

That all sounds sim­ple enough, but choos­ing a switch is not that straight­for­ward. For starters, you need to be sure it han­dles HDCP en­cryp­tion and the au­dio/ video qual­ity com­ing from your de­vices, par­tic­u­larly if they of­fer 4K res­o­lu­tion, high­dy­namic range and Dolby At­mos sound.

To make life more com­pli­cated you’ll find HDMI switches and HDMI split­ters; they might look the same, but they do very dif­fer­ent jobs.

Ba­si­cally a switch con­nects mul­ti­ple de­vices to one screen – which is what most peo­ple need – whereas a split­ter con­nects one de­vice to mul­ti­ple screens.

Chances are you don’t have mul­ti­ple screens in your lounge room, but there are times when this comes in handy. A few years ago I con­verted my cof­fee ta­ble into an ar­cade ma­chine; cut­ting a hole into the top, drop­ping in a mon­i­tor un­der glass and con­nect­ing a Rasp­berry Pi mini-com­puter with ar­cade-style con­trollers.

I mostly play it like a sit-down cock­tail­style ar­cade cab­i­net, like what you’d find in fish ’n’ chip shops back in the 1980s run­ning clas­sics like Pac-Man and Galaga. But some­times I want to plug the cof­fee ta­ble into my tele­vi­sion to play Street Fighter and car rac­ing games on the big screen.

Pulling apart the cof­fee ta­ble to get to the Rasp­berry Pi so I can un­plug the mon­i­tor and plug in the tele­vi­sion is a real has­sle, so I de­cided to in­stall a tiny HDMI split­ter in­side the cof­fee ta­ble. Find­ing the right switch for the job was harder than I ex­pected.

I didn’t want to see the pic­ture on the mon­i­tor and tele­vi­sion at the same time, so in­stead of a split­ter I needed a 2 x 1 ‘‘bidi­rec­tional’’ switch; giv­ing me the choice of con­nect­ing two de­vices to one screen and choos­ing be­tween de­vices or, like I needed, con­nect­ing one de­vice to two screens and choos­ing be­tween screens.

The next com­pli­ca­tion was that I wanted a pow­ered switch that also plugs into a wall socket, rather than a pas­sive switch which draws power di­rectly from your de­vices – in my case the Rasp­berry Pi – via HDMI. Cheap pas­sive switches can be flaky if your de­vice doesn’t sup­ply enough juice.

In the end, the pow­ered switch I bought works fine only draw­ing power di­rectly from the Rasp­berry Pi, but I didn’t want to risk it. Now I can kick back on the couch, flick a switch and spend my evening bat­ting bad­dies rather than bat­tling ca­bles.

– Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald


If you need to plug a lot of things into one TV, or one thing into mul­ti­ple TVs, there are gad­gets that can help.

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