Projector Reviews

An HDMI Switcher For Some of Us – A personal tale


I just bought a new HDMI switcher, and since I do get a number of emails with questions about switchers, I thought a blog was in order.  From a practical standpoint, I brought in the switcher to review, because it looked like it would solve some problems for me.  Turns out, it solved them, and I’m trying to work out a great deal on the review unit.  I’ve done a review of the unit, which was posted a few days ago, you can check it out here: Octava HDMX42

OK, Before I start, keep in mind that I’m getting a little out of my depth here.  I’m certainly no expert on HDMI swtichers, but I use them (need them).  There are various reasons for needing one, and it looks a bit like this:

1. Lack of an AV receiver that offers HDMI switching

2. You have a device with HDMi switching, but it doesn’t have enough HDMI inputs

3.  Perhaps, like my old THX certified Marantz, it’s DVI, and not fully HDMI 1.3 compliant.  (or it could have HDMI but still not 1.3 compliant).

4.  In my case, I have not only multiple hdmi sources, but also multiple (2) displays hooked up at the same time, and need a solution that can not only provide the hdmi source material to both, but also can separate out the audio (digital Toslink fibre-optic), to send to an audio receiver or pre-amp.

Bottom line:  people who use HDMI switchers do so, because they don’t have any other gear with built in HDMI switching, or it’s outdated.

OK.  Since my equipment changes out frequently, and I’m using several HDMI sources, I’ve always had to use switchers.  In my main theater I run my own JVC projector, and also need to switch to whatever home theater projector I’m reviewing.  Because my receiver can’t do that, I had to go switcher.  Because only video goes to the two displays, and audio must go to my receiver, I need a switcher with a digital audio out (TOSLINK), as well.   

I’ve been using 2 switchers for the past couple o years, in my main theater.  This is due to my separate digital audio requirement.  Because I have 3 and sometimes 4 hdmi source devices, I would have liked to have a 4×2 switcher.  At the time, though, I couldn’t find one with a separate digital audio out, so I ended up with a pair of Gefen switchers – one is a 4×1 (4 in, 1 out) which lacks the digital audio fibre-optic output.   I combined it with a Gefen 2×2 which did have the digital audio out.  The end result, it works for me.

However, my Gefen switchers are HDMI 1.3 compatible, but not HDMI 1.3 compliant.  To clarify, if a device is 1.3 compliant, it accepts HDMI 1.3 and knows what to do with it.  My Gefen’s though, being only HDMI 1.3 compatible, means they can talk to a 1.3 device, but not handle all the features (ie. Deep Color, CEC, etc.).  Instead my Gefen essentially tells my HMDI 1.3 sources – “Hey, do me a favor – I can’t handle all that HDMI 1.3 stuff, so just send me stuff that is HDMI 1.2.   And that’s how my gear works.

Unfortunately, I realize I can’t live much longer with only HDMI 1.2 compliance.  One of these days, I’m going to get my hands on some Blu-ray discs with Deep Color, and I’ll be expected to report on how good it is.  So shopping I went.  One of my readers had mentioned to me a switcher he bought, and it was close to what I need, so I looked up the company, and sure enough, they had exactly what I required – an HDMI 4×2 switcher – fully 1.3 compliant, and with a digital audio output.

OMG!  It works!  True, I don’t have any Deep Color content to test it with, nor do I use CEC, but as the guy who fell off the top of the Empire State Building was heard saying all the way down:  “So far, So Good, So far, So Good, So far…”

The interesting thing about switchers is that what appear to be similarly featured switchers, are all over the place in terms of selling price, from well under $100 to many hundreds, and that’s for basic ones.

The one I just reviewed, the Octava HDMX42 is what they call a Matrix switcher (in that it can do different routing (send this source to that output, and that source, one source to two displays, or other combinations.  The Octava sells for $349. They have less expensive ones as well, with less features. -art