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How Does an HDMI Splitter Work?


An HDMI port is found on pretty much every modern electronic device. A smart TV, for instance, will have at least one HDMI port. A couple of them, however, is the standard.

Some manufacturers equip their products with more than two HDMI ports to offer more options or flexibility to their consumers.

But because HDMI is so ubiquitous, even those two or three ports may not be enough at times, especially for power users or those who like to have multiple devices hooked on via HDMI at pretty much all times.

An HDMI splitter offers a solution for these folks until manufacturers fit their devices with HDMI ports in the plentiful.  

So, what is an HDMI splitter? How does it work? Is it reliable? Let’s try to answer these questions and find out more.

What is an HDMI Splitter?

HDMI splitters are small hubs usually equipped with a single input port and two or more output ports. The port ratio is denoted 1x2 or 1x4. The first number represents the input port, and the other signifies outputs.  

KELIIYO Hdmi Splitter 1 in 4 Out
Click image for more info

In the case of an HDMI switch, the number of input ports is greater than the output port(s). (We’ll discuss HDMI switches and how they differentiate from an HDMI splitter in some detail later in this article.)

An HDMI splitter transmits a digital signal to two or more output devices from an input source. You may plug in the latest gaming console and run its signal to multiple televisions, eliminating the need to frequently swap or plug-in, plug-out HDMI cords.

Types of HDMI Splitters

Like HDMI cables, an HDMI splitter is also categorized as “passive” and “active”.

A passive splitter takes the signal and divides it into multiple copies before pushing it through the various outputs. A passive splitter is power-efficient, reducing the original signal’s energy output.

If that amount of energy isn’t adequate for powering two or more displays, the signal will not pass through, or there won’t be any output.

Active HDMI splitters fix their passive counterpart’s shortcomings using their own energy source. They amplify the original signal to ensure all output devices receive a powerful enough signal.

These powered splitters also counter signal degradation.

Digital data travels much more uniformly or reliably compared to analog information. But digital signals aren’t entirely foolproof.

They could degrade if made to travel too far or usually more than 50 feet. An active splitter helps alleviate the situation by pushing the signal further without compromising quality.

When Would You Use an HDMI Splitter?

An HDMI splitter comes in quite handy when you have multiple output devices, such as a TV and projector, and want to output the same audio-video content to them at once.

avedio links HDMI Splitter 1 in 2 Out
Click image for more info

How Do HDMI Splitters Work?

An HDMI splitter replicates a single audio-video signal and puts it out via the multiple HDMI cables plugged into its output ports.

To use an HDMI splitter, connect it to your input source first. Then split the signal using your various HDMI cables.

The HDMI splitter is plug-and-play, not requiring any special software. But not all HDMI splitters are the same or have equal capabilities/limitations. (More on that below)

Do HDMI Splitters Really Work?

HDMI splitters work with every device that supports an HDMI connection. However, for optimal performance, make sure the  links have a similar feature set.

Resolution Compatibility Aspect

HDMI splitters do not output an incoming signal at different resolutions.

If your splitter supports 4K, and you hook it up to two TVs—a 4K TV and a 1080p television— the output it will send out will be capped at Full HD even if the signal source is 4K.

Besides ensuring the output devices support similar native resolutions, ensure those devices are compatible with the split signal.

Also, like the built-in HDMI ports on various devices, HDMI splitters are backward-compatible. That means a TV that supports HDMI 2.0 can accept a 1.4 or lower signal.

However, if the TV’s port is HDMI 1.4 and the input signal being pushed is 2.0 or 2.1, the picture won’t show.

HDCP Error

Ensure the HDCP (high-bandwidth digital content protection) requirements are met, or all equipment in the setup (display, video source, HDMI cable, splitter, etc.) comply with playing HDCP-protected content.

Based on “HDMI handshaking”, HDCP is a digital copy protection system designed to ensure HDCP-encrypted content doesn’t play on unauthorized devices. To learn more, check out this video:

HDMI Splitters vs HDCP Copy Protection!

To play HDCP content, HDMI splitter manufacturers must pay a license fee.

In some cases, however, non-compliant splitters may bypass the HDCP gate by resorting to “fallback mode”, enabling the recording functionality.

However, in that case, the video resolution would drop down to 720p or lower based on the original video’s resolution.

Does an HDMI Splitter Affect Quality?

If it’s not faulty, an HDMI splitter will not hamper signal quality since we deal with “digital” and not analog information.

But for the signal to sail through smoothly, a few things have to be considered.

An HDMI splitter setup means multiple cables. Since multiple wires are involved, the chances of a line or two not being plugged in properly could impact the final output, which may seem like the splitter playing spoilsport.

And then there’s always the possibility of dealing with a broken, perilously twisted cable. The more cords at work, the slightly higher is the likelihood of these concerns arising.

Also, the cable quality and length or the distance between the input source and output display may impact the signal quality or interpose interference.

If you’re sending signals longer, use high-quality, powered HDMI cables and splitters. The following are some powered splitters for your consideration:

Kindly note not all splitters come with an HDMI cable. You usually have to buy one separately. 

If you’re looking for a splitter accompanied by a cable, look at the Avedio Links 1x2 HDMI Splitter .

avedio links HDMI Splitter 1 in 2 Out
Click image for more info

What is the Difference Between an HDMI Switch and an HDMI Splitter?

A switch and a splitter serve different purposes and are not interchangeable as some like to believe.

Unlike an HDMI splitter, which takes a signal and transmits it to multiple output devices simultaneously, an HDMI switch grabs various input signals and transfers them to a single output device.

Though a switch usually has one output port, some may have multiple output ports.

And then there are matrix switches that come with two or more output ports—usually, an equal number of output and input ports, like this OREI HDMI 4x4 4K Matrix Switch .

4x4 HDMI 4K Matrix Switch/Splitter by OREI (4-Input, 4-Output)
Click image for more info

A matrix switch is usually a splitter and switch combined.

When Would You Need an HDMI Switch?

If you have a TV with three HDMI ports and want to connect more than three input sources to the set via HDMI, you’ll need an HDMI switch.

HDMI Switch 4K@60Hz
Click image for more info

With the HDMI switch, you can have your gaming console, streaming device, soundbar, etc., at the ready without having to frequently hook in and unhook them from your TV’s HDMI ports.  

You cannot use your gaming console and streaming device simultaneously. A switch’s USP lies in the convenience it offers. It makes life a tad easier.

What’s the more commonly used device? Between a switch and a splitter, the former is more practical since most households have more HDMI signals to send than the number of ports that could take in that digital data.

On the other hand, HDMI splitters have a greater requirement in commercial establishments, such as pubs and TV showrooms, where multiple televisions are expected to play the same content.

Buying an HDMI Switch

If you’re buying a switch because your TV doesn’t have enough input ports, get one with as many input ports as possible.

Also, make sure those ports are HDMI 2.0 at least. Not that HDMI 1.4 is outdated—it’s just that 2.0 is more future-proof and offers the necessary bandwidth for seamless 4K at 60 Hz streaming, which is pretty much the standard.

HDMI Switch 4K@60Hz
Click image for more info

Remember, HDMI ports are “backward compatible”. An HDMI 2.1 or 2.0 port can pair with previous HDMI versions, but you cannot upgrade a 1.4 port to the 2.0 or 2.1 standard.

The following are our HDMI switch recommendations:

The splitter and switch confusion is real, and even some manufacturers may use the term “splitter” in their HDMI switch listings and vice-versa. Therefore, make sure you buy the right device when shopping for one.

Conclusion

An HDMI splitter, or even a switch for that matter, doesn’t seem necessary at first.

However, once the need for it arises and you see the device filling in the gaps or eliminating the need to buy a separate cable or satellite box for the second TV, it all of a sudden becomes an integral part of your setup.

Remember, I/O ports are not designed for repetitive connection and disconnection, including HDMI ports.

An HDMI switch not just works and affords convenience, but it also reduces the wear and tear on your devices’ built-in ports.

Last update on 2022-08-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API.


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