The HDMI switch vs splitter debate can be complicated, especially because both serve the same function; connecting two or more displays to a single source, or multiple sources to a single TV. This is helpful where your display does not have enough inputs, and for HDMI cable management.
Both HDMI splitters and HDMI switches are called HDMI distribution equipment, and they are – despite similarities – functionally quite different, even though both essentially keep your HDMI outputs more organized. An HDMI cable along with some good HDMI distribution equipment makes the need for SCART plugs or VGA cables more or less a thing of the past.
What’s an HDMI Cable?
Before we can make headway into the HDMI splitter VS switch discussion, we should have a little understanding of HDMI cables and how they work.
HDMI stands for High-Definition Multimedia Interface. Top-of-the-line HDMI cables are defined by their capabilities in terms of bandwidth, cable protection, compatibility, and length because an HDMI has to be able to satisfactorily transfer high-bandwidth audio and video streams between various (HDMI-compliant) devices such as TVs, computer monitors, and laptops.
HDMI cables can have different “capacities”. Standard HDMI allows for resolution in the 720p to 1080i range, whereas High-Speed HDMI can go up to 4K, with both operating at a 30Hz refresh rate. A premium high-speed HDMI ups the game with a 60HZ refresh rate and offers high-dynamic-range (HDR) in addition to having up to 4K resolution.
HDMI Splitter vs Switch
Knowing the differences in the HDMI Switch VS Splitter discussion is important because even advertising and packaging can be slightly deceptive.
The product description for an HDMI splitter could be written as if for a switch. That is why knowing it for yourself is important because your needs can be very specific, making all the difference between whether you need an HDMI splitter VS switches being more suited to your needs.
All About HDMI Splitters
The names themselves tell us the function of the HDMI distribution equipment in question. HDMI splitters function by taking one single HDMI output and splitting it onto different screens.
This is what might be being used when you go to a seminar or a presentation and the speaker has something on their computer that is simultaneously shown on a projector behind them and a smaller TV screen as a reference point (in addition to their monitor or laptop), or when a teacher in a class does something similar.
The same is used in cases of a single source sending its output to multiple screens in a room or across a building, such as security screens or outputs being used in a media room or when filming some media.
A splitter has a single input and multiple outputs. An HDMI splitter can have any certain number of outputs – it could be two, for one computer screen and projector, whereas some HDMI splitters can have four, meaning up to four TVs or screens from a single input.
Keep in mind, however, that if you have more than a single display going, the resolution across the board will be limited by the lowest resolution display. For example, a 4K source that travels through an HDMI splitter to a 4K TV and a simple HDTV will not be sent in 4K from the source, but the splitter will simply convert it to the lowest resolution (1080p or 720p) and that is what will display on the 4K TV too.
Interestingly, however, some switches can be both a splitter and a switch! Read on to learn more about the difference and what that means for you.
All About HDMI Switches
An HDMI switch (again, as the name indicates), takes multiple HDMI inputs and sources at a single time and enables switching between them easily. The best HDMI switches will have up to five HDMI input ports on average, allowing for seamless switching between your games, your cable television, your laptop, your media streamers, and more.
Think of a cable box, a media streamer such as Roku, an XBOX, a Playstation, and a laptop all in one room, with just one projector or home theater system. An HDMI switch allows you to hook up all of them and switch between them at will.
An HDMI switch is much more in use and much more practical for the average user (particularly gamers) as compared to an HDMI splitter. At the same time, however, you can get a device that takes multiple inputs and can then split that input to display it on different devices, meaning something that is at once an HDMI switch and an HDMI splitter.
Ultimately, both contribute to optimal and easy HDMI cable management, taking the complexity out of the equation and saving time, physical space, and effort.