In the “old days,” there was a wide range of different video and audio cables that you could choose from for your home theater depending on your preferences. Component cables were affordable, but composite offered a slightly better image. If you wanted to splurge you might go for an S-video cable, but not every device in your home could necessarily use that specific type.
Thanks to the rise of HDTVs and the digital world in which we now live, all of your options are essentially streamlined into one cable: HDMI. An HDMI cable is not only one of the ways to get a true 1080p image from your video source to your TV, but it is also the only option that transmits both audio and video in high definition over the same cable. While your cable options have gotten easier, accessories like splitters and switches are still commonly confused. When do you need to use an HDMI splitter vs. an HDMI switch and what do they even do in the first place? The answer is thankfully fairly straightforward.
As its name suggests, an HDMI splitter is a device that takes a single HDMI signal and splits it in multiple directions, sending that same signal to multiple devices. Say you were a restaurant owner and had five different HDTVs in your establishment so that patrons could all watch the game from wherever they were sitting. That would mean you would essentially need to purchase or rent five different cable boxes from your service provider, right?
Wrong. With a splitter, you can plug that cable box into one device and then run an additional HDMI cable to each screen that you were working with. All of your devices would display the same high-quality image at all times thanks to a single handy HDMI splitter. HDMI splitters are very common in places like bars, restaurants, offices and even in advanced home theaters where you may have more than one television that you want to display the same image at the same time.
An HDMI switch, on the other hand, is a device that will come in handy if you are working with a display with only one or two HDMI inputs on it and have more than that many devices that you are trying to connect. In essence, it is essentially the opposite of an HDMI splitter in many ways.
Say you had a Blu-ray player, a home video game console, and a high definition cable box, all of which requires its own HDMI cable. You are all set, right? Well, not if your TV only has one HDMI input on it. Without an HDMI switch, your only option would be to unplug devices when they are not in use to make room for the one you are using, which can be difficult and time-consuming.
With an HDMI switch, you would plug all of those cables into the switch and then plug the switch into your TV. If you wanted to use your Blu-ray player, you would press the button for that device on the switch. Do you want to switch over to your game console? Just press that button and proceed as normal. In that regard, a switch is a handy device that essentially adds HDMI inputs to a display as a computer monitor or HDTV, helping use add as many devices to your home theater as you would like without unplugging and managing HDMI cables all the time.