Does your TV not have enough HDMI ports for your needs? You don’t have to replace the TV. Fix the problem with an HDMI switcher! Just make sure you get the right one.
Add More Ports With an HDMI Switcher
An HDMI switcher is like a USB hub but for HDMI devices. The switcher output connects to a single HDMI input on your TV, monitor, projector, or capture card. Additional HDMI sources are then connected to the switcher, which features an array of additional ports. You can then select the relevant input on your TV and use the switcher to change sources at will.
This solves the issue of not having enough HDMI ports on your TV (or whatever the switcher is connected to). It removes the need to get up and physically swap devices by unplugging and plugging in HDMI cables. Most switchers come with a remote to make switching between sources possible from your sofa, though cheaper models may require that you tap a button on the unit itself.
Switchers are great for gamers who have more consoles and inputs than they do HDMI ports. Home entertainment aficionados may also get some use out of them for connecting Blu-ray and DVD players, cable and satellite decoders, streaming boxes, optical or hard drive recorders, PCs, and more.
Most TVs have around four HDMI inputs, but not all of them will offer the same benefits. Some TVs are limited to one or two HDMI 2.1 ports, a higher-bandwidth standard used by the latest games consoles and graphics cards. If you have modern consoles and a PC with a modern graphics card, a switcher with HDMI 2.1 compatibility can help accommodate all of your 4K 120Hz (or 8K 60Hz) needs.
Pick the Right HDMI Standard
The most important thing to be aware of is which HDMI standard your switcher uses. This will need to match your desired use and resolution. To cover the basics:
- HDMI 2.1 offers up to 8K resolution at 60Hz, 4K at 120Hz, fully HDR compatible
- HDMI 2.0b supports up to 4K resolution at 60Hz, also fully HDR compatible
- HDMI 1.4 tops out at HD (1080p) resolution
If you’re buying an HDMI switcher because you have a limited number of ports on your TV that support HDMI 2.1, make sure you buy a switcher that supports the faster standard. This will allow you to connect an Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 30-Series, or AMD Radeon RX 6000 series card and enjoy up to 120Hz resolution at 4K (with HDR support).
You’ll also be covered for any future HDMI sources that use HDMI 2.1. It’s the smartest choice if you want to “future-proof” your setup, but it’s also the most costly. Something like the AVFABUL 4-in-1 HDMI 2.1 Switcher should do the job, or the budget CALEDECONN 2-in-1 if you want to spend a bit less at the cost of features.
AVFABUL 4-in-1 HDMI 2.1 Switcher
Connect four devices to a single HDMI 2.1 port and switch between them with the included remote. Includes support for CEC, ARC, Dolby Atmos, DTS X, and HDCP 2.3.
HDMI 2.0 switchers are generally cheaper, offering more ports for less money but only supporting up to 4K resolution at 60Hz. If you don’t have a TV (or source) that supports 120Hz, you aren’t sacrificing anything. Take the FiveHome 5-in-1 HDMI 2.0 Switcher as an example, which includes HDCP 2.2 support and a remote at a reasonable price.
FiveHome 5-in-1 HDMI 2.0 Switcher
Connect five devices to a single HDMI port with support for 4K resolution at 60Hz, plus HDCP 2.2 compliance and a remote for convenient switching.
Newer HDMI specifications are always compatible with older devices, so the switches listed above will cover HDMI 1.4 devices too. If you only have a 1080p (HD) display, you can save some money with a cheap switcher like the Fosmon 3-in-1 HDMI 1.4 Switcher which lacks even a remote but should be fine for older 1080p devices like the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.
Fosmon 3-in-1 HDMI 1.4 Switcher
This cheap and cheerful switcher is ideal for old 1080p consoles and other HD sources, and even promises support for HDCP 1.1.
Some HDMI Switchers Separate Audio Too
Some HDMI switchers include the ability to separate video and audio streams. This allows you to output audio to a separate device without impacting video quality, which is useful if your video playback device doesn’t support the current audio format. It can also be useful if you want to use headphones through an analog output that your TV may lack.
If you only have an analog receiver, an HDMI audio extractor may be able to pass audio to it. This can be a cheaper way of getting better sound than purchasing a whole new receiver or soundbar. Sometimes, routing audio from the TV isn’t enough, especially if your TV doesn’t support passthrough for formats like Dolby Atmos, DTS-X, and other premium audio technologies.
A switcher like the SkycropHD HDMI 2.0 Switcher with Extractor provides optical, 3.5mm, and ARC output on top of a 5-in-1 interface. You can also buy dedicated HDMI extractors like the AVFABUL HDMI 2.1 Extractor with support for up to 7.1 channel audio and HDCP 2.3.
SkycropHD HDMI 2.0 Switcher with Extractor
Connect up to five devices to a single HDMI 2.0 port, with support for audio extraction in optical, 3.5mm and ARC formats. Pass audio directly to your receiver before it hits your TV, without sacrificing video quality.
Make Sure You Use the “Right” HDMI Port
If you’re buying a switcher to connect multiple HDMI 2.1 devices, make sure you plug the switcher into the appropriate HDMI 2.1 port on your TV. It’s more common now for TVs to come with a full array of HDMI 2.1 ports, but some limit the higher bandwidth technology to just one or two ports.
At the same time, avoid using an HDMI 2.1 port for less demanding devices (that use HDMI 2.0b) when you have plenty of slower ports available. In most cases, an HDMI 2.1 port will be labeled as such on the back of the TV. You may also see labels like “4K 120Hz” or “8K 60Hz” on these ports instead.
It’s also a good idea to limit your switcher to devices that you only use occasionally. A switcher may interfere with HDMI-CEC (HDMI-Consumer Electronics Control) functions like auto power-on, so if you want to (for example) have your Nintendo Switch turn on your TV and switch to the right input automatically, make sure the Switch is plugged into the TV directly and set up HDMI-CEC appropriately.
Issues You May Run Into
Outside of HDMI-CEC problems, another issue you may run into concerns a technology called HDCP. This stands for High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection, and it’s a standardized form of protection for copyrighted materials.
It’s designed to prevent users from copying the contents of whatever is being transmitted over a digital wired connection using encryption, with limited success. Many switchers don’t support HDCP standards, which isn’t a huge issue if you’re plugging in older consoles or a PC, but can present a problem for media playback devices like Blu-ray players and streaming devices like the Apple TV.
Sometimes, even HDMI switchers that promise support for HDCP introduce problems. If you run into issues you may want to consider which devices get a priority connection on your TV (by-passing HDCP issues induced by a switcher) and which don’t require support for the standard.
Some devices like the PlayStation 5 allow you to disable HDCP support in the settings menu, which means you can still play games but are unable to watch movies, TV shows, and other copyrighted streamable content.
Looking to Send a Single Source to Multiple TVs?
If you’ve got plenty of HDMI inputs but are instead interested in outputting a single device (like a games console) to more than one HDMI output (like a TV and an overhead projector), you want an HDMI splitter, not an HDMI switcher. Consider something like the llano HDMI 2.1 Switch and Splitter, a bi-directional device that allows you to send a single device to two displays, or two devices to a single display depending on how you configure it.
llano HDMI 2.1 Bi-Directional Switcher and Splitter
Output a single device to two displays (not simultaneously) or plug two devices into a single HDMI port with this versatile bi-directional HDMI 2.1 switcher and splitter.
Note that cheap splitters only support one display at a time and do not function as a mirror. You’ll need to spend a lot more on something like the AVFABUL HDMI 2.1 Splitter to mirror one input to two displays at once.
Get More Ethernet and USB Ports Too
You might encounter this problem on your router with Ethernet ports. You can fix that with an Ethernet switch, but you’ll need to be a little more mindful of how you connect your devices.
The same can be said of USB and other ports, so make sure you get one of our top recommended USB-C hubs if you need extra inputs.
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