HDMI Switcher Accells in Home Theater Setting
By Jim Bray
If you want to take advantage of the best in audio and video reproduction these days, you need an HDMI connection. It's an unfortunate fact of life, but there it is.
On the upside, HDMI presents a good way to help eliminate some of the clutter of wires behind your home theater components, since HDMI combines audio and video signals into a single cable.
I won't dwell on what I think is the real reason for HDMI, in that it lets Hollywood keep more control over the content you buy from them legally, but to which they're unwilling to sign over any rights, but I have noticed an improvement in the video output to a monitor when the disc player or high definition satellite/cable box is hooked in that way.
As a matter of practical fact, if you don't use HDMI, you won't get the full 1080p output from Blu-ray, HD DVD or up converting DVD players that offer such – and you won't even get 1080i from some up converting DVD players, for reasons of copyright and Hollywood paranoia hinted at above.
The downside is that many TV's today only have one HDMI input but increasing numbers of owners may have multiple HDMI sources, such as the aforementioned up converting DVD player, a high def satellite or cable box, and maybe even a Blu-ray and/or HD DVD player. This means they'll need a way to switch the output from one source to the other without having to get up from the easy chair and mess around with cables.
Fortunately, HDMI switchers are becoming common, either as units built into your A/V receiver/preamp/processor directly or free standing. In the former case that could mean investing in a new component, which isn't cheap at this point in time; in the latter case of a freestanding switcher, it means one more component in your stack of stuff.
Then there's Accell's UltraAV HDMI 1.3 Audio and Video 2-1 Switch, a tiny little critter you can tuck out of the way, but which will let you switch two HDMI inputs into a single output. It even comes with a tiny remote control befitting the diminutive size of the switcher.
This $100 unit is about two inches square and half an inch high and has mounting holes in it so you can screw it to the wall or shelf. The front panel has an LED to indicate which input you're using (you can also look at your TV to see which signal's coming through!) and the unit will pass signals right up to 1440p (and multichannel audio) with no problem.
Of course mounting the thing on the wall behind your technological toys may mean it'll be out of the way of the infrared remote's signals. But fear not! Accell has taken care of this by including a little IR extender, a five foot cable with a remote IR sensor on the end that you can stick in front of your equipment (where it'll take up hardly any room at all). It's an elegantly simple solution.
Not only that, but no external power is required, so you won't take up another electrical outlet with it.
Out of the box, the Accell is virtually obsolescence proof, at least for the next few years. It's HDMI 1.3a Category 2 compliant, which is farther along the technological ladder than most products on the market today (HDMI 1.2 is more common), and it's backward compatible so today's HDMI stuff will work with it. Accell says HDMI 1.3 "more than doubles HDMI’s previous bandwidth and adds support for Deep Color technology and new high-definition (HD) digital audio formats."
The remote control is a model of simplicity: you just press button 1 or button 2 and that's it.
In my viewing tests with the unit, I noticed no drop off in video quality (I didn't try it with high definition audio signals), which is exactly what you want: the switcher's presence should be as invisible to your video screen (and your eyes) as this one's tiny size makes it in your equipment stack. And it is.
The only real downside is that if you have more than two HDMI sources you're out of luck, but two inputs should be plenty for a lot of people for the next few years.
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
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