Jul 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Jeff Sauer
Cost-effective solution to HDMI-input problems.
As most AV contractors know, a lot of installation and usage troubleshooting hassles ultimately come down to cables and connections. Historically, that has included a conventional mix of analog video and data ports, as well as digital DVI. Yet, increasingly, HDMI has been appearing in the devices we need to connect — particularly in residential work, but also commercial. An increasing number of displays have HDMI, too, but they rarely have more than one HDMI input, and that can leave installations facing a cable-switching problem.
Aluratek's AVW04H four-port HDMI video switch with remote doesn't have a glamorous product name, nor does it do anything at all flashy. But it is a very inexpensive solution to the increasingly common problem of having multiple HDMI devices feeding a single HDMI input on a display. The AVW04H is just a switch that has four HDMI inputs and one HDMI output. That's enough to connect a DVD player, a set-top cable box, a gaming device, and a DVI-equipped computer (using a DVI-HDMI conversion cable) to a single display and not need to re-cable to use any one of them. The AVW04H can accept DVI-to-HDMI feeds with 4:3 resolutions up to 1600×1200 and wide resolutions up to 1920×1200.
It's that last point, connecting the DVI-equipped computer, that may pique the interest of commercial AV pros. While HDMI has clear appeal in the residential world, commercial displays tend to favor DVI and BNC connectors more than HDMI. The trouble, however, is that, because the residential market is so much larger now, newer technology is often slower to emerge in pro AV displays than in their consumer siblings — and then often at a price premium.
For residential customers, it may be the increasingly prominent game controller that needs to share the HDMI input with the set-top box and DVD player, which now regularly features an HDMI digital output. Regardless of the specific devices, what is clear is that HDMI will continue to appear in more devices over the coming years. In-Stat research shows that HDMI reached device-unit parity with DVI last year, but that it is expected to reach more than sixfold the reach of DVI over the next two years. The reason is fairly clear: HDMI is a digital connection that is backward-compatible with DVI, but it also adds audio, thereby reducing cabling from as many as nine to 11 wires coming out of a player device (three component video and six or eight for multichannel audio) down to just one.
JUST SWITCH IT
The AVW04H is a small, simple box that's about the size of a VHS cassette. The HDMI ports (four in and one out) are on the back with the power cable. On the front, there are only the four green LEDs that show which port is active, a red power light, and a pushbutton. Admittedly, it would be nice to be able to turn those LEDs off if the switch is installed in or near the eye-line to the display. The unit includes an IR remote with four source buttons (yes, it's one more remote), and it does not include an RS-232 or other control port, so it cannot be hidden in a cabinet or closet. That is the effective trade-off for the $99 price.
The good news is that when it comes to doing the job, the AVW04H switch just works. I tested it with a number of different HDMI sources from a variety of companies — including Pioneer, Yamaha, Oppo Digital, Hitachi, Motorola, and Sony — and I had no difficulties with the switch syncing with any of them. That includes negotiating the high-bandwidth digital content protection (HDCP) handshake of my set-top box. I also tested a variety of resolutions — including 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p — and the Aluratek recognized them all, switching back and forth between them relatively seamlessly. The “relatively” refers to the fact that there is no frame buffer included in this $99, so it is not a “switcher” in a presentation sense. There is usually flicker switching between sources, and it typically takes about three seconds.
Perhaps more interesting to commercial installers, I tested the Aluratek switching between video sources (i.e., DVD players and set-top boxes), showing widescreen content and a DVI computer configured at different 4:3 resolutions. The unit did just what it was supposed to do.
Because the AVW04H is switching between digital sources, if the signal is switched efficiently, there is no degradation in image quality. That was the case in my testing, including with longer cable lengths. Because the Aluratek is, itself, a repeater, it effectively doubles the 7.5m cable-length limit of the HDMI specification, assuming the Aluratek is exactly in the middle and the HDMI cables themselves are of a sufficient quality to retain the signal integrity for the full distance — the lack of which has been one of the gotchas of HDMI.
The AVW04H is using HDMI 1.2 rather than the slightly newer and improved HDMI 1.3 version, and that is a mild drawback — particularly to audiophiles. That's because, although HDMI 1.2 does support both 5.1 and 7.1 sound using PCM audio as well as Dolby and DTS for 5.1, full Dolby support for 7.1 requires HDMI 1.3.
OK, so there's nothing particularly remarkable about the Aluratek AVW04H, but that's pretty much the point. Ideally, HDMI switching will ultimately be built into more display devices (some products, such as Optoma's HD81 projector and BigVizion's rear-projection TV system, already support HDMI switching) and products such as the AVW04H won't be necessary.
In the meanwhile, Aluratek is offering a solution for the increasing number of HDMI devices that need to plug into today's digital displays. And at just a hundred bucks, it should be a pretty good fit.
Company: Aluratek www.aluratek.com
Pros: It just works, not expensive.
Cons: Supports HDMI 1.2, not 1.3.
Video resolutions: 480i, 480p, 720, 1080i, 1080p
Data resolutions: VGA, SVGA, SXGA, UXGA, WUXGA
Warranty: One year
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