Do HDMI splitters reduce quality? How HDMI splitters work

HDMI splitters are devices that take an HDMI feed from one source and split the signal for 2 or more displays. For example, to send audio and video signals from your pc to a monitor and TV or 2 TVs, an HDMI splitter can be used. HDMI splitters can also be used to send a feed to multiple devices in different rooms.

There are many instances where an HDMI splitter can be useful for your home or workplace.

However, HDMI splitters are often confused for HDMI switches which take signals from multiple sources whether it is a Blu-ray player, a TV box, a gaming console, and so on sending the feeds to a single output.

HDMI switches eliminate the need of having to unplug and plug in HDMI cables every time which leads to cable degradation over time.

How an HDMI Splitter works

As I have mentioned, an HDMI splitter is used to send video and audio signals from one source to multiple display devices.

These display devices can be in one or multiple rooms. HDMI spitters do this by taking the electrical digital signals and duplicating them for the different displays.

Granted, you will need an HDMI cable running from the source to the splitter and from the splitter to the various displays of your choosing. But for this to work seamlessly, you should keep in mind the resolution of your source, the type of cables you are using, which resolution the splitter can pass, and the displays’ resolutions.

For example, do not expect to send HDCP 4K signals over HDMI 1.4 cables and a non-copy-protected splitter. This is due to compatibility issues with the signal being sent over the chain.

In this case, you will need a splitter that is HDCP certified, HDCP cables, and 4K displays with HDCP inputs.

For 4K in general, HDMI 2.0 cables and splitters will be needed plus 4K displays to play 4K content. You do not want to end up with a logo bouncing around your displays due to combability issues.

The advantage of having a 4k compatible chain is that it is backward compatible and can even be used for 1080p content or lower.

On the other hand, if you do not have 4K sources and are not interested in 4K at least, for now, you can use HDMI 1.4 cables and a splitter capable of passing the same. But it is recommended to have a 4K chain since you can use it for non-4K content as you gradually upgrade your displays and sources for 4k.

However, HDMI splitters do not support Audio Return Channels (ARC) or Enhanced Audio Return Channels (eARC) which need a single HDMI run. They also do not support internet transmission over HDMI also known as HEC or HDMI over Ethernet meaning that you cannot add an Ethernet/HDMI adapter to the chain.

Are all HDMI splitters the same?

HDMI splitters are not the same.

There are different types of splitters namely: passive splitters, powered/active splitters, and HDMI Matrixes.

  • Passive HDMI splitters do not need a power connection and will work great for simple a 2-display setup. These splitters use little electrical power that from the source is carried by the HDMI cable and cannot be used over longer runs (under 50ft) as the signal is usually weaker.
  • Powered or Active HDMI splitters require an external power source for stronger signals, reduced drop-offs, and longer HDMI chains (over 50ft). Active splitters are great for multiple displays where more than 2 display devices are in use but are usually costlier when compared to Passive splitters.
  • HDMI Matrixes are powered electrical devices that combine HDMI switches and HDMI splitters in one. They usually have multiple HDMI inputs for the sources and at least 2 HDMI outputs for the split signals running to the displays. You will often see numbers such as 3×2 meaning that there are 3 inputs and 2 outputs, 8×2 meaning that there are 8 source inputs and 2 outs, 8×8 for 8 inputs and 8 outputs and it goes on and on. This hybrid combination also means that they are costlier than splitters and switches.
6 by 2 HDMI matrix
6 by 2 HDMI matrix

Do HDMI splitters reduce audio and video quality?

When shopping for HDMI splitters, the biggest worry is a reduction in video and audio quality or the introduction of lag. This may happen to some extent but not all splitters have these limitations.

Quality may reduce, especially if you are using a passive HDMI splitter but with a high-quality active HDMI splitter, reduction in quality is simply non-existent to negligible. This is because with HDMI you are dealing with digital signals which can be split without drops in signal quality.

Digital signals are sent in encoded bits of 1s and 0s over an electrical connection where they are decoded on reaching the video and audio processors/chips. These bits can be duplicated without drop-offs but you may have bit rate errors where a 1 may turn to a 0 and vice versa but are hardly noticeable.

However, you may experience quality reduction if you are using a passive splitter which also splits the voltage causing lag or adding artifacts to the video feed as the transmission may not be as good. This is not a common problem.

This problem is countered by using an external power source that amplifies (repeats) the digital signal for the HDMI runs and the voltage drop-offs due to splitting are eliminated.

If you are using a passive splitter, ensure that it is a 2×1 splitter and that the chain is no longer than 50ft. This means that the cable from the source to the splitter should be 25ft long at most and the same applies to the cables running to your display. You can, however, use thicker and better shielded for longer runs.

Reducing cable runs reduces interference due to ground loops and other radio frequencies. It also reduces resistance.

The cable lengths and shielding will also matter even when using active splitters and HDMI matrixes.

How to use an HDMI splitter

  1. Power off your displays and source.
  2. Plug in one HDMI cable on the splitter’s input and connect it to the output (HDMI out) on your source.
  3. On the splitter’s output ports, plug in your HDMI cables and run them to the HDMI inputs (HDMI in) on your display devices.
  4. If you are using a passive HDMI splitter, you will only need to turn on your displays and source for it to work.
  5. An active splitter will need to be connected to a power out/surge protector and powered on. You can then power on your displays and source.
  6. On your display devices, scroll and select the respective HDMI input that you have connected the HDMI cable to.
  7. This should complete the connection and send the video and audio signals. You can now play something on your source to test and see how well the splitter works.

If one or both of your displays does not receive a feed, it may be due to compatibility issues. For example, if you are sending 4K signals, your HDMI cables or splitter may not be 4K-compatible or copy-protected.

You should also note that if only one of your displays is 4K and the other is 1080p, you will only receive a 1080p signal on both displays as the splitter cannot split the signals to 4k and 1080p.

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