Split HDMI signals to multiple TVs: HDMI splitters explained

If you aspire to set up multiple displays with content from a single source, an HDMI splitter is what you need.

HDMI splitters take an HDMI feed from one source and split the signal for 2 or more displays in the same or different rooms. Usually, these split signals should be identical to the input signal bit for bit with minimal attenuation (signal loss).

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

However, HDMI splitters should not be 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 and send the feeds to a single output.

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

How HDMI Splitters work

As mentioned above, an HDMI splitter is used to send Audio/Visual signals from one source to multiple displays. They do this by duplicating the incoming electrical digital signals.

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 consider the content’s resolution, the type of cables you are using, the resolution the splitter can handle, and the displays’ resolutions.

For example, to send copy-protected HDCP 4K signals you will need a compatible HDCP splitter. What’s more every component along the chain should be HDCP-certified including the source output, HDMI cables, and the displays’ inputs.

For 4K in general, HDMI 1.4 inputs/outputs or above on the splitter will be required. If any component on the chain is not compatible with 4K, you may get errors or the resolution may be lowered.

A 4k compatible chain is that it is backward compatible and can be used for 1080p content or lower.

But for the splitter to work seamlessly and without conflict, EDID information needs to be shared from the displays to the source. EDID (Extended Display Identification Data) is an exchange used for a display device to tell the source what is capable of, sort of a “digital handshake.”

Some of the data that is shared includes the display’s resolution, color characteristics, sync data, and so on. And for this data to reach the source from the various displays, it has to pass through the splitter’s processor and this is where conflict could occur.

These conflicts could result in issues such as a black screen, image loss, and resolution mismatch. If one of the displays has a lower native resolution, the source will revert to a lower resolution output across the board.

Image loss may occur if the source is not able to read the EDID data from the source.

Such issues can be avoided altogether by using a well-designed splitter and an HDMI downscaler between the splitter and the display with a lower native resolution.

The use of an HDMI downscaler on a display with a lower resolution will result in a higher resolution on the other displays. This is because the splitter and the source are tricked into thinking that the said display is of a higher resolution.

Types of HDMI splitters

Not all HDMI splitters are built the same as there are 3 main types namely: passive splitters, powered/active splitters, and HDMI Matrixes.

  • Passive HDMI splitters– Passive splitters don’t require an external power source but draw electrical power from an HDMI source. They are great for dual-display setups for runs not longer than 2 meters (5 ft) due to signal attenuation.
  • Powered/Active splitters– Powered HDMI splitters require an external power source to split and amplify the signals, reduce drop offs, and can be used for longer HDMI runs (up to 50ft). Active splitters are suitable for more than 2 displays but are costlier than Passive splitters.
  • HDMI Matrixes combine both HDMI switches and HDMI splitters in one. They use multiple HDMI inputs for 2 or more sources with at least 2 outputs for the displays. The number of inputs and outputs are labelled with figures such as 3×2 (3 inputs, 2 outputs), 2×5 (2 inputs, 5 outputs), 8×8 (8 inputs, 8 outputs) and so on. However, this hybrid combination will be costlier than a powered splitter.
6 by 2 HDMI matrix
6 by 2 HDMI matrix

Choosing the Best HDMI splitter

When choosing an HDMI splitter, the most important consideration is the number of outputs. Ensure you take into account the number of displays you will be routing your signals to. Usually, 4 outputs will be enough for most use cases.

If you have multiple sources to connect to your splitter, you need an HDMI matrix. In this case, consider both the number of inputs and outputs. If you need to connect 3 sources to the device, ensure the splitter/switch has at least 3 inputs.

Compatibility is another important buying considerations. The HDMI splitter should be compatible with the source and the displays. A 4k compatible chain with HDCP support (HDMI 2.0 or higher) will be your best bet as it will be backward compatible in most cases. This chain will include even the cables.

Some splitters come with support for ARC/eARC, HDMI CEC, and HEC.

ARC stands for Audio Return Channel and is a feature that enables a user to send audio signals back to the source, usually a receiver, preamp, or soundbar for audio playback.

HDMI CEC (Consumer Electronics Control), is a feature that allows a user to control compatible devices with a single remote. For example, when using a receiver as the source for your splitter with CEC support, one remote can be used for both the display and the receiver.

Splitters with HEC support (HDMI Ethernet Channel) will allow shared internet access across supported HDMI devices without requiring separate ethernet cables for all devices. Only one ethernet cable will be required if the whole chain is HEC compatible.

For 3D content, you will require a splitter with support for 3D.

Though affordable, I would not recommend buying a passive HDMI splitter as you may experience issues such as static or no image shown due to signal loss. You will be better off buying an active splitter for your needs.

Do HDMI splitters reduce audio/video quality?

Reduction in video/audio quality or the introduction of lag is a concern most buyers may have. This may happen to some extent but well-designed splitters are usually not affected by this.

With a high-quality active HDMI splitter, reduction in quality is simply non-existent to negligible. This is because it can split and amplify the signal bit-perfectly with little loss in quality.

HDMI signals are digital signals sent in encoded bits (1s and 0s) that are decoded on reaching the splitter’s processor/chip. Another chip is then used to split, amplify (Boost) and re-encode the signals before being sent to the displays. These bits can be split without drop-offs but you may have bit errors where a 1 flips to a 0 or vice versa but the effects are hardly ever noticeable.

Meanwhile, a passive splitter also splits the voltage and can introduce lag or artifacts. Passive splitters may not well as well with high-resolution displays.

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, connect your HDMI cables and run them to the HDMI inputs (HDMI in) on your displays.
  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 an external power source and powered on. You can then power on your displays and source.
  6. On your display devices, select the respective HDMI input you using the source button that you have connected the HDMI cable to. You can also enable CEC if it is available.
  7. This should complete the connection. Play something on your source to test to test 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 displays.

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