HDMI Splitters 101 – The Ultimate Guide

If you often find yourself needing to send a signal to multiple devices simultaneously, investing in a high-quality HDMI splitter is a must.

HDMI Splitter

However, as far as these devices go, there seems to be a significant disparity between customer demand and the information provided by credible sources to help the general public understand and operate them better.

Therefore, in this guide, I’ll be answering some of the most frequently asked questions regarding HDMI splitters.

HDMI splitters are devices that simultaneously transmit audio-visual data to multiple displays, which create an output signal that’s identical to the original. Ideally, the process should cause no loss of quality. HDMI splitters feature signal amplifiers to allow for long-distance transmissions. 

In the following sections, I’ll be covering everything you need to know about HDMI splitters. I’ll delve into their most common uses, whether they affect sound quality, the technology behind them, whether they add any lag, and lastly, whether they work for multiple monitors.

If you’re thinking of getting an HDMI splitter yourself, keep reading to learn more. Also read: Can You Use an HDMI Splitter on a TV?

What Are HDMI Splitters?

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HDMI splitters are compact electronic devices used to split an HDMI signal, send it through several HDMI cables, and output it to multiple receiving devices. Passive HDMI splitters simply split a signal across multiple receivers, while active HDMI splitters also provide some additional power.

In each receiving device, the audio-visual data that will be displayed should be identical to the original. As long as your HDMI splitter works correctly, there should be no loss in quality regardless of whether you’re using an active or passive alternative.

A common misconception surrounding HDMI splitters is that because the signal gets duplicated, its quality should inevitably suffer. Therefore, I want to debunk this myth off the bat; this simply isn’t true.

However, I’ll delve more into the logistics behind this claim in one of the following sections titled “Do HDMI splitters reduce sound quality?”.

What Are HDMI Splitters

Keep in mind that while in this section I’ll be covering how HDMI splitters work with audio data, the same concepts can be applied to visual information as well. 

However, even though in most setups you won’t have to worry about output quality, if you have a complicated system that comprises extensive cable runs, there might be some transmission issues you’ll want to account for by investing in an active HDMI splitter.

Keep in mind that these losses are only likely to occur when there’s a vast space between the source and the receivers, which are connected through lengthy cables.

Even though, throughout this article, I’ve simplistically explained the function of HDMI splitters as “they split and transmit an origin signal to multiple sources,” it’s important to note that these devices do much more to facilitate this process.

For example, for the transmission to successfully occur, these devices also need to negotiate the connection to ensure that the proper resolution and specifications are automatically selected when the audio-visual data appears on the receiving display.

Moreover, HDMI splitters are compatible with almost all consumer-level devices you’ll find on the market today, meaning you’ll be able to seamlessly integrate them into any audio or video system without paying the process a second thought.

How Do HDMI Splitters Work?

HDMI splitters work by reading a signal from a source and matching it before transmitting it to the receiving devices. The process is facilitated by the nature of the HDMI signal format, which is capable of EDID handshaking and HDCP signals. Both of these processes allow HDMI devices to function.

Through this format, splitters can transmit any type of audio-visual signal with minimal distortions and incompatibilities.

However, the downside to this technology is that the final output will always be displayed at the lowest resolution among the receiving devices.

To better understand how HDMI splitters work, I highly recommend checking out these articles explaining the basics of EDID handshakes and HDCP signals.

As mentioned, these processes facilitate an HDMI splitter’s job in splitting a single signal and transmitting it to several receivers without losing strength or quality.

HDMI Splitters vs. HDMI Switches

HDMI switch
HDMI Switch

The HDMI interface is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of technologies and their corresponding devices. Therefore, many users may find themselves perplexed by the seemingly endless array of terms thrown at them when shopping for a new HDMI splitter.

The most commonly confused terms are “HDMI splitters” and “HDMI switches.” However, while both devices employ similar technology, they’re used for different purposes. As mentioned, HDMI splitters, as the name suggests, split a signal from a singular source and transmit it to multiple receivers.

On the flip side, HDMI switches manage multiple source inputs and transmit them to a single output. In simpler terms, they work just like reverse HDMI splitters, which is why some can argue that most receiving devices in an HDMI splitter setup act like HDMI switches.

In short, HDMI splitters take a single signal, split it, and transmit it to multiple receivers. In contrast, HDMI switches take several signals from different sources and send them to a single receiver.

Active vs. Passive HDMI Splitters

Moreover, it’s essential to note that HDMI splitters can either be active or passive. Passive HDMI splitters only serve the function I previously described, meaning they simply split the origin signal and transmit it to multiple devices.

On the other hand, active HDMI splitters not only split and transmit a signal but also provide some additional power to it so as to compensate for the losses that may occur throughout this process.

In most cases, passive HDMI splitters provide a decent enough signal quality. Therefore, if you have a relatively simple setup, I’d say save your money and invest in a good passive HDMI splitter.

However, if you do have a complicated setup consisting of extensive cable runs, it might be worth investing a bit extra and getting an active HDMI splitter.

When To Use an Active HDMI Splitter vs. When To Use a Passive HDMI Splitter

Depending on the application you’re looking to use these interconnecting instruments for and the complexity and size of your video or audio setup, you’ll have to decide whether it’s better to invest in an active or passive option.

The former is better suited for those who are outputting to more than two devices or dealing with longer cable runs. The latter provides a more basic range of functions; however, it’s still an excellent choice for most home-based users.

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that, ideally, signal quality and power shouldn’t suffer when using an HDMI splitter. However, when the signal gets split more than once, its loss in power will be too substantial not to lead to a difference in quality in the final output.

Luckily, by using an active HDMI splitter, you’ll be able to freely split a signal as many times as possible, considering the device’s design. Some models allow up to eight different inputs. This is because these types of splitters provide some additional power to the signal, preserving its integrity.

HDMI Splitter Uses

hdmi splitter

As promised, in this section, I’ll be taking you through some of the most common uses for HDMI splitters. The device serves a wide array of functions, all of which, as you’ll see in the following paragraphs, play an invaluable role in any video or sound system.

For example, if you’re looking to display the same digital file across multiple displays, an HDMI splitter will allow you to do so. 

HDMI splitters are also widely used among those looking to create communication between a primary source and several devices that work in conjunction with it. Say your TV or soundbar hasn’t enough inputs for the number of sources you’re trying to connect to it. In this instance, using an HDMI splitter could potentially save you a lot of time and headaches in the long run.

The concept is easier than it seems. Imagine you only have one TV with a single input, but you like to alternate between two different game consoles. If you were to leave the setup as is, you’d have to switch back and forth between the consoles every time you feel like playing one or the other. 

As you can imagine, even the thought of having to spend time and effort trying to connect and disconnect HDMI cables when you’re just trying to relax can put you off playing altogether.

On the other hand, if you were to introduce an HDMI splitter in this situation, you’d be able to connect both devices and effortlessly use whichever you prefer. Not to mention that by using a splitter, you can connect the consoles, TV, and your gaming speakers to a whole different display, meaning your options are virtually endless.

Granted, this is a simplified explanation of the primary purpose of HDMI splitters, but it hopefully gives you a clearer idea of their function.

Even though in this example, I only accounted for two different devices that needed separate inputs, in real life, you’ll want to consider the possibility of having to connect a larger number of gadgets and accessories, especially if you’ve built a more complex system.

Therefore, when choosing a new HDMI splitter, I highly recommend opting for the alternative that comes with the most inputs that you can afford. You never know when you might need to connect an extra device or two.

Do HDMI Splitters Add Lag?

HDMI splitters can add lag. Considering that the signal has to travel between the source device and the receiver, the device will always add a few milliseconds of latency regardless of how high-quality it is. However, in most instances, the average observer shouldn’t notice the lag.

It’s worth noting that this is another area where HDMI cable length comes into play. The further away the origin device and the receiver is, the longer it will take for the signal to travel between the two. 

For this reason, the lag that occurs due to HDMI splitters operating between devices in the same room will be significantly less noticeable if these same devices were located two or three rooms away.

However, when using active HDMI splitters, the additional power provided to the signal can significantly reduce the lag even between devices located far away from each other. Therefore, your lag tolerance is another factor you’ll want to consider when choosing between active and passive HDMI splitters.

Another consideration to keep in mind in this instance is the purpose for which you plan to use your HDMI splitter. For example, suppose you’re trying to create a cinema setup at home by connecting your TV and speakers to a larger display. In that case, chances are the few milliseconds of latency won’t be noticeable at all, even if the devices are located in different rooms.

However, if you’re creating a gaming setup where even the slightest delay could potentially affect your performance, it’s better to err on the side of safety and invest in an active HDMI splitter to reduce lag.

Does an HDMI Splitter Work for Dual/Multiple Monitors?

HDMI splitters don’t work for dual or multiple monitors. These devices are designed to split a signal that comes from one source, so they still can’t handle data from different sources. However, if you want to send the same signal from another source to a dual monitor, that’s achievable.

In short, as it stands, you still can’t send data from dual/multiple monitors to several sources using an HDMI cable. However, you can use the interconnecting device to send a signal from another source to dual/multiple monitors.

Do HDMI Splitters Reduce Sound Quality?

Check out my article on this subject.

HDMI splitters usually don’t reduce sound quality. As long as the device you choose is well-made, you shouldn’t notice any difference in quality between the original signal and the final output. However, there are some exceptions to this rule.

While most HDMI splitters operating in small-scale systems shouldn’t reduce sound quality, there are a few variables at play here that might affect how valid this statement is depending on your circumstances.

For example, if a device is poorly made or is operating under less-than-ideal conditions, chances are there’ll be some loss in quality in the final output. However, sometimes even the most premium speakers can perform poorly. Why is that?

First, as I’ve mentioned several times throughout this article, the length of your HDMI cable can significantly affect the quality of the output. More precisely, the longer an HDMI cable is, the more power the signal will lose throughout its transmission.

This is why in this instance, opting for an active HDMI splitter is a must. Passive ones simply don’t provide any additional power to allow the signal to pass through longer distances (think separate rooms) without losing strength and quality.

Moreover, if you’re trying to split a signal among more than two devices and one or more of them don’t have HD capabilities, every signal output will be reduced to the lowest resolution. Unfortunately, there’s no way around this issue aside from replacing the lo-res device altogether.

Lastly, it’s important to note that with HDMI splitters, as with most tech-related devices, you get what you pay for. While setting up an audio or video system in itself can be expensive, and investing in these seemingly optional devices might seem unnecessary, I guarantee that paying a bit more upfront will help save effort and money in the long run.

Therefore, as long as you get the best-quality device you can within your budget and invest in an active option if necessary, there’s no reason why you should experience any loss of sound quality while using an HDMI splitter.

Final Thoughts

An HDMI splitter is an invaluable piece of equipment to include in any video or sound system. They’re able to take a single signal from a source device, split it, and transmit it across several receiving devices, which will all display the original signal with no quality loss.

Going through this guide will help you learn all the basics that you, as a user, need to know to make the most out of your HDMI splitters.

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