No more HDMI headaches
We have more connected gadgets than ever before, but our TVs offer only so many HDMI ports. That could be a problem if you want to connect all of your game consoles and streaming devices. Oh, sure, you could get up and play musical wires every time you want to switch an input, but that's no way to live. Instead, consider investing in an HDMI switcher. These high-tech splitters route all of your HDMI devices through a single box (or dongle) and then funnel them to your TV, giving you up to five extra HDMI ports.
We've purchased 10 of the most popular models straight off of Amazon and tested them to see which ones work best.Credit: Gana; Shutterstock
How we tested
To simulate a realistic use-case scenario, we hooked up each HDMI switcher to a 1080p screen. Then, we connected a Nintendo Switch, a PlayStation 4 and a Roku Streaming Stick (on every switcher that offered three or more ports), and evaluated how easy it was to switch between them. We took into account each switcher's price, how many ports it offered, whether it came with a remote, whether it needed an independent power source and whether it switched inputs automatically. Each device's looks also played a small part in our rankings, since it'll have to live alongside the rest of the devices in your entertainment center.
Although the Zettaguard ZW410 is one of the more expensive HDMI switchers out there, it's also one of the best. The ZW410 offers four HDMI ports, automatic switching when you turn on a new device and a remote control that changes inputs faster than any other device we tested. The ZW410 supports 4K when used with a 4K TV, but full-HD inputs looked great as well in our tests. There's even a picture-in-picture feature, although it's fairly anemic and too small to really be useful. You'll have to keep the switcher hooked up to a power source, but that's a fair trade-off.
Univivi 5x1 HDMI Switcher
The Univivi 5x1 HDMI Switcher is an attractive, compact and inexpensive HDMI switcher with a lot more ports than you'd expect for its price and size. With five ports, you're unlikely to run out of space for your favorite consoles and streaming devices, and its large, comfortable remote control switches between inputs pretty quickly (although not as quickly as the Zettaguard). The Univivi supports 4K content, and switches between inputs automatically as you turn on devices. The device requires an external power source, but that's about its only drawback.
J-Tech Digital JTD4KSP0301
The J-Tech Digital JTD4KSP0301 is inexpensive but delivers a lot more features than you'd expect for a sub-$30 box. The device not only supports 4K content but also comes with a remote and automatically switches between inputs when you turn them on. The JTD4KSP0301 requires an external power source, which is admittedly a little inconvenient for a three-port switcher, but given the kind of fantastic performance you get, it's a fair compromise.
Credit: J-Tech Digital
Kinivo HDMI switchers sell well on Amazon, and it's easy to see why. They're small, easy to use and look very unobtrusive in an entertainment center. The Kinivo 301BN supports three 1080p HDMI inputs. Although it requires an external power source, you do get a pretty decent remote control in return. The 301BN can also switch between inputs automatically when you power on a device. Unless you need more than three inputs, there's really no reason not to recommend the 301BN. (Kinivo makes a five-input switch as well, but it's a little more expensive.)
Gana HDMI Switch 3x1
If you are willing to sacrifice a little convenience for pure simplicity (and a very, very low price), you simply can't go wrong with the Gana HDMI Switch 3x1. This 4K-compatible HDMI switcher is a cable that has three HDMI ports on one end and an HDMI hookup on the other. That's it. You switch between cables by physically pressing a Select button (there's no remote), and there's no auto-switching. Then again, you can have the Gana for less than $10, and it doesn't require an external power source. If you have three or fewer devices to hook up, it doesn't get any easier than this.
I wanted to like the Monoprice 105557 more than I actually liked it. The device is a competent HDMI switcher, featuring four HDMI inputs, a coaxial input and a digital audio input. However, even though it's extremely versatile, the performance is only so-so. The device requires an external power source; but there's no automatic switching, and the remote control is quite slow. One of the HDMI ports is on the front of the device, making most setups look ugly and cumbersome. If you need a coaxial input or digital audio, this is where you should begin your search; for most other viewers, it's a little too expensive.
The Rocketfish RF-61185 is just fine, but it costs a fair amount of money. It has four HDMI ports (although one of them is on the front, which always makes things a little difficult) and requires external power. The RF-61185 comes with a remote control, although it's not the speediest accessory. You can turn the device on and off, which is a rarity among HDMI switchers, so if power consumption is a concern, the RF-61185 may be worth a look. It comes with a real instruction manual, which is more than I can say for a lot of other devices.
The Fosmon HD1831 is an extremely inexpensive and extremely simple HDMI switcher. Known as a "pigtail cable," it has an HDMI connection for your TV on one end and three HDMI ports on the other end. You manually select your input by clicking a button on top of the HD1831. That's pretty much it. There's nothing really wrong with the HD1831, but you can get similar devices that also offer 4K support for the same price.
Dingsun 3-Port HDMI Switch
While the Dingsun 3-Port HDMI Switch doesn't cost much, it's also a mismatch of form and function. The Dingsun is an extremely small box that supports three HDMI ports. In spite of its tiny profile, it requires external power. What makes the Dingsun a bit annoying is that it doesn't automatically switch, meaning you'll need to keep the (fairly slow) remote on hand more often than not. On the other hand, the Dingsun is one of the cheapest boxes available that supports 4K, so it may be worth putting up with a few inconveniences if you have multiple 4K inputs.
DotStone HDMI Bi-Direction Switch
The DotStone HDMI Bi-Direction Switch has only two HDMI ports, but it costs as much as switchers that offer three. There's a single button that switches between the two inputs. The product does have one unusual feature, however: You can use it to connect two devices to a single TV, or a single device to two TVs. This feature will be of limited utility to most people, but if you really need to display a PS4 on two displays that are right next to each other, the DotStone may be one of your few options.
A few caveats
Whatever you do, don't overthink the process of buying an HDMI switcher. Stock comes and goes on Amazon very quickly, and most of the better models are very similar, in both appearance and effectiveness. People with extremely fancy TVs should also be aware that while some HDMI switchers support 4K resolution, most of them cap out at 30 frames per second, and none plays nicely with HDR. Finally, while all of these devices cost less than $50 when we bought them, prices fluctuate over time, so be sure to double-check before you buy.