HDMI Splitters vs. Switches: When Should You Use Them?

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A lot of our visual and audio entertainment is powered by HDMI these days. No more fiddling with SCART plugs or setting up VGA cables; just plug an HDMI cable into both ends and you’re good to go!

Did you know, however, that you can purchase small devices that allow you to have even more control over your HDMI management? These are called “splitters” and “switches,” and they both play an important role in keeping your HDMI outputs organized.

Let’s take a look at what both of these are and how they help.

How to Use an HDMI Splitter

Splitters Switches First

HDMI splitters perform one job: they take a single HDMI output and “split” them onto several screens. For example, say you wanted to show what you’re doing on your computer on a television screen while also outputting to your computer’s monitor. You can show YouTube videos or do tutorials on your computer screen, and people can watch what you’re doing on the TV.

To do this, you need an HDMI splitter. These are boxes with a single HDMI input and several HDMI outputs. You plug your computer’s HDMI cable into the splitter’s input, then your monitor and television’s HDMI cables into the outputs. When you turn the splitter on, you’ll be able to show your PC desktop on both screens at once.

A good example of a splitter is the Keliiyo HDMI Splitter. This can take one HDMI input and split it across four different screens without reducing quality.

Who Are These Most Suited For?

HDMI splitters are best for anyone who wants to broadcast a single device onto multiple screens at the same time. For example, a teacher can use it to demonstrate what she’s doing on her computer while also having her own monitor to use for reference.

How to Use an HDMI Switch

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If a splitter takes a single HDMI input and copies it to several outputs, a switch does the reverse. It takes several inputs and channels them into one HDMI output, which then goes to a single monitor or screen.

Unfortunately, you can’t show multiple HDMI inputs on a single screen. For example, you can’t show both a videogame and a computer desktop on the same screen.

You can, however, attach both the console and the computer to an HDMI switch and toggle between them when you want to use one or the other. When the computer is on, you can allow it access to the monitor. Once you turn the PC off and it’s gaming time, you can press the switch on the device for it to show your console’s output instead.

A good example of a switch is the Techole HDMI Switch. This can toggle between two different inputs with the press of a button. Unlike other switches, it doesn’t need a power supply, making it a great choice if you just want to toggle between two inputs.

Who Are These Most Suited For?

Switches are best when you want to output from two different devices to the same monitor or screen. If you don’t want to shell out for another screen, and you find it annoying to constantly swap out HDMI cables, a switch can be of great help. They come very cheaply as well, so you won’t be breaking the bank.

When to Use Them

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Once you understand the main difference between the two, choosing one is very simple. A splitter takes one input and directs it to many outputs, and a switch takes many inputs and directs one to a single output. Which one is right for you depends on what you want to achieve with your setup.

Let’s Split

HDMI cable management can get confusing, but there’s an easier way than constantly unplugging and plugging in cables. By using a splitter or a switch, you can take the headache out of directing your HDMI signals, giving you an easier time.

Do you plan on using one of these in the future? Do you already? Let us know below.

Image credit: Shinji, osde8info

Simon Batt Simon Batt

Simon Batt is a Computer Science graduate with a passion for cybersecurity.


  1. I use an HDMI switch to allow my Mac Mini and a Chromebox to share my monitor. It works but the change over isn’t instant. It takes a couple of seconds for the new screen to appear after pressing the button.

  2. I use an HDMI splitter to sent the signal and sound from our TV to both the main TV and to an Ethernet distribution system that sends the TV and sound to every other TV on that system. This way our Theater set up works as expected, but we can tune every other TV on the patio, in the kitchen, etc., to the same synced signal so no TV is ahead of or behind the ‘official’ game or movie TV. And, if we pause one in put, it pauses the show everywhere.

  3. One “feature/bug” with most HDMI content is that it’s HDCP encrypted, mandated by laws promoted by powerful lobbying groups like the MPAA as perhaps the stupidest way to try to prevent video piracy. A side effect of HDCP is that it takes several seconds for a HDMI link to sync up, making channel switching painfully slow. The only way around it is to find hardware that strips the HDCP out of the HDMI stream before switching, or have hardware that has illegal firmware available to make it an illegal device. The problem is that people who have no criminal intent become criminals merely by circumventing the encryption that violates their civil rights by presuming guilt and punishing the user (no matter how much of a slight it is) without due process. Might makes right.

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