As the number of devices underneath TVs continues to grow, viewers and gamers are increasingly finding themselves running out of connections on their TV to plug their purchases into.
It used to be possible to alleviate the problem by resorting to using a SCART lead for less important devices and the TV’s HDMI connections for your main equipment.
But the move towards High Definition TV and gaming has seen many devices – including Sky’s NOW TV box and Sony’s Playstation 4 – go HDMI-only. This can be a problem if your TV only has one or two HDMI connections.
The problem isn’t limited to connecting devices to your TV – you might also find yourself unable to connect your latest purchase to your soundbar because it lacks the right number of connections.
Early adopters and the HD-only crowd have been dealing with this problem for a while, but there still many people encountering it for the first time and, if forums and online chatter are an accurate measure, some are getting into a bit of a mix-up about the solution.
It’s quite common to see people asking about HDMI or optical cable splitters when what they really want is a switch.
The difference between the two terms isn’t just geeky pedantry – they apply to sometimes very similar looking, but completely different pieces of kit and not understanding the difference can leave you wasting your time and money by buying the wrong thing.
A splitter is a box or device which splits the signal received by one cable into two (sometimes more) streams so that you can connect, for example, a single sound source to multiple sound systems or a single set-top box to two TVs.
In most cases people are wanting to do the complete opposite – they want to plug multiple signals into a single port on their TV or soundbar and for this they need a switch.
These work similar to a USB hub on a computer or the 4-way extension lead you might use to plug your TV, Blu-ray, games console and Sky box to the same electric socket.
Unpowered models tend to be cheaper but some require you to press a button or turn a dial to switch between your devices while the powered ones will normally include a remote control so you can switch from the comfort of your armchair.
Some unpowered HDMI switches claim to auto-switch between devices when you turn them on, but be careful. A growing number of devices – including the NOW TV box and Roku’s range of set-top-boxes – don’t fully power off.
This means their signal is always present which prevents the auto-switching from taking place. If you choose an unpowered switch, you’ll need to ensure it contains a manual override so you can toggle between devices.