Funny how easy it can be to accidentally create need in our lives. About a year ago this time I had a simple big-screen TV (used to do the projector thing, but the wife didn’t much care for it), a DVD player, surround sound, and an Xbox. Then around Thanksgiving I see this great sale on a 32″ LCD set from Syntax Olevia, and I buy one. A week or so later and I get a Comcast HD DVR, hook it up with component video cables, and am happy in HD-land.
But then I discover HDMI and learn a few more things about HDTV. And I get a Moviebeam and a Samsung upconverting DVD player. And everything became a problem, as I literally had to leave HDMI cables dangling behind my mess of a ‘rack’ and picked up a DVI-HDMI adapter from the ‘Shack. Everything looked good on-screen, but was a major pain to manage.
Until I discovered Gefen. Gefen sells a variety of products all designed to help clean up the variety of messes caused by, funny enough, upgrading to HDTV. Simply put, most LCD and plasma displays only have one or two HDMI/DVI inputs. I have 3 HDMI sources. Compounding the matter my Syntax has a DVI input. Boys and girls, we are in luck, because they make a video switch with four (yes 4) HDMI inputs and a DVI output. They call it, simply enough, their 4×1 HDMI switch.
The unit comes in very simple packaging (somewhat like Sonos – I guess the more expensive the equipment, the less refinement that goes into the box), and includes a few cables which might come in handy depending on your particular configuration. Also in the packaging is a simple setup/installation guide (plug A into socket A, etc) and a 4-button remote control.
The Gefen 4×1 switch is fairly small, about the size of a tissue box, and is finished in a metallic silver and light blue combination. I personally think it has a bit of a ‘refined elegance’ to its appearance. The back of the unit has power and the four HDMI inputs, while the front has a couple of LEDs, the DVI output, and a discrete remote control input.
Hooking up the Gefen was beyond simple, nobody (and I mean nobody) should have any problems with it. I have a grand total of two complaints about the product, and here’s the first one: the DVI output is on the front of the unit, which made placing the device a lot more complex than needed. The problem for me is I need the ability to control the Gefen via infrared (using my handy-dandy Harmony 880 remote), so it needs to be ‘in view’ in my rack of devices (which is really just a shelf, but I can dream). This creates a very awkward setup where the switch is underneath my LCD, and the DVI cable effectively snakes back around behind it, then up to the LCD. In the grand scheme of things, its only a nuisance, and the company assures me the next version of the product has all the ports on the back.
The two LEDs on the unit show power (the red light – on or off), and input (the blue light – one through four). The remote control has 4 buttons, which are labelled one through four, and switch inputs accordingly. I guess that’s probably pretty obvious, but I like the simplicity so much I wanted to make sure that came through! Complaint number two is the LEDs – I’d like an option to turn them off, or just lower the brightness significantly. Definitely being nitpicky, but otherwise this would just be an overly glowing review, and we can’t have that, can we?
On to the technical side for a moment. The Gefen switch properly passes through an HDCP signal, which is very important for copyrighted content. Moviebeam, for example, only outputs HD content if it detects an HDCP-enabled output, and my Comcast HD DVR is also aware of HDCP (although I don’t believe it makes a difference at present). Actually, I’ve discovered (and dutifully reported) a slight flaw with the Moviebeam device as a result of moving to HDMI. It turns out if the Moviebeam unit is powered up without detecting HDCP it boots into standard-definition mode, and it also turns out the unit reboots itself every now and then with software updates. What this adds up to is a problem whereby I have to physically remove the power from the back of Moviebeam, and then plug it back in and let it reboot if I want it back into HD mode. Hopefully the Moviebeam guys will take my suggestion of adding a ‘redetect HD’ option somewhere in the advanced options menus. Sorry for the long digression, back to Gefen!
Another feature for the technically sophisticated folks is the Gefen switch has an RJ-45 connector to allow for discrete IR control. If those words don’t mean anything to you, well, you can probably scroll down a little bit. For consumers who have built a home-control system, you can easily integrate the switch into your setup, and allow other devices and control systems to ‘talk’ to the Gefen unit. As I stated above, I use a Harmony 880, which does include Gefen products in their amazing database, so didn’t try out this feature of the switch.
In summary, I really like the Gefen 4×1 HDMI switch. If you have more than one digital HDTV source, you might need a switch. If you currently use component cables because you don’t have another solution, you might need a switch. If you have every episode of Hee-Haw on tape, you might be a redneck.
As I said earlier, my needs were multiple HDMI inputs, single DVI output. You may need a different combination for your particular setup, and lucky for you, Gefen offers a few different switches to choose from! The one I tried here retails for about $300. Chalk down the next version of the switch (with all inputs/outputs on the back) as “LD Approved” and this one as “really really good, but needs one fix to be perfect”.