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Gefen 4x1 HDMI Switcher

Part II

January, 2006

Kris Deering

 

The Product

For this review, I received the new HDMI 4x1 switcher. This means the unit will accept four independent HDMI sources and will output them via a single HDMI output. There is also another unit (4x2) that will output the signal via two different HDMI outputs which is nice if you have a second display in another room.  

The unit is extremely simple both in its aesthetics and use. The front faceplate blue and black, with LEDs. On the left side of the face is the power-on LED, and on the right side are four LEDs that correspond to the selected input. There is also an IR receiver. There are no buttons or switches to deal with on the main unit, as everything is controlled by the supplied remote. 

The back panel features the four HDMI inputs and one HDMI output. There are also some EQ knobs for adjusting the signal level in case a particular input is not high enough. In my testing I never had to adjust these knobs at all. There is also an RS-232 connector for home networks and remote control systems.  

The remote is extremely simple as well. It has four input source buttons labeled 1-4 and a power button; canít get much easier than that. It also includes an extra battery. The remote is about the size of a thick credit card. You should "learn" the commands with your main universal remote control just in case the Gefen remote gets misplaced. 

The 4x1 HDMI switcher also includes four 6 foot HDMI cables or an assortment of cables to your liking including HDMI to DVI or vice versa. This is a great option for those of you with one or two DVI sources and only one HDMI source that need to feed an HDMI display. Gefen has you covered there.  

In terms of support, the 4x1 switcher is fully HDMI 1.2 compliant. This means it will pass a video signal of 1920x1280 with no issues at all and is fully compatible with high resolution PCM and DSD sources. Of course your HDMI sources and final HDMI receiver will also have to be compatible with the HDMI 1.2 spec to take full advantage of these features, but all of the HDMI specifications are backwards compatible, so if your display or A/V product is only 1.0 or 1.1 compliant you need not worry. The box will just be ready for you if you ever decide to adopt any HDMI products that support the 1.2 spec. (The HDMI 1.1 spec added support for high resolution multi-channel PCM soundtracks such as those found on DVD-Audio and future Blu-Ray and HD-DVD offerings. The HDMI 1.2 spec added support for 1 bit audio codecs such as Sonyís DSD format found on SACDs.)

Set-up and Use

When I added the 4x1 switcher to my reference system, I connected quite a few different sources to it. This included a Denon DVD-5910 Universal DVD Player, a JVC HM-DH5U D-VHS D-Theater player, and a Comcast HD-PVR cable box. Unfortunately at this time I was unable to test out the audio switching capabilities of the Gefen 4x1, as my reference surround sound processor, the Anthem Statement D1, does not have HDMI inputs as of yet (they are on the D2 though, and the D1 is upgradable). I was able to switch both SD and HD video streams though. All of the signals were routed to a Sony VPL-HS51 front projector that has an HDMI video input and supports a variety of different video signals including 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p24sf via HDMI. During my evaluation time I used all of these output resolutions with the exception of 1080p24sf.  

The first thing I did when I got the 4x1 switcher connected up was to put up some test patterns from AVIA Pro and the high definition versions of Digital Video Essentials (both the 720p and 1080i versions). I wanted to see if the switcher had any detrimental affect on the video performance or introduced any visible artifacts. I used a couple of multi-burst patterns to see if the video frequency response was affected and didnít notice any softening of the image at all. Nor did I see any added noise or outlining. This was the case regardless of the resolution sent into the switcher. I also wanted to be sure that no banding or contouring were introduced. For this I used some of the banding test patterns on AVIA Pro as well as their Deep XX Ramp that I commonly use for setting contrast on a display device. There wasnít any banding or contouring introduced at all that I could detect, another sign that this switcher was transparent to the video streams coming through it.  

Over the next few weeks I used the switcher on a regular basis with no problems. In fact the only real complaint I can muster is the LEDs used on the front panel. They are on the bright side with no available dimmer (except the electrical tape I applied over them after a few hours). Bright panel lights in a room featuring a front projection system can be a big no-no, and I hope that Gefen includes an option to dim or cut out the front panel lights completely in future models. Of course, this switcher is small enough to be hidden in a cabinet with an IR repeater applied to it, so the LEDs would not be visible then.

Conclusions

The Gefen HDMI 4x1 switcher with four HDMI cables retails for $399. While $400 isnít chump change, it is important to have high quality switching when you are talking about high frequency digital signals that carry your entire movie and surround sound tracks, and such quality is not cheap to manufacture. It can also expand on your HDMI switching capabilities if you already have minimal switching available to you.

With more and more devices using HDMI, eventually you will need a bunch of HDMI inputs, so this provides an add-on solution. Personally, I already use three HDMI inputs, and Iím eyeing some new toys in the future such as the Playstation 3 and standalone Blu-ray and HD-DVD players. All of these will have HDMI outputs, and that new A/V receiver may not have enough HDMI inputs. So once again Gefen provides the flexibility that your current components may not address, or simply adds more to them. All in all, the 4x1 HDMI switcher is an excellent product that I highly recommend.
 

- Kris Deering Ė

© Copyright 2006 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity

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