Dick De Jong
March 16, 2007
Gefen is one of those companies that produces tools that make a video installer's life a lot easier. But you don't need to be a professional to utilize them. We reviewed their 2x1 HDMI Switcher last year, which allows you to switch between two HDMI inputs and send the choice to your HDTV. The 2x4 HDMI Switcher/Splitter still takes two HDMI inputs but ups the ante by splitting the signal out to four possible displays with HDMI connectors. Unless you have a multi-monitor homestead, this unit (with an MSRP of $699) is better suited for classrooms or commercial purposes.
We believe that makers of boxes like this switcher/splitter should take an oath to the video version of the saying ascribed to Hippocrates, "First, do no harm." At the very least, we expect that the unit should, "First, be transparent." For example, the image that you see when you hook your DVD player to the switcher and then to your HDTV should look just like the one you see when the DVD player is connected directly to the TV. The switcher should not be adding noise or contrast or color shifts to the signal. It should be transparent. And this Gefen 2x4 passes the transparency test with flying colors.
Also the box really doesn't care what the resolution of the input signal is - 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i or 1080p - it sends it through to the HDTV. The unit is a distribution amplifier. No upscaling or deinterlacing is being carried out. That's not to say that the Gefen is simply passively routing the signal. In fact, it is busy performing a number of video processing tasks, which we will discuss later.
Out of the Box
The package contains the HDMI Switcher, the remote control (with batteries), the power supply, and the manual. As a bonus, Gefen also includes two 6' powder blue HDMI cables, which they assume you will use as input cables. We really would prefer if they had added four more cables for the outputs, though we understand why they don't.
Set up is a straightforward matter of hooking in the two HDMI sources, for example a set top box and a DVD player, and connecting the output to as many as four displays.
|Gefen 2x4 HDMI Switcher/Splitter Back
|Gefen 2x4 HDMI Switcher/Splitter Front
The trickiest bit for us was putting in the battery in the remote control, partially because you would swear that the remote had spots for two batteries.
Once everything is powered up, you switch between your two HDMI components by hitting the 1 or 2 button on the remote. That choice is sent to all of the displays. The unit will not transmit two separate signals at the same time. It's one or the other.
One of the features that we liked about the 2x1 Switcher is that you also could pick your HDMI source by pressing the black button on the Switcher box. The 2x4 Switcher does not have a push button on it. So, if you run out of batteries for your remote or you misplace it, the only way to change from one source to the other is to rewire the inputs by hand.
To repeat what was written in the previous review, the remote control is the simplest one that we've ever seen. (And in our book, simple is a positive trait for remote controls.) All it has are two rectangular buttons, labeled 1 and 2, that are slightly raised from the remote's surface. At the top is a little yellow light that flashes on when you punch one of the buttons. Also the Switcher box has two indicator lights showing which input source is selected.
From our experiments, the remote does require line of sight with the Switcher. We could back away around 30' and the remote still functioned. (Gefen states the range as 20'.)
|RMT IR Extender
If for some reason, you need to conceal the Switcher, Gefen does sell a separate optional IR extender, (RMT IR Extender), that you plug into the Switcher and then place its IR eye somewhere visible to the remote.
As we said the signal coming out of the Switcher is clean and transparent, which is admirable. With the 2x4 Switcher, Gefen does some behind-the-scenes processing of the incoming source as well as communicating with the displays.
If the source requires HDCP compliance, the Gefen 2x4 HDMI Switcher will decode and then re-encode HDCP for each attached display. Also, the unit queries each display to determine what color space each is running. Gefen can then output accordingly rather than force feeding an RGB color default minimum.
Of course, HDMI signals will degrade when they are run through a long length of cable. One selling point of the Gefen Switcher is that it does equalize the signal input, which allows you to extend the length of your HDMI input cables up to 100'. (The general guidelines for maximum length without the Switcher are 30 to 50'.) The Gefen rep, Khasha Roholahi, recommended that the output cable be shorter than 30'. He also believes that high quality cables make a difference especially in controlling problems like jitter. Please note that we were using 6' HDMI cables and did not test with longer lengths.
In fact, the problem that occurred with us was caused by shorter cables - not from Gefen. Because we did not want to clutter the space behind our DVD player, set top box, receiver, and this switcher, we decided to use 18" HDMI cables to connect all these components. When we ran the 1080p upscaled signal from the Oppo 981 DVD player through the 18" HDMI cable to the Gefen and then to our 1080p HDTVs with a Gefen 6' cable HDMI, the TV would not lock in to the source. If we told the Oppo to send out any other resolution, for example, 1080i, no problem. When we changed the 18" cable to a 6 footer, the TV to Gefen 1080p handshake was successful.
Once again, we repeat from our previous review. You need to be warned about one aspect of this Switcher experience. It's not instant gratification. After you hit the remote, the time it takes to see that other source on your TV can be up to six or seven seconds. This lag has nothing to do with the Switcher itself, which works in a snap. The problem is with the HDTV handshaking with the new HDMI source, which takes time. From our tests with different sources, the fastest response was about three seconds and the longest over seven. Don't expect TV remote, channel surfing quickness.
Perhaps the highest praise you can give Gefen's 2x4 HDMI Switcher/Splitter is that it is transparent. For all its video processing, you want your distribution amp to deliver a clean and stable signal and then fade into the background. The Gefen unit fills that supporting role wonderfully.