Published on 29th Jan, 2014 by Cable Chick

Switches, Splitters & Matrixes Explained

Switches, Splitters & Matrixes Explained


Switches, Splitters & Matrixes Explained

Too many cables and not enough sockets? Find out which helpful device will bridge the gap!
From home theatres to commercial displays, there will always be a need to multiply our available inputs and outputs to ensure all our equipment can be connected at the same time. But when do you need a splitter, when do you need a switch, and what good is a matrix? We'll explain them all so you can discover which one you need...

Terminology

Before we begin, let's take a quick look at critical terminology. When dealing with switches, splitters and matrixes, you're always going to be connecting sources and destinations in a particular configuration.

  • Sources are devices which provide data. They can be anything from a Blu-ray player to a Tablet PC or from a record turntable to an iPod. Video and/or audio are sent from source devices.
  • Destinations are devices which receive or display the source data. Televisions, projectors, amplifiers and speakers are all destination devices.

Some pieces of hardware can perform both source and destination duties depending on the task you need them to fulfil. For example, a new TV may be the destination for a HDMI cable, but the source of digital audio via an Optical output. The role the hardware is performing for you may trump its traditional role when selecting between a switch, splitter or matrix.

Switches

Switch symbolSwitches are easily the most common product available on the market, and generally the one most used in personal home theatres. A switch connects many sources to one destination.

A very common example of this would be to connect a variety of media players to a television which doesn't have enough HDMI sockets. If your TV only has one HDMI input, but you have a DVD player and two games consoles to hook up, a Switch lets you have them all connected at once, and select the source device you want to use.

Switches can be passive, using a purely physical mechanism to redirect a copper connection from one device to another. Passive switches can be used forwards (many into one) or backwards (one into many) but only ever deliver a single connection from once source to one destination. Passive switches are ideal for ensuring there are no conflicts with content protection.

HDMI Switch Wiring Example

Switches can also be active. These use microchips to divert the signal without any moving parts. The upside to powered/active switches is that they regularly come with remote control operation, and work better with long cable runs.

An example of our most popular Switches:

Splitters

Splitter symbolSplitters are in many ways the direct opposite of a switch. A splitter connects one source device to many destinations.

Most often, you'll see this happening in a commercial environment – a retailer who sells televisions may have a display area with dozens of TVs showing the same content simultaneously. Similarly, a club or pub showing a sporting event will want the big game to show on every TV at once. These situations require a splitter.

In the home, it's more common to use a splitter to send the same data simultaneously to a television and a projector so that the signal is ready regardless of which display device is needed at the time. You may also use one to duplicate the output from a computer to both a local monitor and a TV in another room.

Splitters can be passive. With audio, a simple 3.5mm splitter cable may be all you need. Passive splitters also exist for VGA, RCA and Antenna cables. Generally, analogue signals stand up better to passive splitting than digital, but there are limits. Passive splitting halves the available power each time, which can greatly affect volume, picture quality and cable length.

Passives splitters also exist for digital signals like HDMI and Optical audio, but these are generally more finicky and sensitive, which can cause some headaches under adverse conditions.

Splitters can also be active. Powered splitters take power from a mains outlet and have the benefit of boosting the signals on every output to ensure they are at full strength. This gives them the ability to run more destinations at once over longer cables.

HDMI Splitter Wiring Example

Splitting HDMI can cause problems with content protection. Foxtel, AppleTV, Austar and other Pay-TV services specifically work against splitters (and other devices which intercept the signal) to prevent them being operated in a manner contrary to the licence agreement or copyright law.

An example of our most popular Splitters:

Matrixes

Matrix symbolA Matrix is a hybrid of switch and splitter, performing both functions at once. A Matrix connects many sources to many destinations.

Commonly used in retail showrooms, a Matrix makes it easy to have multiple TVs, projectors and/or monitors hooked up to a bevy of media players. This can be a very convenient means of demonstrating a variety of audio and video hardware from a single remote control. At home, they can be handy in anything from a DIY recording studio to a man-cave ready for epic multi-screen entertainment.

While Matrixes are only ever active devices, they do come in two distinct forms. The most versatile is a true Matrix. They are clever enough to connect the sources and destinations in any configuration, which includes simultaneous, asymmetrical links. For example, a Matrix can send video from a games console to a pair of televisions while simultaneously sending a Blu-ray movie to a projector, and then swap them all around at the push of a button.

A basic Matrix is usually ‘all or nothing' on one side of the device. For instance, a basic Matrix may run all outputs at once and only allow for the input to be switched. They are less common in the marketplace due to this limitation, but always be on the lookout for a ‘True Matrix' when shopping around for the perfect piece of kit – they are almost always a superior option.

HDMI True Matrix Wiring Example

Matrixes, due to their active nature, suffer from the same limitations as Splitters when working with content-protected data streams (ie: Foxtel, AppleTV, Austar) so be sure to check your source devices allow splitting before purchase.

An example of our most popular Matrixes:

Limitations

Video WallAside from the content protection hurdle mentioned above, our Switches, Splitters and Matrixes cannot slice up video data for making a Video Wall (a grid of TVs arranged to make one giant screen). Video walls are extremely expensive commercial installations that are far outside the scope of what Cable Chick specialises in.

Likewise, these devices can't extend the desktop of a computer or laptop – they can only clone the source image on each display they link to. Devices which may appear to be exceptions to this rule are designed for very specific hardware and are considered specialty devices rather than general-use multipliers.

Still stuck?

Splitters, Switches and Matrixes are related, but perform very specific tasks. If you need more information on which product is right for your needs, or have a question we haven't answered here, please fill out the form on our Contact page and we'll be happy to provide tailored advice or amend the above information.