What’s a Matrix Switch and Why Your A/V System or Home Theater Needs One

This simple looking device gives every TV in your house access to a myriad of video components.


By Orrin Charm

When an entertainment system is comprised of multiple video components, such as set-top boxes, Blu-ray players and media servers, it makes sense to share all that content with every TV in your house.The common way to do this is through a device called a matrix switcher. Matrix switchers range from two inputs and two outputs (2×2) for around $200, all the way up to 32 inputs and 32 outputs (32×32) or more for, well, a lot more (Last year Leaf came out with a 6×2 HDMI matrix switch with IP control).They are usually intended to be installed and programmed by a custom electronics (CE) professional (This IOgear wireless HDMI matrix switch can easily be installed and operated by the home owner).

For a modest home theater system, the HDMI ports on the back of your home theater receiver act as a matrix switch. They allow you to plug in several HDMI sources and output each source to your display (TV or projector). Some AV receivers even allow two HDMI outputs for two independent audio/video zones, but those tend to be very expensive receivers. If you want your video sources to be available on displays all over your house (or if you have a mult-display room (like this awesome home media room) then you need a separate matrix switch.

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We will focus on Gefen’s ToolBox 4×4 Matrix for HDMI to explain the particulars of matrix switching because it’s fairly representative of products in the category.

Deceptively simple on the outside, this 4×4 Matrix for HDMI is actually a very complex device, containing four 1:4 HDMI splitters, a cross-point matrix, and four 4×1 HDMI switchers, all controlled by a microprocessor. Preserving and respecting HDCP copy protection data while avoiding authentication delays requires a lot of processing power. While the integrated circuit chips do the heavy lifting, custom programming, exhaustive testing and quality of customer support are what differentiate the players in this competitive market.

1. HDMI INPUT (1 OF 4). Video sources are connected to each of these jacks.
2. HDMI OUTPUT (1 OF 4). Video displays are connected to each of these jacks.
3. 4X1 HDMI SWITCH IC. This chip selects the source for each HDMI output and equalizes the HDMI signal.
4. IR RECEIVER. The IR receiver allows the matrix to be controlled by a handheld IR remote.
5. EXTERNAL CONTROL PC BOARD. This board holds the RS-232, external IR control and mini-USB (service) ports.
6. STATUS LEDS (16). These LEDs indicate the current switching status of the matrix.
7. SWITCHING PUSH-BUTTONS. Pressing each of these buttons sequentially changes the source for each display.
8. AUDIO SWITCH. This switch determines if each source sends two-channel or multichannel audio.

Orrin Charm is an expert on systems integration, user interfaces, wiring and installation practices. As the Automation Project Manager at Gefen, he oversees all aspects of Gefen’s new automation and control line of solutions.


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