Belkin PureAV AV24502 review: Belkin PureAV AV24502

We connected some of the latest HDMI-capable devices--the Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player, the Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player, and the Denon DVD-3910 upscaling DVD player--to put the Belkin switcher through its paces. It worked without a hitch, toggling to each of those sources on demand, with each of the several HDTVs to which we attached it: the Sony KDS-60A2000, the Samsung LN-S3252D, and the Vizio L37HDTV. Significantly, each player was able to pass video at all standard resolutions: 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and from the Samsung Blu-ray player, 60-frame 1080p. Using our Sencore signal generator as the source, the Belkin was also able to handle the 24-frame 1080p video test pattern. That rare resolution isn't something you'll encounter in the real world anytime soon--we viewed it on the Dell W3706MC, which is one of the very few TVs to date that can even accept a 1080p24 signal--but the Belkin's success with it spoke well of its versatility. Moreover, the fact that both the HD-DVD and Blu-ray players worked without a hitch means that the Belkin had no problem passing the HDCP signal, which is critical as more high-def material becomes copy-protected.

We then repeated the same battery of tests with the JVC RX-D702 A/V receiver connected between the Belkin switcher and the TV (HDMI source to Belkin switcher, to JVC receiver, to TV, all connected via HDMI). Once again, we experienced a solid connection between the devices: the multichannel audio (Dolby Digital, DTS, and linear PCM) was correctly recognized and amplified by the JVC receiver, just as if the source device was directly connected. That's significant, because it demonstrates that the Belkin HDMI switcher can be a worthwhile complement to an A/V receiver with one or two HDMI inputs; effectively, the Belkin doubled the number of usable HDMI inputs on the JVC from two to four. (And that's exactly the reason why you might buy--and keep--such a switcher now, rather than put the money towards the purchase of an entry-level HDMI-capable receiver.)

That's not to say things were perfect. We did occasionally experience some issues, such as the Samsung Blu-ray player not recognizing TVs connected via the Belkin as 1080p-capable, even when they were. Our workaround for this problem was to simply cycle through the TV's inputs; when we returned to it, the Samsung reverted to the correct maximum resolution. But we experienced these same problems on other HDMI switchers (the JVC receiver and the Gefen 4x1 switcher mentioned below), so we're inclined to blame the Samsung's too-smart-for-its-own-good autoresolution function more than the Belkin. Likewise, the Toshiba HD-A1 would always flash HDMI error when we toggled away from it, forcing movies to reboot--but that's a known issue that we'd previously experienced with the player. The bottom line is that the HDMI standard overall is extremely touchy and not uniformly implemented across all products. So even with the best switchers, you may encounter problems ranging from small annoyances to major snafus that are a result of the limitations of the HDMI source, such as cable boxes that revert to stereo instead of surround, or the display (TVs that can't accept 480i or 1080p video signals).

General HDMI caveats aside, the only hesitation when recommending the Belkin HDMI switcher is one of value. It works every bit as well as the Gefen 4x1 HDMI Switcher that's been used in the CNET labs for months, and it's less bulky and more affordable to boot. But that model offers an extra HDMI input. Even more enticing for the HDMI-hungry home-theater aficionados is the Display Magic 5-input 1-output HDMI Switcher. It offers five HDMI inputs for $350, and--based on the photo, at least--seems to be otherwise identical to the three-input Belkin PureAV model. Moreover, a quick Web search for HDMI switchers turns up models from Sima (three inputs) and RTcom (four inputs) that sell at or below the Belkin's $200 price. Of course, we can't vouch for these untested models, but we can give a stamp of approval to this one. In the final analysis, the Belkin PureAV HDMI switch delivers an easy and affordable way to add two HDMI inputs to your home theater.

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