HDMI connectivity is quickly becoming a must-have connection type for all types of audio/video gadgets. But while the list of components that have an HDMI output is growing, the number of HDMI inputs on HDTVs and AV receivers is limited--you'll need to spend a lot of money before you see more than three inputs on either. That's where HDMI switchers come into play, allowing you to add more HDMI-enabled gadgets to your home theater setup without paying the big premium on your HDTV or AV receiver. The Accell Ultra HDMI 4-1 switcher features a midrange price tag of $150, but promises premium results, thanks to a built-in signal booster.
Design is the weakest aspect of the Accell switcher. The black plastic casing isn't attractive, but at the same time we won't expect an HDMI switcher to be particularly eye catching. There are four LED indicator lights denoting which input is selected and another LED that indicates the unit is on. There's also a single front-panel button to switch inputs for when the remote goes missing. The included remote is another weakness of the design, featuring a slim "credit-card-style" design. We always prefer using full-size remotes, such as the one provided with the Monoprice 5x1 switcher.
The Accell switcher is well featured. It has four HDMI inputs and one output, enabling you to switch between four connected devices. The remote has discrete buttons for each input, which means you can directly select, say, "Input 4", rather than having to cycle through all of the inputs to get there. Discrete remote codes also make it easier to program with a universal remote, and universal remotes make it much easier to integrate an HDMI switcher into your home theater setup. For example, with an activity-based universal remote such as a Logitech Harmony, you can simply select "Watch TV" and it will change the respective inputs on the switcher, the TV, and the AV receiver without you needing to remember which input is which. Another nice touch is the included IR extender, which allows you to hide the main switcher, and only expose the attached IR dongle to receive remote signals.
The most interesting feature of the Accell is that it doesn't necessarily need to be plugged in to work. This feature isn't advertised by Accell and we found out about it only by accident--we unplugged the unit and were shocked that it was still working. According to Accell, the unit is able to continue functioning without power because the switcher is able to receive power (five volts) from connected HDMI sources, similar to the way that USB also can carry power. According to Accell, the reason it doesn't promote the capability is that there is a wide variance in the amount of HDMI power that different devices put out, so the switcher may not work properly when unplugged, depending on your setup. But in our experience, most of our HDMI devices did output enough juice to power the Accell, and it worked without a hitch without plugging it in. So while we can't guarantee you can use the Accell without power, it's at least worth a shot if it can simplify your home theater setup.