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Accell UltraAV 4-1 HDMI switcher review: Accell UltraAV 4-1 HDMI switcher

Accell UltraAV 4-1 HDMI switcher

Matthew Moskovciak Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater
Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.
Matthew Moskovciak
4 min read
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.


Accell UltraAV 4-1 HDMI switcher

The Good

Handles 1080p video and high-resolution audio; does not require power with some sources; discrete remote buttons for each input; remote extender; built-in signal amplifier.

The Bad

Credit-card-style remote; bland styling.

The Bottom Line

The Accell UltraAV HDMI 4:1 switcher does an excellent job of juggling your HDMI sources and--in many cases--it doesn't even need AC power.

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.

Features Video Capabilities
HDMI inputs Four Passes 1080p/60 Yes
Long cable run Yes Passes 1080p/24 Yes
Discrete input remote codes Yes Audio capabilites
Average switch time 3.4 seconds Passes multichannel LPCM Yes
Average switch time (with receiver) 3.8 seconds Passes Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master in bitstream format Yes

We ran into very few problems with the Accell switcher in our setup. Despite the switcher's HDMI ports being certified at "only" version 1.2 of the standard (not the newer 1.3), we had no problem passing 1080p/24 video with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks in bit stream format. Switching between inputs was fast, whether we were connected to a receiver or not. The Accel switcher also didn't flinch when we connected a component using a 65-foot HDMI cable. While one might attribute that to the advertised built-in signal booster, we did find that several other switchers handled the long cable run without built-in boosters.

A caveat to all HDMI switchers--and products with HDMI ports in general--is that we've found frustrating compatibility issues in a variety of scenarios. An HDMI switcher may work perfectly well in one setup, then not work in another because of a different combination of home theater components. (Indeed, the problems often lay with the components themselves--cable boxes are somewhat notorious--rather than the switchers.) Because of this, we recommend buying a switcher from a retailer with a solid return policy, as it's impossible to know if it will work flawlessly in your setup ahead of time.

Overall, the Accell was one of the best HDMI switchers we tested, and the fact that we could use it without power made it a standout favorite. On the other hand, buyers should be aware of the fact that the nearly as good Monoprice 5x1 HDMI switcher is selling for only $50 at the time of this review. While it won't work without power, we're pretty sure you can buy an extra power strip with the savings.