HDMI connectivity is quickly becoming a must-have connection type for all kinds of gadgets. But while the list of gadgets with an HDMI output is growing, the number of HDMI inputs on HDTVs and receivers is limited. That's where HDMI switchers come into play, allowing you to add more HDMI-enabled gadgets to your home-theater setup without having to replace your TV or receiver. For the most part, HDMI switchers are pretty similar, but we found that the Apogee HDMI 3x1 Mini HD Digital Switcher was able to stand out from the crowd with its tiny footprint, modest price tag and--the big win--the fact that it doesn't need power.
The Apogee HDMI Mini 3-port switcher has a simple design, but it's excellent for its purpose. It's the smallest switcher we've reviewed, coming in at 0.75 inch high by 3.13 inches long by 2.25 inches wide--not much larger than a standard iPod. On one side are the three HDMI inputs and on the opposite side is the HDMI output plus a power port (although you don't need it). On the top are three LEDs indicating which input you've selected, plus a select button to cycle through them. We could complain about the glossy finish or the plastic construction, but honestly, neither of those really matter for a product destined to live behind your AV stack. The main takeaway is that the Apogee is small and won't take up much shelf space.
The included credit-card-style remote is a bit of a letdown, as we much prefer full-size remotes, like the one included with the Monoprice 5x1 HDMI switcher. On the other hand, the Apogee does have discrete remote codes for each input, so you'll have no problem using it with a universal remote. An activity-based universal remote, such as the Logitech Harmony 550, will also make it easier to integrate the switcher with your AV setup, as it will automatically select the correct input on the switcher based on what activity you select (such as, "Watch TV").
While many HDMI switchers have the option to use an external IR receiver, the Apogee requires it. There's no IR receiver on the actual unit, so you'll need to connect the included IR dongle to operate the switcher via remote. This is actually a smart design move, because you can leave the switcher behind your AV cabinet and just have the IR receiver exposed so it can receive remote commands. As small as actual unit is, the receiver is even smaller and can sit on top of any device or stand.
Once you get all your HDMI cables hooked up and set your IR receiver up, you might get the feeling you're forgetting something. That's because there's no power adapter included. It's not an oversight, either: The Apogee doesn't require power. This isn't the first time we've seen this--the Accell UltraAV 4-1 HDMI switcher can run without power, too--but it's a great feature as most home theaters already have too many power adapters. The switcher is able to function without external power because it receives enough juice from connected HDMI sources, similar to the way that USB cables also can carry power to smaller PC peripherals. We've been told that not every HDMI product is perfect about supplying power, but we had no problem powering the Apogee via HDMI using a variety of products, including the DirecTV HR20, the Netflix Player by Roku, and the Philips BDP7200. (If for some reason you experience a problem and need to rely on external power, you can pick up a standard 5-volt AC adapter at Radio Shack.)
|HDMI inputs||Three||Passes 1080p/60||Yes|
|Long cable run||Yes||Passes 1080p/24||Yes|
|Discrete input remote codes||Yes||Audio capabilities|
|Average switch time||5.35 seconds||Passes multichannel LPCM||Yes|
|Average switch time (with receiver)||5.84 seconds||Passes Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master in bitstream format||Yes|
Overall, the Apogee did well in our performance tests. The switcher's HDMI ports are certified at HDMI version 1.3b, and it had no problem carrying DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD soundtracks in bitstream format. Switching times were just a tad slower than average, but not so slow that we felt frustrated. We also hooked it up using a 65-foot HDMI cable and it worked perfectly.
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 and then not work in another setup because of a different combination of home-theater components. Because of this, we recommend buying a switcher from a retailer with a solid return policy, as it's impossible to know ahead of time if it will work flawlessly in your setup.
In the end, our only real beef with the Apogee was its relative dearth of inputs--a five-port version with a more substantive remote would be optimal. If such additional HDMI connectivity is important to you, you'll be better served by Monoprice's 5x1 HDMI switcher. But if you only need three HDMI ports, the Apogee's design is the best we've seen yet. But don't stress too much over the choice--both of the switchers cost less than $50, so even if you ended up buying both, you'll have spent less than the majority of overpriced switchers that cost more than $100.