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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--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 Monoprice 4x1 switcher gets you extra connectivity for a very low price tag of $44 (available at Monoprice.com), making it the least expensive switcher we've tested.
The Monoprice switcher is solidly built. The exterior casing is all metal, which makes it seem like it could survive a fall from your AV rack--which occasionally happens with all those HDMI cables hanging off the back. The front panel features four LED lights to indicate which source is connected, and an additional LED to indicate that the switcher is on. There's only one button on the front panel, which is an "input select" button for changing inputs when the remote goes missing. We were glad to see a full-size remote is included, unlike the "credit-card-style" remotes we're used to seeing with most other switchers. There are four buttons available for directly selecting an HDMI input, as well as Backward and Forward buttons to sequentially "flip" through your inputs.
Like the majority of switchers we tested, the Monoprice has four HDMI inputs and one output, enabling you to switch between four connected devices. As mentioned above, there are discrete remote codes for each input, which 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 like 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.
|HDMI inputs||Four||Passes 1080p/60||Yes|
|Long cable run||No||Passes 1080p/24||Yes|
|Discrete input remote codes||Yes||Audio capabilities|
|Average switch time||7 seconds||Passes multichannel LPCM||Yes|
|Average switch time (with receiver)||7 seconds||Passes Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master in bit-stream format||Yes|
Despite the low price tag, the Monoprice 4x1 switcher did about average in our performance tests. The switcher's HDMI ports are certified at "only" version 1.2 of the standard (not the newer 1.3); however, we had no problem passing 1080p/24 video with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks in bit-stream format. While the Monoprice 4x1 switcher has a newer firmware revision than the 5x1 switcher, we found it to perform a little worse in two areas: speed and long cable runs. While the 5x1 switcher averaged around 3 seconds to switch between inputs, the 4x1 switcher averaged a considerably longer 7 seconds. We also didn't have any luck with the 4x1 switcher when we hooked it up to the our extralong 65ft HDMI cable, so anyone planning to use long cable runs should look elsewhere.
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 if it will work flawlessly in your setup ahead of time.
Overall, despite the slow switching speeds and difficulty with long cable runs, the Monoprice 4x1 switcher delivers a solid functionality for the budget price of $44. While we would be inclined to give the Monoprice 4x1 switcher a strong recommendation at its price, that's tough to do when Monoprice offers a superior, only slightly more expensive 5x1 switcher ($50 at the time of this review). For just 6 extra bucks you get another HDMI input, faster switcher speeds, and better compatibility with long cable runs. Both Monoprice switchers offer an excellent value, but we like the 5x1 switcher a bit more.