Seeking the mother of all A/V switches
March 8, 2010 11:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a comprehensive A/V switch that receives pretty much anything and converts it all to digital signals for HDTVs and modern home theaters. Does it exist?

Say I've got a mix of old and new video sources (DVD players, video game consoles, DVRs, whatever) and a brand-new HDTV and audio receiver. I want one switch to rule them all, with at least five input slots, all of which have the following ports:

VGA/DVI optional

Basically, no matter what I have will fit in the switch and play nice with it. Then, the switch needs to take the active signal and convert it to (either) HDMI or component for video AND Toslink for audio output. If the input already was digital it should passthrough without touching it.

This way, I only have one video cable running to the TV, and one audio cable running to the receiver, and the switch does all the heavy lifting. Does such a device exist? If so, what are any drawbacks I would need to know about? Is there noticeable latency in the digital conversion that could affect gaming or sound/picture sync?

If there are a number of this sort of product on the market and I just haven't been looking in the right places, here are a couple other features I'd like... A remote control (instead of a physical knob/button) and a customizable display that indicates "Laptop" or "Dreamcast" or whatever other input is currently active. I have a feeling that level of specificity is rather pie-in-the-sky. In that case, what is the best way to accomplish what I'm trying to do?
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis to Technology (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This is the kind of functionality that is built into an A/V receiver, not a switch (at least consumer grade that I can speak of). Especially with regards to [up]converting a standard analog video signal to a digital signal.

It really doesn't make sense for anyone to market a product like this to consumers on the grounds that they would be competing directly against what high quality A/V receivers provide.
posted by PonderousPursuit at 11:23 AM on March 8, 2010

Doesn't your brand new receiver do that already for you?

Here's a current Marantz model (you didn't say what you had), rear of a NR1501, it has all of the above.
There’s a built-in upscaler so you can enjoy your favorite composite and component videos on your flat-screen TV through the HDMI input.
Your brand new receiver doesn't do this? Or did you mean you are looking to get AV separates and need a preamp/processor in addition to a brand new amplifier that you just got?
posted by Brian Puccio at 11:28 AM on March 8, 2010

I'm not sure you want a switch instead of a new AV receiver, unless you're already heavily invested in a high quality receiver that doesn't happen to haven good video switching built in.

A long time ago (a few years), I used a switch like you describe to conenct all of my sources to a a Sony recevier that didn't have enough video switching built in. It had a remote, and I beleive about eight inputs that could accept VGA, component video, s-video, compostie, RCA audio, and optical audio. I paid about $120 for it at best buy. I don't recall the maker.

Currently I have both a and an Onkyo TX-SR606 that do a great job of converting all incoming audio and video signals and sending them out how I want. The Onkyo was a fraction of the the Denon's cost, but does not upconvert to 1080p, only 1080i (though it does pass 1080p source through). The Denon is connected to my projector in the basement, and the Onkyo is connected to an LCD tv in the living room. Both have many sources, digital and analog, connected and send audio out to speakers connected to the recevier and video over a single HDMI cable to the connected display.

If you spend the money on a Denon, you likely won't regret it. But thery aren't cheap. I paid around $1500 for mine in 2006. Onkyo is far more economical and has a pretty good product. $500-$700 buys you a lot of receiver with Onkyo.
posted by terpia at 11:45 AM on March 8, 2010

If you want the device to process inputs, you want a processor, not a simple switch. I'm not sure you can find one without a preamp. Something like this Onkyo
posted by wongcorgi at 12:12 PM on March 8, 2010

Response by poster: Interesting. I haven't actually bought a new TV or home theater yet, it's just hypothetical for now. I'm trying to figure out how to architect my next living room setup, and y'all have been a big help. I haven't worked with A/V receivers in the past (only audio ones) so I wasn't aware that they do what I'm looking for. Thanks!
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:20 PM on March 8, 2010

Watch out when choosing a receiver, as not all receivers handle HDMI the way you'd expect. I just helped the in-laws set up a receiver they had bought as a combo with a set of speakers, and it has HDMI support, but it doesn't receive HDMI sound, just passes it through to the TV. You have to hook up both HDMI and a separate audio cable if you want to hear audio through your speakers - crazy, I know. It doesn't upconvert, either, so you have to run separate video cables to the TV and switch inputs around depending on your source.
posted by pocams at 12:35 PM on March 8, 2010

Gizmodo recently did a shootout of sub-$500 A/V Receivers, all of which will do exactly what you want.

The phrase you're looking for is "upconversion", which all modern (ie in production now) receivers worth their salt will do for you. I had the exact same requirement with my receiver (which is the Onkyou featured on the Gizmodo Link), and now I have 1 HDMI cable going from my receiver to my TV and that's it. I love it.
posted by anotherfluke at 4:04 PM on March 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

pocams speaks the truth. There are receivers that do what you want but be careful especially at the low end of the price scale. They won't behave in accordance of your vision of a single cable to the TV. Read the specs very carefully.
posted by mmascolino at 6:02 PM on March 8, 2010

You definitely want a Logitech Harmony remote control. They have a little programmable display that show the current context (like you described) and are really easy to program. I haven't seen any relatively inexpensive receivers that come with a remote as capable as any of the Harmony models.

nthing Onkyo as good for the money, but really they are in the same league as Marantz and Yamaha. I stay the hell away from Pioneer stuff. Step up is Marantz and NAD.
posted by kenliu at 9:41 PM on March 8, 2010

Oh, and a DVI signal is the same as the video portion of the HDMI signal, so all you need is a DVI -> HDMI adapter if you want to hook up a computer, although many new computers have HDMI output now.
posted by kenliu at 9:43 PM on March 8, 2010

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