I’ve been on the lookout for an affordable HDMI switcher in anticipation of an additional HTPC and next gen console (hopefully the Xbox 360 will have HDMI by this spring). Monoprice has a good assortment of HDMI switchers, and I’ve had my eye on their 5X1 Enhanced HDMI Switch, but it has been sold out for weeks (looks like they have them back in stock today). The switcher only costs $88.73 (with an “original value” of $299), so it’s a very attractive option. An AVS Forum member posted this thorough review and found no problems (like sparkling) all the way up to 1080p.
Yesterday, I read the BetterCables Display Magic 5×1 HDMI Switcher ($350) review on Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity. The reviewer, Kris Deering, found no fault with the switcher, comparing it in quality to the rest of BetterCables’ product offerings (high). He concludes:
BetterCables has always offered outstanding performance and quality in their products regardless of price point. The Display Magic 5.1 HDMI switcher continues that tradition. Regardless of the source I had connected to it, the unit passed the entire signal and didn’t tamper with it in any way. That is all you can ask of an A/V switcher. The flexibility this adds to a setup that is limited in HDMI switching is immeasurable. This product gets my highest recommendation.
After browsing Monoprice and the Secrets review something clicked in my mind: these two HDMI switchers looked exactly the same save for the branding silkscreened on the plastic case. They have the same remote. You can clearly see this in the pictures above. Is BetterCables selling an OEM HDMI switcher at a huge mark up? Their switcher is on sale from $449, but they do include two “1m Silver Serpent Reference 1080p HDMI cables FREE (value of $139.90).” BetterCables also has the following warning in their product description:
NOTE: We have seen several “budget” HDMI switchers fail at the higher resolutions (e.g. “sparkles,” “flashes,” etc). The Display Magic HDMI Switcher ensures your picture quality at all resolutions.
If you subtract the bonus cables from the price you are still looking at an additional $120 for the BetterCables switcher over the Monoprice (no cables included but they sell great HDMI cables for under $10).
I’m going to give BetterCables a sliver of a benefit of a doubt (An AVS Forum poster today wasn’t so kind. Maybe they just used the same case and remote and the guts of the HDMI switcher use higher quality parts that justify its price (though this seems unlikely). High end manufacturers OEM mass market electronics all the time and replace the power supply and some DACs (like all the up market DVD players from Marantz, etc. that are based on the Pioneer DV-45A). I’m not sure these same design improvements make sense with a video switcher.
I challenge Secrets and BetterCables to perform side by side tests of these two HDMI switchers and also give us pictures of the guts to prove whether they are the same OEM product or if BetterCables has modded their “DM-HDMI-5×1.”
P.S. I like BetterCables and proudly own retired component and subwoofer cables of very high quality. BetterCables started out making quality cables based on Belden and Canare source wire and terminations (though the silver series is beyond these humble beginnings). For video cables I now exclusively use RAM Electronics brand (though I would have ordered from the even cheaper Monoprice if I knew of them at the time). RAM cables are professional grade using Belden and Canare parts. I knew I was buying affordable quality only after reading the Audio/Video Cable Installer’s Pocket Guide by Belden’s Stephen Lampen. This great book explains how audio and video cables work and how they fail. Unfortunately, it was published before the advent of DVI/HDMI, so I’m not sure of the limits of those digital cables.