Review: XtremeMac XtremeHD HDMI Switcher
Pros: A powered four-port switchbox designed to add four HDMI inputs to any high-definition television with one existing HDMI port. Generally matches the look of Apple’s Apple TV device, and includes a good Infrared remote control. Far better style than typical switchboxes; solid picture and sound quality.
Cons: Price premium over less stylish, similar switchboxes can be steep unless you shop around. HDMI input and output cables aren’t included. Infrared commands may conflict with certain TV remotes.
Like it or not, high-definition video components are expensive right now, as companies are charging considerable premiums for everything from the HDTVs and high-def disc players themselves to the HDMI cables you use to connect them. Before the March release of Apple’s Apple TV, simple HDMI cables were often selling for $50-60, and some companies were pushing alternatives for twice as much. But to coincide with Apple TV’s release, XtremeMac in March debuted more reasonably priced, nicely designed XtremeHD series audio and video cables (iLounge ratings: B+), and promised a new Apple TV-matching switchbox as well. That device, the XtremeHD HDMI Switcher ($100), is now available in stores, and while it’s not as aggressively priced as the company’s cables, it’s an extremely handy and nicely designed option nonetheless.
The premise is simple. High-definition television sets, disc players, and game consoles made over the last several years may or may not have an “HDMI port,” which combines top quality digital video and audio connections into a single connector. If you’re lucky enough to have one HDMI port on your TV, it’s quite possible that you don’t have two or three—a LCD set we purchased in late 2005 or early 2006, for instance, has only one; a protector purchased earlier has none. Like a USB hub with USB ports, the XtremeHD HDMI Switcher adds four ports to a TV that has at least one, but can’t add anything to a TV without an HDMI connection.
Unlike all other HDMI switchboxes currently on the market, XtremeMac’s is specifically designed to match the look and footprint of Apple TV. While it’s not precisely the same—its silver body is plastic rather than metal, and a shade or three off of Apple’s—they look good when stacked together. On the front are subtle white-backlit numbers that indicate which of the rear four HDMI inputs is currently being sent to the unit’s single HDMI output port.
A five-button Infrared remote control is included to let you switch from HDMI device to device, and uses standard commands that can be programmed into a universal remote via learning mode. Generally, we had no issue using the remote from across the room, and we liked how it looked and felt. One of our editors noticed that XtremeMac’s remote codes are the same as certain numeric input buttons used by his Toshiba television remote; this thankfully wasn’t an issue for our editor, who uses a separate cable box remote for his TV tuning, or for the rest of us, but under certain circumstances it could create issues for some users.
XtremeMac has also built in a video amplifier, which is powered by an included external power supply. For techies, and despite Apple TV’s current limitations in these regards, it’s worth noting that the device is capable of passing through up to 1080p, HDCP-compatible, digital surround sound signals. Consequently, even if four HDMI devices—say, an Apple TV, a DVD player, a game console and cable box—are connected at once, the images Switcher puts out will still look great. We tested it with multiple Apple TVs, an upscaling DVD player, a cable box, an HD-DVD player, and a PlayStation 3 console, and were entirely satisfied by the results; video looked bright, detailed, and interference-free, and audio sounded exactly as expected. Notably, however, we needed to supply all the input and output HDMI cables ourselves, a common enough omission from today’s switcher boxes.
Our only other issue with the Switcher was suggested at the beginning of this review: it’s not cheap. While comparable 4-port HDMI switchboxes can be had for $65 or thereabouts, XtremeMac’s retailing the XtremeHD HDMI Switcher at $100, or a $35 design premium. This is rendered tolerable in our view only by the fact that the device can be found for $80 or less online. While it’s true that good design is worth paying a bit extra for, it’s also true that if you’re neither concerned about design nor in need of four HDMI inputs, you can find less expensive solutions elsewhere. That said, this is a very good option for Apple TV owners concerned with preserving a consistent look for their components, and if you shop properly online, you’ll be very happy with its features for the price.