The Matrix Switcher

Sounds futuristic but in reality it's quite simply.  The idea of a matrix switcher is to distribute audio and video to multiple locations.  It's not simply a 1 source to many amplifier, but a many to many matrix that switches and amplifies.  Hence the name - Matrix Switcher!

matrix_switcher_in_rack

So why do I need a Matrix Switcher?

If you have 2 rooms or more and want to distribute multi room av from multiple sources.  A common example is having 2 sky boxes or a DVD that you want to play in the other room.  A straight forward amplifier would only take 1 av source and distribute it to all rooms, but a matrix switcher allows you to play any av device in any room.

How do I choose a Matrix Switcher?

Plan your system first. See the planning section for more details.  You need to know what devices you need to distribute around the house and how many rooms you are distributing to.  You then need to decide what av format(s) you are going to distribute. In my opinion with LCDs and plasmas the only acceptable formats are: Component video, HDMI and RGB.  You can of course cater for the one coax cable wonder of RF or UHF or whatever they call it if you want but it looks total s**t on a reasonable flatpanel screen. I use Component and HDMI on various screens and tend to use the one which suits the screen best.  My Panasonic 50" Plasma looks great with Component, and so does my Sony Bravia 42" LCD.  There is a difference.  HDMI is pixel perfect but Component gives more of a film type of look which suits the plasma.  The Sony Bravia seems to like the HDMI better.

Some people use the one coax wonder for CCTV, but i find it's lots better if you pump out the video via your server over the video matrix switcher.  The PC renders the image much better because it's upscaling it to the native resoltion of your screen.

Different spec screens in different rooms can be a problem.  To make life easy you normally go with the lowest spec screen in your house.  This is ok if it's 720p, but anything less is unacceptable if you're running FULL HD in other rooms. You can get round it if you must by downscaling the video but this is costly.  If it's the portable in the kitchen or bedroom which is causing the problem, it might be cheaper to replace it.  The downscaler or upscaler would sit after the output of the matrix switcher.  You can of course just run a single RF coax cable to the offending TV.

Controlling the Matrix Switcher

If you have 2 rooms you might get away with 1 way control, but anymore and it can get out of hand.  2 way control which is knowing the state of the matrix switcher and being able to send commands to it is the best way to go if you can.  Thing is, 2 way control of your matrix switcher normally means you are going to need some kind of controller to read the incoming signals.  This is normally your PC or in an ideal world, your server which runs 24/7.

You need to know that your av matrix switcher is compatible with the automation software you are using.  Most known brands are supported, sometimes at a cost.  Check with your automation software provider before proceeding.  IR is normally used for 1 way control.  2 way control should really be USB these days but i think COM and Serial port connections are still available.

Quality

All depends on your budget.  There are some cheapies out there that do the job,but your matrix switcher is going to be running 24/7.  If it fails you're stuck unless you want to start pulling cables around.  You need to think about quality of av distribution and reliability.  Switching time is another factor to think about. I've seen some matrix switchers take a second or so to react on a command.  This makes the control process clunky and is quite annoying.

Cable and Connectors

Your chosen format of av distribution will determine your connector type.  With HDMI you have no choice, but Component video normally has the choice of phono or BNC connectors.  Some Matrix Switchers have the choice.  Decide which connector type you are most comfortable using. Read more about cables and connectors here.

Rack Mounted

If you don't have some kind of racking in Node 0 a matrix switcher is a good excuse to get one.  You need to plug alot of cables into the back if you have a big setup so resting on a shelf isn't really a good idea.  Most good branded Matrix Switchers come with a 19" rack mount option which is well worth it.

Noise

If your Matrix Switcher is located nearby you don't want to be hearing the fans humming.  If you hate fan noise like I do then check it's silent.  My Neothings switcher makes no noise so it's perfectly possible to build one without a couple of fans buzzing away.

Heat and Power Consumption

The Matrix Switcher will be on 24/7 unless you're turning it off at night.  Even so, heat and power consumption are important factors to think about.  If you do have your matrix switcher located with other equipment excess heat can really effect the other devices if not properly ventilated or controlled.  Make sure the Manufacturer states the power consumption and heat before buying.  Again, the Neothings Matrix Switcher runs perfectly cool without fans and it's power consumption is acceptable.

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