|Radiient Select-4 HDMI Switcher/Repeater|
|Home Theater Video Processors & Switchers Video Switchers|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Tuesday, 01 August 2006|
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I think Ferris Bueller said it best when he said, “Life moves pretty fast.” I must admit, Ferris’ statement was a bit lost on my then young ears; however, more than a decade later, his words ring true. Especially when it comes to the world of consumer electronics. It seems like just the other day I was being sold on EDTV technology and insanely long runs of component cable. High definition was just a dream that was still years away. Then the days of yore turned into yesterday and high definition was no longer just a dream. It was a whole different animal, a beast really, and it was now walking among us. All of a sudden, my once state-of-the-art system was nothing more than a really expensive picture frame. Well, I upgraded and joined the HD revolution. I bought the plasma. I got the digital cable. And with my trusty component cables in hand, I prepared to enjoy all that HD had to offer. That is, until I learned of HDMI.
But I was happy with component cables (at the time) and invested heavily into equipment that was component-compatible. I bought a component-compatible receiver that would not only switch between multiple component capable sources, but even up-convert the once mighty composite and S-Video signals to component as well. My DVD player had a component video output, my VCR (yes, I said VCR) had a component output – hell, everything I owned was component-compatible. I was dialed in … at least for a minute. Sure, component cables tended to be bulky and a bit unruly in tight spaces, but I didn’t care, because I had just shelled out a whole lot of money for them, and now this new HDMI cable shows up and I’m supposed to just ditch my trusty red, green and blue friends? Making matters worse, none of my other gear, minus my new HD plasma, was HDMI-compatible, either. I was at a loss. One simple cable was single-handedly tearing my entire system, and world, apart. Before I went to change everything, again, I took a closer look at this new “dream” cable they called HDMI.
HDMI or High Definition Multimedia Interface cables, once a thing of lore, are now an industry-supported digital standard capable of passing a truly uncompressed digital signal (both picture and sound) to any number of modern digital audio/video components. It can handle all current HD video signals and resolutions up to 1080p, as well as pass uncompressed multi-channel music data simultaneously through a single cable. HDMI is currently in its type A form (19-pin connector); however, there are designs for a type B (29-pin connector) version that will allow for higher than 1080p signals to be passed. But that’s for another day, because many consumers haven’t even taken the leap to HDMI, let alone 1080p-capable sets. One of the benefits of HDMI is that it will keep the signal completely digital from start to finish, resulting in a much clearer picture and/or surround sound experience. A downside to this is technology is that it allows for the software and entertainment companies to put harsher copy protection protocols on their wares that at times can cause serious issues between various HDMI-capable devices, resulting in a degraded experience or, worse, no experience at all. These “handshake” or HDCP (High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection) issues have plagued a number of digital connectors over the years, even the great HDMI, but it is getting better and over time should be eliminated altogether.
Once I knew a little more about HDMI, it seemed worth it to me to upgrade. So I did. I upgraded everything. While this might have made sense to me, though my wallet begged to differ, I can’t imagine it making sense to a lot of consumers who may have just spent hundreds if not thousands on, say, a receiver or surround sound controller with no HDMI compatibility. It’s a much more realistic expectation for consumers to upgrade to HDMI components over time, starting with the easiest and/or most inexpensive options first, mainly digital set-top boxes and/or DVD players. However, if your current HD set only has one HDMI input, this leaves you in quite a pickle, unless of course you invest in an HDMI switcher.
Video switchers are nothing new. For years they have evolved from composite video to S-video to even component-compatible. HDMI switching was the next logical step. A few companies have stepped up to the plate by creating such a device. One such manufacturer is Radiient. Radiient’s HDMI switcher, the Select-4, has a few more things going for it than the competition, mainly being designed by one of the very men who helped pioneer and design HDMI itself, Jano Banks. It doesn’t hurt that the Select-4 is also the brainchild of former DVDO Chairman and video engineer David Buuck. Together, Buuck and Banks founded Radiient in 2005 and have been creating numerous products, mainly loudspeakers, for the budget-conscious consumer market ever since.
The Select-4 is a simple device, to say the least. Measuring in at just under eight-and-a-half inches wide by five-and-a-half inches deep and a little shy of two inches tall, there’s no mistaking the Select-4 for anything but a switcher. It’s lightweight, roughly one pound, which makes it even easier to place in an equipment rack. With a retail price of $399.00 direct, it’s also a cost-efficient way to step up to HDMI without having to pawn off the good china. Visually, the Select-4 is pretty basic, while still slick-looking. There is a main power switch off to the far left of the case, with four oval-shaped lights labeled one through four resting below the Select-4’s remote control cradle. Rounding out the Select-4’s faceplate is the toggle switch located in the far right corner, which allows the user to quickly swap between any of the four HDMI inputs. Turning my attention aft, I noticed the Select-4’s RS-232 port, which allows the switcher to be integrated into a bevy of automated control products and/or audio/video systems. Next to the RS-232 port is the Select-4’s four HDMI inputs, with the single HDMI output resting just to the right. Lastly, there is the Select-4’s DC power input, which attaches the switcher to a wall-wart-style plug/power supply that gives potential buyers plenty of leeway when it comes to placing the Select-4 in their respective racks.
Inside, the Select-4 boasts an impressive set of features, most notably full HDCP support for all HD resolutions, including 1080p and UXGA. The Select-4 can also switch between, repeat and/or boost (up to 100 feet) the signal of any HDMI, HDMI/HDCP, DVI and DVI/HDCP-compatible cable. The Select-4 can be used with any HDMI-capable device, ranging from your standard DVD player to your PC.
Something that came as a bit of a surprise was the inclusion of not one but two remotes, which allow the consumer to switch effortlessly between HDMI inputs from the comfort of a favorite listening chair or sofa. Focusing on what Radiient refers to as the “standard” remote, I found it to be rather cute. It actually reminded me of the old Krell remotes in that it’s about the size of a credit card and maybe twice as thick, featuring a simple green on/off switch and a select button. With the standard remote, the user will have to press the select button a few times to get to the appropriate input. However, if you’re looking for a more direct approach, there’s always the “pro” remote. The pro remote is the same size as the standard version, yet it provides a whole new level of control. For starters, each of the four HDMI inputs is directly selectable via the remote’s dedicated buttons. Also, there are two buttons that allow you to cycle through the inputs either left to right or right to left. There are also on/off buttons for the Select-4’s auto-sensing circuit, which oddly enough would negate the need for either of the remotes altogether, unless of course you’re a reviewer and like to switch sources on the fly. There are also buttons to turn your display on and off and, while these will not physically cut the power to your plasma or LCD screen, they will stop the flow of data to your display from the Select-4. Think of it a lot like putting a kink in a garden hose; the water is still flowing, but nothing seems to be coming out. Of the two remotes, I preferred the Select-4’s pro version, but it’s always nice to have a back-up.