J-Tech Digital and Monoprice 4×1 HDMI switcher review


Soundbars with one or a just few HDMI inputs supplanting A/V receivers with six or more HDMI inputs was supposed to simplify our home entertainment systems, but many of us have discovered that we have too many video sources—set-top boxes, streamers, gaming consoles, Blu-ray players, and so on—and not enough HDMI inputs to handle everything. The solution? An HDMI switcher and audio extractor. We recently found one such device marketed under two brands: J-Tech Digital and Monoprice.

It’s apparent that neither J-Tech nor Monoprice actually builds these devices, but sources them from some other manufacturer, because they’re identical apart from the labeling. We thoroughly tested both the J-Tech Digital JTECH-SWE41 and the Monoprice Blackbird 4K 4×1 HDMI Switch (P/N 39666) and found that each delivered solid performance with four HDMI inputs and one HDMI output. We put J-Tech in the headline because as of this writing, it was selling for $25 less than Monoprice’s device, which you can purchase here. Since they’re essentially the same device, we’ll refer to them in this review in the singular.

Jonathan Takiff / IDG

Their shared parentage is unmistakable when comparing the metal-clad Monoprice Blackbird 4K and J-Tech Digital switch boxes.

Blessed with sophisticated processing skills and ARC (audio return channel) support, this switch box helps consolidate your gear, cable runs, and connections. While ultra slim, measuring 7.1 x 3.3 x 0.5 inches (WxDxH), the powered switcher has a front panel display that offers precision control buttons and not-too-bright green LED indicators. HDMI inputs in back allow you to connect up to four 4K or 2K video source devices.

The source you select with the button in front is then output to the switcher’s single HDMI-ARC output to one of your TV’s, soundbar’s, or A/V receiver’s HDMI input—with no noticeable degradation in picture or sound quality provided you use certified Premium High Speed HDMI cables to make the connections.

Offering current top-of-the-class specs, this mighty mite can process and push through razor-sharp signals with up to 4K resolution at a 60Hz refresh rate (so it might not be the best choice for the next generation of videogame consoles, which support refresh rates up to 120Hz. It doesn’t support FreeSync or G-Sync, either). The switch otherwise abides by the HDMI 2.0a standard and HDCP 2.2 digital copy-protection standards necessary for enhancing 4K images with high dynamic range processing like HDR10 and Dolby Vision—the latter stunningly shown when I plugged in the latest Roku Ultra media streamer into switch input 4. A most realistic aquarium materialized on my 4K LG OLED, a screen saver that gave away its true nature only when the Dolby Vision logo fleetingly floated in the corner.

hdmi switch front panels 4 Jonathan Takiff / IDG

The Blackbird’s front labeling of LED and hard button functions makes it more useful when working the devices head-on. (J-Tech paints its labels on the top.)

On the audio side, high-quality soundtracks encoded in 2.1-, 5.1-, and 7.1-channel PCM, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby Atmos, and DTS-HD Master Audio pass unimpeded to and through the switch box’s HDMI output jack, as a J-Tech Digital engineer who’d QC’d the box at the brand’s Sugarland, Texas headquarters testified.

But wait, there’s more. The inclusion of an audio signal extractor renders this high-striving box even more useful—essential, even, for TV viewers who’ve paired it with a high-quality (but input short) display and soundbar.

How it works

Here’s how it comes together. Connect your four most essential devices to the switch: set-top box, media streamer, game console (or laptop), and Blu-ray player. Next, connect the switch’s HDMI output to your TV set’s HDMI input—the one labeled HDMI ARC, if available. Alternatively, you could plug that cable into an HDMI port on a soundbar or A/V receiver that will amplify and send the audio content to its speakers and pass the video signal to your TV.



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