HDMI splitters (and graphics cards) can send video output to two HDMI monitors at the same time. But not just any splitter will do; you need one that works well for the least amount of money.
We’ll discuss why finding the right splitter is so hard and recommend the three best HDMI splitters, plus an HDMI splitter alternative and HDMI cable.
What’s an HDMI Splitter?
An HDMI splitter takes an HDMI video output from a device, like a Roku, and splits it into two separate audio and video streams. You can then send each video feed to a separate monitor.
Unfortunately, most splitters suck. Many don’t work because of an anti-piracy measure built into hardware called High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP).
HDCP Is the Problem With HDMI Splitters
HDCP is an anti-piracy measure built into streaming devices, televisions, and cables. It protects content by using a verification process between the video-playing device and the screen.
Once it establishes a verified connection, HDCP encrypts the signal to prevent unauthorized recording of the content. This arrangement also prevents content owners from viewing their own content.
If the video is HDCP-protected but one part of your setup isn’t HDCP-compliant, the video won’t play (sometimes with an error message). That means a lot of people with older equipment can’t watch legally purchased content.
HDMI Splitters That Bypass HDCP: Fallback Mode
There is a fallback mode inside of HDCP that allows for HDCP-compliant content to fall back to a lower resolution (usually 720p) if the equipment isn’t HDCP-compliant. Fallback mode rarely gets triggered by devices other than a splitter, which is why they’re a great solution to this issue.
Some cheap splitters bypass HDCP entirely by accident. Because cheap splitter manufacturers didn’t bother paying for an HDCP license, they shouldn’t be able to play protected content at all. However, because they trigger fallback mode, the content gets downgraded to a lower resolution and plays normally—most of the time.
Here’s a video that explains how an HDMI splitter can mirror content from pretty much any streaming device, like an Amazon Fire or Roku:
If you’d like to find a splitter on your own, some features to look out for are:
- Self-powered (meaning it comes with a power adapter)
- HDMI 1.3a, HDMI 1.3b, and 1.4 splitters are known to work
- Cost $40 or less
If you just want a splitter that’s reported to work for mirroring your video, with a high probability of working, keep reading.
There are two common kinds of HDMI splitters: 1×2 and 1×4. A 1×2 splitter has two outputs and one input. A 1×4 splitter comes with one input and four outputs.
Both these splitters have identical features, which suggests they’re made by the same manufacturer. Each supports and strips HDCP and includes a power adapter. On Amazon, they also both get great reviews. The Orei gets an average score of 4.4 stars out of five.
The ViewHD gets an average score of 4.3 stars out of five. Does that mean the Orei is a better device? Judging from the reviews, they’re almost identical.
Something like 90 percent of all 1×2 HDMI splitters are made by the same company and rebranded. For example, at Walmart, a cheaper HDMI splitter sells for less than $14 and appears identical to the Orei and ViewHD devices. Judging from the reviews on Walmart, it provides the same function as the other two splitters.
If you’re looking for a 1×4 splitter that works on non-HDCP-compliant hardware, the Ikkegol 1×4 should work. This splitter sells on Walmart, but you can also get it on Amazon. Unlike the 1×2 options, a 1×4 HDMI splitter supports up to four displays.
Split HDMI With a Graphics Card and Computer
If you own a desktop (or a laptop with an external graphics card), you can split an HDMI signal using a graphics card with dual video outputs. It works just like a splitter, except it doesn’t strip HDCP. You only need to plug in a GPU and set your operating system to mirror the screens. This process is ideal for people who own desktops.
While prices are currently artificially high for graphics cards, you can still find good options on used markets, Walmart, Amazon, and other online retailers.
I don’t recommend buying anything expensive, particularly if all you’re doing is watching video on two screens. The best card with two HDMI ports is the low-profile Gigabyte GTX 1050Ti.
This particular model handles budget gaming needs and 4K Netflix streaming (using Microsoft’s ReadyPlay digital rights management). At the same time, it allows for a rock-solid video playback experience. Above all, it’s also the least expensive option around for 4K Netflix streaming.
Like all low-profile graphics cards, it should also include a modular full-sized bracket.
If you plan on doing hardcore gaming, virtual reality, or some other intensive task, you might want to look at an Nvidia GTX 1070, although the price is far too high at the moment. (Should you buy a GPU now or should you wait?)
For those who already own a GPU, you can split your video output to two HDMI-equipped monitors using a converter. The most common video display port is DVI. That’s why a DVI-to-HDMI adapter can turn any DVI port into an HDMI video output. Unfortunately, you can’t pass audio through a DVI port. So it’s best used if you have some other way of getting sound working, like an auxiliary cable.
The “HDCP Unauthorized Content Disabled” Message
A common error that you might see on set-top-boxes and gaming machines is the HDCP Unauthorized Content Disabled message, particularly on the Roku.
If you got the error, consider yourself lucky. Most people only get a blank screen and (if you’re like me) rage. In this situation, one component of your setup lacks HDCP support. Normally, that’s either the splitter or the cable.
If you know your display and video source are HDCP-compliant, consider just getting an HDCP-compliant HDMI cable.
If you’re stripping HDCP, you won’t need any compatible equipment. However, in case you want to one day play high-definition HDCP-protected content, you might want an HDCP-certified HDMI cable.
The cheapest one I could find is a two-pack of 3-foot Onn HDMI cables. It costs $7 and comes with an average review of 4.7 stars out of five.
Is Splitting an HDMI Signal Illegal?
If you plan on illegally copying and distributing the content, yes, it’s probably illegal. However, for the purposes of recording yourself playing video games, making legal backups of property you own, and other fair-use applications, it’s not illegal.