At Home with Tech

It’s time to maximize the potential of all your gadgets.


How to Give Your HDTV More HDMI Inputs

Regularly switching around the cables behind your aging HDTV because you don’t have enough HDMI inputs can be hazardous to your health… if you’re prone to lower back pain. Instead, it’s time to get more HDMI inputs with a multi-input switch!

Regularly switching around the cables behind your aging HDTV because you don’t have enough HDMI inputs can be hazardous to your health… if you’re prone to lower back pain. Instead, it’s time to get more HDMI inputs with a multi-input switch!

These days, my HDTV often sits quietly in my family room… like a lonely, dark monolith, aching to be found. The Big Game is the one moment each year that specifically reminds me there’s a big, hulking Guardian of Forever I should be visiting now and again.

Distant Man Cave
Once upon a time, I invested a great deal of time and energy setting up my own home theater. It was once a source of great pride that I had a respectable AV set up. But as more of my media consumption moments have become fragmented onto smaller, mobile platforms like my iPad and iPhone, I haven’t really focused lately on keeping my multimedia ‘shrine’ up to date.

The major exception is my recent addition of a new Apple TV to my old 42” Panasonic Plasma. As invigorating as that move was, I realized during my installation that I had unfortunately run out of available HDMI ports on my aging TV. So now, my tech toys have to compete for which ones get to stay on the island.

And that’s not so fun…

Buy an HDMI Switch
But short of purchasing a new TV, the only Franken-fix is really to buy some type of HDMI splitter or switcher.
(Also known as a switch)

The good news is I’m not alone with this problem. There are lots of HDTVs out there with insufficient HDMI inputs.
(Mine has only two.)

As a result, there’s a myriad of HDMI switch solutions available on the market to solve this problem.

The other problem is figuring out which one to get…

Convenience is Overrated
The pricing for an HDMI switch ranges from twenty bucks to a hundred dollars or more. It’s already a pretty mature market. So you should only pay for what you really need.

One major variable is how many inputs the switcher can handle. It’s typically from two to five, but you can easily find switches up to eight inputs.
(It just costs more.)

Many switches today have automatic sensors, which detect when one input is active verses another. Lots of folks out there run into problems with this feature especially with inputs that are always ‘on.’ As for me, I really don’t need this ‘intelligent’ detection. I’m just fine walking over and switching the switch manually.

The same goes for remote controls that come with many of these models. That’s just another remote I’m going to lose. Again, I don’t mind pressing a button on the main unit before I sit down.
(As much of a hardship as that apparently is for others…)

Passive is my Preference
The other major consideration is whether you’re going to get a powered unit with its own AC plug or a passive, unpowered unit that draws minimal power from the HDMI cable and its source.

I really like the idea of a passive switch without its own power supply, because I simply don’t want to plug in yet another power-sucking phantom device into my media center.

That said, there are reviewers out there saying that you should beware of passive switches, because they’re less likely to work out for you, depending on the specific AV source combinations you’re using.

Of course, others say you’ll be just fine with a passive unit.

I say take the chance to avoid having to plug in something else.
(And keep your receipt just in case.)

There are plenty of reasonably priced choices out there with decent reviews.
Here are three options…

KanexPro 3x1 Switcher

The Efficient Option

KanexPro 3×1 HDMI Switcher – $29.95
It can handle three inputs, which is one more than I need.
It’s a passively powered box with ultra-low power consumption that doesn’t require an external power supply.
(The designers thoughtfully allowed for a USB power option, if absolutely necessary…)

The KanexPro can also handle up to a 4K signal… not that I’m watching anything close to that today.


Comprehensive 2x1 Switcher


The Cheap Choice

Alternately, there’s the Comprehensive 2×1 HDMI Switcher – $19.95

It’s as bare bones as they come with only two inputs, and it essentially looks like a bulky splitter.




Kinivo 3x1 SwitcherThe Safe Zone  

If you still feel a little queasy with the idea of your AV sources not providing enough juice to run a passively powered switch, then I suggest buying a switch with its own plug is your way to go…

Kinivo makes a popular 3×1 powered switch (301BN) for $29.99 on Amazon.

This box has its own power cord and lots of blinking lights to tell you what’s going on.
(Overkill for me… but to each their own.)

Fully Functional
If you haven’t already guessed, I’m going with the KanexPro Switcher.


My home media center now is ready for Super Bowl Sunday…

Game on!

How to Feed Video to any HDTV with Your iPhone or iPad

If you want the ability to take over any HDTV in the universe sporting an HDMI connection, your iPhone or iPad can actually do the trick directly without AirPlay mirroring through an Apple TV. Your portable Apple devices just need a little help….

If you want the ability to take over any HDTV in the universe sporting an HDMI connection, your iPhone or iPad can actually do the trick directly without AirPlay mirroring through an Apple TV. Your portable Apple devices just need a little help….

Once upon a time I would go on vacation with a small army of tech gear to create an on-demand multimedia viewing experience for my entire family.
(The irony here is there has never been any demand for this capability. But of course, that hasn’t stopped me.)

First I brought my Panasonic portable DVD player along with 8,012 Lester-documented cable combinations to handle any possible TV configuration in the wild.
(Only slight exaggeration)

When iPads showed up, that made my packing so much easier. Who can argue with bringing a portable TV the size of a book? You just have to make sure it’s preloaded with all the videos you’d need.
(Assuming there’s no local Wi-Fi to stream with)

Problem solved.
(Well, not quite…)

How Many People can Sit in Front of an iPad?
The remaining issue is only one person can comfortably sit in front of an iPad. Maybe two…
(Of course I’d bring an audio splitter for two sets of ear buds, so my wife and I could watch an episode of “Downton Abbey” while our toddler dozed. But in those days, our little guy didn’t really doze, and by the time he got to sleep in a new hotel room, it was time for us to get some Z’s too!)

But recently I was introduced to a more advanced solution by some friends using their own iPad. This family is very much at home with their tech….
(I swear they come from an alternate universe where consumer technology always works.)

Vacationing with the Jetsons
Earlier this summer our two families took a short vacation together at a little beach house in Rhode Island. On the second morning, the adults were busily preparing breakfast.

The kids? Well, they were experiencing some early morning energy ‘bursts.’ They needed some focusing in this new and somewhat compact space. I’m not proud to admit this, but I suggested powering up thirty minutes of Disney Junior programming on my iPad Air 2.

I looked around for the 9.7” screen, knowing it wouldn’t be an ideal solution for our three young viewers.
(two five-year-old boys and a three-year-old girl)

Simultaneously, the other dad reached for a compact case of cables that was conveniently positioned by the large, flat screen TV set in the living room. For a second, I had a flashback to my own monster pile of travelling cables I had long ago abandoned. But it was immediately evident that this moment was about to reveal something entirely different.

A solution that made real sense…

The dad carefully revealed a sleek, white adapter cable. It was barely 4.5”” long. More of a mini adapter box with a short Apple lightning cable attached to it.
(What was this?!)

Apple Lightning Digital AV Adapter

It was Apple’s Lightning Digital AV Adapter that allows you to mirror the display and audio from your iPad or iPhone to an HDMI-fed TV or screen.

It looked so simple….
(of course)

It was constructed with a lightning connector on one end for your source Apple device, and a little white rectangle on the other with a hole for a HDMI cable and a hole for a second lighting connector to run power from a plug.
(Keeping your Apple device flush with energy)

I watched as my friend effortlessly performed a little tech surgery, slipping the HDMI cable out of the back of the DIRECTV box and connecting it to his iPad. And then, as if by magic, the iPad took control of the TV.

I think I heard the three children coo simultaneously. They immediately settled in on the couch to watch their favorite Disney show in this newly created movie theater, powered by the iPad… streaming off of the house’s Wi-Fi.

I started to drool….

Late to the Party
Look, this Lightning Digital AV Adapter isn’t especially new.
Deep down, I think I knew it’s been available for the past couple years. I just hadn’t entirely understood how it could help me.

But to see it in action during a live field test…

In many ways you can think of it as your own portable Apple TV.
(Without the need for AirPlay Mirroring)

Sticker Shock
But this magical convenience comes at a price.

Apple sells it for $49.
(Really? For just a cable…?)


Of course, I Googled about, hoping to find another manufacturer with a knock-off at a lower price point.

(Not even AmazonBasics)

I did some additional research and came upon the reason…

Apparently, this adapter is doing some really heavy lifting converting the signal from Apple’s native H264 video format to an HDMI signal for your HDTV. Apparently, if you took a buzz saw to the white adapter box, you’d find something that approximates a mini computer inside.

The exact process of the video conversation is something of a mystery, and whether the video quality is entirely maintained is a bit of a debate online.

All I care about is that it works.
And it’s 49 bucks.

To ease the painful price point a bit, B&H Photo has it for less- $44.99.


Ready for the Next Vacation
So I now own the ability to take over any TV I come across in the universe with my iPhone 6 Plus or iPad.
(An iPod touch with a Lightning connector works too.)

Will I ever actually do that?
Just knowing I can is worth the two Jacksons.

Call me crazy…

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