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Kinivo 501BN Review

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PROS / This HDMI switcher can pass an audio return channel.

CONS / You don't get an external infrared sensor with this switcher.

 VERDICT / The Kinivo 501BN is an excellent HDMI switcher that should work well for most people.

Kinivo's 501BN is the best HDMI switcher you can get for 1080p content. It has enough bandwidth for passing 36-bit color depth and 3D video signals. The 501BN can pass most of the important features from your 1080p content to your TV. Thanks to its feature set and pass-through capabilities, the 501BN earns our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award.

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Switching Capabilities

With the 501BN, you don't have to wonder about which ports are active, because it has LED indicators to tell you. Better yet, those indicators are on the front of the switcher, so you can see this information at a glance. This is a minor but important feature, as some switchers place their LEDs on the top, which is less useful when you're sitting far away on your couch.

Some HDMI switchers have a built-in equalizer that makes sure your content's data signal comes through clearly and reliably. The Kinivo 501BN doesn't have an equalizer. However, that's not a terrible thing for most people. Equalizers are most beneficial if your HDMI cable is very long. For short distances, the data signal doesn't need to be boosted or equalized.

Few HDMI switchers support the audio return channel you can get with most HDMI cables. The 501BN is among the few switchers that supports an audio return channel. This is important if you want to send an audio signal from your TV to external speakers without using extra cables. Of course, you need to make sure that your HDMI cables, TV and speakers support an audio return channel as well.

The 501BN comes with a remote that uses infrared to communicate. The built-in infrared sensor is OK, but we prefer an external infrared sensor. With an external sensor, you can hide the HDMI switcher and leave only the sensor exposed. Essentially, you have more freedom in device placement with the external sensor. Because the 501BN doesn't have an external sensor, you need to leave it in plain sight, where the remote can easily reach the built-in infrared sensor.

Compatibility

Color depth indicates how many colors are available in a data signal. Larger color depth and more colors means more data, which needs larger data pipes – or bandwidth – in order to display on your TV. The 501BN can pass up to 36-bit color depth, which equates to billions of shades of colors. This results in better colors overall. Just make sure your TV is capable of the same color depth in order to reap the benefits.

Sometimes, HDMI switchers don't work well. They'll give you a blank screen or even an error message. Most often, this is due to incompatibility between the switch, your source and your TV. All three of these devices need to have compatible versions of both HDMI and HDCP.

HDCP is a digital rights management protocol that's built into every HDMI device. However, there are different versions of HDCP, and they're not all compatible with each other. The result can be that your Blu-ray player sends the image from your Blu-ray to your TV and your TV says, "Nope. You don't have the right version of HDCP, so this content isn't legitimate and I won't display it." With a switcher, the same thing can happen. HDCP is the most common cause of HDMI switchers not working.

We mentioned bandwidth earlier in regards to color depth. Well, bandwidth is also important for other video signal qualities. For example, the 501BN can handle video signals of up to 1080p resolution. There just isn't enough bandwidth for more than that. In addition to 1080p video, the 501BN can pass a 3D signal. While the 501BN won't work with a 4K setup, it should be just fine for viewing 1080p 3D content.

Design

The most obvious reason to buy an HDMI switch is because you need more HDMI ports, right? Well, the 501BN has five ports for you to plug devices in. It's as simple as plugging everything into the 501BN and then using the device's one output to connect it to your TV. From there, you just need to select which device you want to see using the remote, or let auto switching handle it for you.

The 501BN comes with a power cord and needs to be plugged into a wall outlet in order to function properly. Some HDMI switches run off of the power they take from HDMI ports, but that is often fickle and unreliable. Plugging your switcher in yields the best results.

Help & Support

The 501BN comes with an industry-standard one-year warranty. Should you need to use that warranty, you can contact Kinivo's support team through email or by phone. You can also read through the FAQs section on its website to quickly troubleshoot problems.

There's no guarantee that the 501BN, or any HDMI switch, will work with your home theater setup. There are so many different variables that the only way to really know is to buy the device and test it. Make sure that you buy from a reputable source that has a strong return policy. That way, if the HDMI switch doesn't work for you, it will be easy to return and then try another one.

Summary

The Kinivo 501BN is an excellent HDMI switcher that should work well for most people. It doesn't have an external infrared sensor and isn't suitable for 4K content, but that's OK. Most people are still happy with 1080p movies and TV shows. For those who just want more HDMI ports for their 1080p 3D content, the 501BN is the best HDMI switch on the market.

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