Not that long ago a single HDMI port was all you needed on your HDTV or receiver. Now with HD-DVD, Blu-Ray, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 Elite, cable boxes, and other peripherals supporting HDMI, what was at first a convenient way to get rid of extra audio and video wires on one of your devices has quickly become a "too many cables, not enough ports" problem. Once you reach this point you have three choices. One: plug and unplug cables every time you switch between devices. Two: buy a higher end receiver or TV with more ports. Three: add a switchbox to your system. The first two solutions are best suited to the very patient and very rich, but the rest of you may still be hesitant to purchase a switchbox. The need to get up and push a button on the switchbox each time you switch between devices and the potential degradation of signal quality being the primary reasons for this. However, before you dismiss this option you should consider the OPPO HM-31 HDMI switchbox. It may at first seem a bit pricey at $100, but you get a pretty elegant solution to the problem for far less than the cost of a new receiver or TV.
The HM-31 basically takes a single HDMI port and turns it into three. You can plug up to three HDMI sources into the box and then connect its input into your receiver or TV. The box is fairly compact at slightly less than a foot across and about 9" deep. It can be placed in your component cabinet or mounted to a wall. It is a powered device, so you'll also need to give it access to a free plug.
The first thing that you'll notice about the HM-31 is that it is a switchbox without switches. The HM-31 will auto-sense live signals on its inputs, and in the case of multiple signals will prioritize them based on the port number. A remote control is also included to allow you to specify the exact input that should be active. The remote works on IR, so if you have a multi-controller such as a Logitech Harmony remote, you can easily program it to control the switchbox as well. The box also includes an RS-232c port for systems that use that remote control standard.
As for specifications, the HM-31 is HDMI 1.3 certified with full HDCP 1.1 and DVI 1.0 compliance. It supports all HDTV resolutions, including 1080i, 1080p, and DeepColor. Color-coded lights on the front panel indicate which ports have active signals and which is currently in use.
Set-up is as simple as connecting your HDMI cables and plugging the device into an outlet. If you use a Harmony or similar remote, then you'll have the added step of adding a port selection step to each of your activities. Once you are up and running you'll be pleased with the results as there is no discernable degradation to the picture or sound quality whether you are watching a movie or playing game. The HM-31 works so well that you won't notice that it's there, which is precisely what you want from a switch. You've invested a lot in your HDTV and next-gen systems and you owe it to yourself to get the most out of them. The HM-31 is by far the best way to do this short of buying a new receiver.