For a long time, the general rule of thumb was that HDMI cables work for a distance of up to 50 feet. But this isn’t exactly a rule, per-se. The key word is ‘up-to.’ If you’re trying to connect a video source that is quite a ways away from your display, it’s possible that the signal may degrade to a point of not being usable.
Common symptoms of HDMI signal issues are regular dropouts, glitches and noise, delayed audio, or the inability for your display to detect your source. This can be caused by all kinds of things. If you’re running the HDMI cable next to power cables, across outlets, or alongside devices that radiate electrical interference (such as radios, wireless transmitters, or microwaves) the maximum length that your signal will reliably travel is reduced.
HDMI signal boosters are a cheap, reliable solution to this problem. But how do they work? And can they help solve the specific problem that you’re having? To find out, we’ll be taking a look at the three best signal boosters on the market. We’ll explore the differences between them, and help you understand what applications they are best suited for.
Startech.com HDMI Signal Booster
Startech’s products have been a long-standing stable in our product roundups, for two good reasons. First, they produce virtually every cable and adapter under the sun. Secondly, they just work. You’re not buying through a retailer, you’re going manufacturer direct. This means that their legendary quality is consistent from device to device. Whether you’re looking for a common cable that you need on a daily basis, or some oddball adapter that you don’t know where to find, Startech is always a great starting point.
At it’s core, the Startech.com HDMI Signal Booster looks like nothing more than a little metal box. At a quick glance, you might not thing that there was very much too it. It almost looks like more of a coupling – a simple device designed to join cable A to cable B. As you’ll soon find out, it’s much more than that. But the simplicity of the design really highlights the simplicity of the entire platform. All you have to do to get started is plug your source into one end, and the output into the other. And it will usually just work.
But if you’re still having problems, this is where the other features come in. There is a small dial that is adjustable with a screwdriver, or perhaps your nail if you’re in a pinch. There is a 3.5mm plug designed to be used with accessories, and a 5V input which is optional to use.
But the main advantage of this particular model is its durability. The case is made entirely from metal, so there is very little concern about it getting damaged. But as we soon found out, this metal box does more than just protect the internals.
Let’s imagine a worst-case scenario. You plug in your cables, and the display still doesn’t work. What do you do now? For some models, the answer would be “buy another booster.” But Startech has a few tricks up their sleeve. The first thing you can try to do is plug in the external 5V power adapter. Although is usually isn’t needed, there are some circumstances where the signal will be readable, but it’s too faint to rebroadcast. With the power adapter connected, this little unit has the boost that’s needed to get your signal where it needs to be. However, when you are using the external power supply, you might need to tweak the little dial to get the correct level of boost necessary.
To understand how this works, let’s take a quick look at how power works, and why signals degrade. Cables have a certain metric called “voltage drop.” For illustration purposes, let’s say imaging that we have a cable that has a voltage drop of 0.1 volts per meter. If you broadcast a 5V signal across a 5 meter cable, the receiver would only see 4.5 volts. Across 20 meters, you’d only get 3 volts. After a certain point, the voltage drop is so high that the receiver doesn’t detect a signal at all.
The HDMI standard knows how this works, and they expect a little voltage to be lost here and there. As with anything, there are limits to this technology. When you plug in the external power supply, it can feed in additional voltage that was lost due to the long cable run.
Imagine your surprise if you went to your local coffee shop and ordered a dozen donuts. Once you open the box, you find that they actually gave you 24 donuts! You’d probably be pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, electricity is not like donuts. If this receiver added too much power into the circuit and bumped the signal up to 6 volts when your TV was expecting 5, it would not be pleasantly surprised. It certainly won’t damage it, but your signal won’t work at all. This is what the dial on the back of the repeater is for. You want to set the level so that it adds the correct amount of voltage to the circuit, but not too much.
This repeater takes the standard 50 meter limit and doubles it, so you get 50 meters on each side of the repeater. It’s fully HDCP compliant, allowing you to enjoy copyrighted works such as Blu-Ray movies or Netflix streaming without issue. The platform has a total bandwidth of 5 Gbps, making it suitable for 1080p content. Due to limitations, 3D or 4K is not currently supported. However, high frame rate content (60 Hz) is supported, making it a great choice for gamers. This entire system is real-time, so there is no added lag into the video signal.
J-Tech Digital HDMI Repeater
J-Tech isn’t one of the most popular peripheral brands, but they focus on quality rather than quantity. Their solutions are generally on the cutting edge of technology, and this HDMI Repeater is no different.
The J-Tech Digital HDMI Repeater is one of the more simplistic models on the market. It’s housed in a matte-white enclosure, which is extremely compact and easy to use. The entire unit is injection molded, allowing it to be made from a single piece of plastic. While plastic isn’t known to be one of the most durable materials on the market, this particular model is much more rigid than the competition.
Other than the standard logos on the case, the design is reasonably plan. There are two connectors on each side, and a blue LED light that shows you when it’s active. Overall, it’s simple to look at, and even simpler to use.
Getting this repeater up and running is a simple one step process. Just plug your cables in, and you’re ready to go. One of the things that make this model easy is it’s variable voltage circuit. It can calculate the difference between the expected voltage and what it actually received, and estimate how much boost will be necessary to get the signal to your destination. This means that the power levels are automatically adjusted, so no user intervention is necessary to get it up and running.
This is one of the few repeaters on the market that supports full-resolution 4K video. However, the range you can extend the signal depends on how much data is being sent. At 60Hz, 4K video can be sent an additional 82 feet. At 30Hz, this range is boosted to nearly 100 ft. If you’re just enjoying standard 1080p video, you’ll get a whopping 184 feet of video.
This repeater is 100% compliant with modern standards. You get HDCP 2.2, which is necessary for enjoying Blu-Ray. You can also enjoy 3D video at any resolution, without any loss in transmission distance. It also supports CEC. This is a standard that allows the remote control signal to be transmitted over HDMI, so you can use your remotes even when your media source is far away.
UGreen HDMI Extender
Although UGreen isn’t a company we’ve encountered before, the impressive specifications made it appear that this extender was in a class of it’s own. But before we could make a call, we had to try it out for ourselves.
Although these are reasonably simple devices, the design of the UGreen HDMI Extender was definitely a little more appealing than others we’ve reviewed. The silver enclosure with beveled edges has a very sleek and modern appearance, and the stylish logo definitely gives it the look of a premium product, even if it’s priced affordably. One unique branding trick we liked was the LED status light, which blinks while in use. It’s a nice bright green LED, which was certainly nice for a change from the usual.
The internal components of this extender are very similar to that of the J-Tech model, although this one sacrifices high resolutions for range. The voltage regulation and measurement circuit are much more sensitive, allowing the paramaters to be automatically set in a precise manner. For the end user, this means that you can get the performance of a high end transmitter requiring manual configuration, but everything is completely automated. Connect your cables, and you’re up and running.
When you’re dealing with very large distances, it can take a second or two for the repeater to get all synced up. When this happens, you’ll see the light come on and flash for a moment or two. Once it becomes solid, the handshake process has been completed and it’s now facilitating communication between your television and your video source.
This extender sticks strictly to the HDCP 1.1 standard. That means that video with a resolution of up to 1080p, and a frame rate of up to 60 Hz can be used. But where this model really shines is in the range. It can broadcast an additional 150 feet beyond the supply cable, making this the longest range HDMI extender on our list.
Which HDMI Signal Amplifier Is Right for Me?
In principal, all of these devices are pretty similar. In reality, there can be a few differences that can really change how you use them. If you’re not sure which one is right for your purpose, you’ll just need to ask yourself two questions to find out.
Question 1: Do I Need 4K Video?
If you’re watching 4K content, you really only have one option right now. The J-Tech Digital HDMI 2.0 Repeater is one of the few extenders on the market that is fast enough to handle the massive bandwidth necessary for 4K. Although the range isn’t quite as long as some, you can always daisy chain multiple repeaters to get the length you’re looking for.
Question 2: Am I working Around Noisy Equipment?
Nope, we’re not talking about audible noise. We’re talking about radio interference. If you’re running the cables along high voltage lines (for example, running next to an extension cord,) near microwaves, or with powerful radio equipment in the room, you’ll want an extender that can add extra voltage back into the circuit that was lost. In this case, the Startech.com HDMI Repeater is the model for you. It’s got a 5V power supply that doesn’t have to be used, but can quickly be plugged in if you’re not getting results.
If you answered no to the above questions, then your best bet is to get the Ugreen HDMI Extender. This model has the longest range of all, and is still incredibly simple to use. Best part of all? You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for top-tier performance!