Here’s a scenario that’s popping up a lot more often: You’re looking to upgrade your stereo receiver / AVR with a really nice used one you find at a discount, but it doesn’t support the latest HDMI protocols and switching to SPDIF will compress many newer audio formats. ARC (Audio Return Channel) might be a solution for some people, but last year, I reviewed two lagless HDMI splitters that offered a unique feature: The ability to downscale one of the outputs to 1080p. While those are still a good use for people who game in 4K, but stream in 1080p, I recently discovered they can also be used to connect your 4K60 / HDMI 2.x devices to both a 4KTV and an older AVR with HDMI 1.4 inputs. Here’s links, with lots more info below, including why you might want to use this method over ARC:
EZCoo w/manual downscaling controls: https://amzn.to/3lcr6VS
Avedio automatic Splitter: https://amzn.to/2WtchUw
Original Review: https://www.retrorgb.com/hdmi-splitter-downscalers-reviewed.html
EDIT – This could potentially be a better solution that supports CEC, but it’s more expensive and is a single-use device (you can use the splitters in this post for multiple things): https://feintech.eu/products/vax01202-hdmi-earc-audio-extractor-splitter
Apparently cheaper versions don’t support CEC, but here’s a link if you want to try: https://amzn.to/3vc2elG
I’d suggest reading through the whole post and seeing what’s best for your setup…
Here’s how this all started for me: I ended up with a 2.0 speaker + amp combo that was so good, it made me realize the entry-level Denon receiver I was using for my Elac-based 5.1 setup should have stayed in my small NYC apartment. I started researching replacement AVR’s and my metric for choosing was simple: I wanted something as low-cost as I could find, that would bring the range and quality of my Elac’s up to my other setup. And, as usual, cost was a major factor: Sure, I could easily drop $1500 – $2000 to “fix” this problem, but that’s out of budget and to be honest, most of those AVR’s / AMP’s / Receivers (whatever) offer features I’ll never use. Also, I’m sure I could have done the power amp / 5.1 DAC route, but I didn’t want to overcomplicate things…so what other options did I have?
Used equipment, of course! But this presented a serious issue that’s becoming a lot more common these days:
Many of these AVR’s are HDMI 1.4 and locked at 4K30. Your average new streaming box (and UHD player of course) support 4K60, HDR, Dolby Vision…and of course, the latest generation game consoles can output 4K60 and up. Most quality used AVR’s can still perform far better than many brand new ones in the same price point and while they might be missing the very latest sound formats, how many movies truly take advantage of those? Picking up a used AVR could save you hundreds or more, but how can you get around the HDMI audio limitations? Let’s walk through the options.
The easiest way, is the one that requires the least user input, but you sacrifice audio quality: SPDIF. I could simply connect a SPDIF cable from my TV to the AVR and not worry about HDMI at all. And setups like that are super easy to use – Turn on your AVR, lower your TV’s volume and you’re done. So, if that’s so simple, why don’t I just suggest that as a fix? SPDIF doesn’t support uncompressed surround sound audio formats. Back in the tiny NYC apartment with a cheap receiver, this was not something I’d have ever noticed…and to be honest, it might only be a noticeable difference when playing specific movies with top-tier sound production. Still, if the goal is to upgrade my audio, little things like this really start to add up. On top of that, I’d also be relying on my TV to correctly pass the audio signals and many TV’s have had problems passing the latest audio formats.
Another solution is ARC – Audio Return Control. This might be the best solution for most people, however it requires both your TV and receiver to support ARC and often CEC as well. The Anthem MRX-510 I purchased does seem to work with my LD C6 OLED (2016), but it was a pain to set up and I have to manually enable ARC output in my TV’s menu when I want to use it. Some more modern combo’s might work better overall, but most are as clunky as my solution and will usually require multiple remotes. And if your AVR doesn’t support ARC at all, this isn’t even an option.
Which brings us to the point of this post: HDMI splitters with a downscaling function. I used the splitters linked here to connect my Apple TV 4K to both my 4KTV in the original 4K60 HDR format and this AVR via downscaled 1080p60. As we proved in the original review, the splitters don’t change or compress the passed-through video in any way, so there’s zero change on the type of video sent to my TV. While HDR sent through the 1080p downscaler will look terrible, that’s only being sent to the AVR; Since I’m not using any of the AVR’s video outputs, it’s a complete non-issue. As for audio, the tracks appear to be sent through without any change. I’ve tested tons of these splitters with MDFourier analysis and 2.0 source signals and they all seem to split the audio, completely unaltered. That said, MDFourier currently doesn’t support 5.1 or higher, so I don’t have any hard measurements to show you.
As with the previous two solutions, there are some drawbacks. For me personally, the big one is these splitters don’t seem to pass CEC control, which means my Apple TV remote will no longer power my TV on or off. Depending on how often you use your stereo, having a TV remote handy might be less of a pain then switching ARC in the TV’s menu every time you use it – That’s totally up to you. The other drawback, is I’ve heard these splitters don’t support VRR in modern consoles and if both your TV and console support 120Hz, that’s definitely something you’ll want to take advantage of. If that’s the case, SPDIF or ARC might be a better choice for those scenarios. Or, maybe only use the splitter for your streaming box, connect your VRR console directly to your TV and use the TV’s SPDIF output for gaming audio?
I often talk about these inexpensive devices being “tools in your tool box” and this is the perfect example: I bought these specifically for the previous review and they’ve sat in a box ever since…but once I got this AVR home, I was so happy I kept them as a “tool” and it was great to discover this as a use scenario! In my opinion, if you think something like this might help your setup, it’s worth taking the $30 risk.
Anyway, as always, I hope this helps people in similar situations!