Why matrix switchers are awesome… after the trouble of setting them up
In this post we’ll take a look at the two Extron matrix switches I purchase this year, the Crosspoint 450 Plus Series and Extron SMX Series Switcher, and why you may or may not want to add one to your setup.
Let’s say you’re like me and you have quite a few game systems you’d like to have all connected to your TV (or some other display device). The simplest option, but perhaps bothersome depending on your setup, is to swap out the A/V cables as needed.
Your NES is plugged in but you want to play SNES? Disconnect the NES and plug in the SNES. Want to now play your PlayStation 1? Same thing—disconnect the SNES and plug in the PS1.
If you only have a small selection of consoles, this might not be so much of a hassle. But if you have your display wall-mounted or in some other location where you can’t easily get to the inputs, you may find this challenging.
If you’re only working with composite video with RCA plugs (typically with yellow, white and red plugs), a basic RCA selector could work. Plug everything into that, and then that plugs into your display. Almost all of these are going to require you to get up and physically push a button the switch, but that’s not terrible.
But let’s say you have a lot of consoles. Five? Eight? Ten? Twelve? More??? You’re going to need to connect several switchers to each other, and that can get a little confusing.
What if you’re using a higher quality video signal, such as S-video, component or RGB? HDMI? How about a mix of any of those cables? Are you splitting the video to two or more displays at once? You’ll be hard-pressed to find a consumer option that fits your needs.
Enter the Extron line of video switchers.
Before we go further, I want to say this post is not going to cover all the intricacies of different levels of sync, difference between csync and h/v, input lag, proper upscaling to a modern LCD/OLED, etc. If you want to learn more about those, visit a site like RetroRGB.com.
Extron makes devices not for the general masses, but for companies and organizations that have more complicated setups than most homes will have. Think conference rooms, broadcast facilities and things of that nature. And because they’re usually for professional use, the prices when new can be quite expensive (talking more than $1,000 here).
Luckily many of these devices can be had for cheap on eBay or other places used A/V equipment can be found.
Let’s talk about the Crosspoint first. It’s possibly the more complicated of the two to get set up, depending on the video sources you plan to use. This device processes analog video and audio.
There are different variations of the Crosspoint available. Some only do video, some do video and audio. You’re going to want to make sure the one you get does video as well. An easy way to identify this is the blue ports at the bottom (as shown in the above picture). Some Crosspoints allow four inputs and four outputs (written 4×4), some do more. I think the max is 64×64. The one I purchased is 16×8, handles audio and video and cost $99.99 on eBay before shipping. I have seen these go for lower, but when I was actively looking, this was the best price I saw at the time.
The first thing to point out are the physical connections this accepts. In the home use market, you’re like to come across RCA plugs, whereas in the professional a/v world, BNC is common. And the Crosspoint uses BNC for video. Luckily, you can buy adaptors online that allow for connecting an RCA plug to a BNC input.
For audio though, it uses something called a phoenix connector and requires more work to get your RCA audio plugs (the red and white) into this. You’ll either need to find a place to buy an RCA->phoenix adapter or make your own. I ended up making my own. If you decide to make your own, you could buy an RCA (male<->male) extension cord, but it in half, strip the ends and attach them to a phoenix connector. Or you could have small PCBs made up and solder on a proper RCA connector. Another one is here that uses a 3.5mm headphone jack connector.
That might sound complicated, but it’s really simple, and a fantastic My First Soldering project. And if done right, they’re pretty sturdy.
The only thing to be aware of with the audio side of things is that the wiring for audio input and audio output is slightly different. This is where ordering PCBs can make things just a bit easier.
If by chance you are connecting RGBs signals, be very aware that the output of most Extron devices is TTL, so you’ll need a resistor on the sync line to drop the voltage down.
Don’t know what that previous paragraph means? You’re probably OK and can ignore it.
So with the connection types out of the way, it’s time to connect everything to the switch.
The buttons on the front can pop off so you can insert some custom labels, but on mine at least, the numbers are always on the button, so I chose to tape some labels above and below.
Plug in the power cord and within a few seconds it should power up and be ready for use. Other than the front lights flashing briefly on power up, you may not even know it’s on. There are no cooling fans and it doesn’t make any noise.
To start, press the video and audio buttons on the front, then press the input number you want and the display number you’d like to output to, then press the enter button. All of those are on the front.
So in my case, if I want to output my SNES to my PVM monitor, I’d press audio, video, input 3, output 2, enter. If I wanted it to output to the PVM and my BVM monitor, I’d press audio, video, input 3, output 1, output 2, enter. You can also choose to mix a combination of audio and video inputs by simply not toggling either the audio or video buttons.
Once you do it a few times it becomes second nature and is easy to swap and mix your systems’ audio and video as you need. As long as you have everything labeled.
But there’s a feature I haven’t mentioned yet, and that’s the built-in network port. That’s right, you can connect to this via a standard web browser and control it remotely. You’ll need to look up a manual (freely available on Extron’s site) to figure out how to connect it to your home’s wired network. But once you do, you get a web interface that allows you to set a time and date, network IP address, set presets, control audio volume levels for inputs and outputs and more. There’s even about 1 megabyte of storage you can upload files to.
Earlier this year I learned that someone over on the shmups forum had made a custom web interface to control theirs from a smartphone using the Crosspoint’s preset functions.
I personally don’t use the presets, so with inspiration from that I made my own interface. And then I learned that Games Done Quick has something similar, but connected through a serial port instead of Ethernet.
At the bottom of this post is a link to the files I created and am using. Feel free to use them or change them to your liking.
But what if you’re not hooking up consoles with older analog signals? What if you’re using HDMI? Extron has you covered there as well.
From my searches Extron has two lines that might suit your needs. The DXP and SMX lines. I have an SMX I purchased for $200.
DXP appears to be similar to the Crosspoint line in that you can’t upgrade the number of inputs and outputs. What you see is what you get. The DXP comes in HDMI and DVI models. While both are digital signals and the physical plug can be interchanged between the two with simple pass-through adapters, DVI doesn’t carry audio so you’ll need to make sure the DXP you get can handle audio in some way or have some other device to manage your audio.
The SMX on the other hand comes in different “heights,” with the one I got being 2U (also called the 200 series). Much of the Extron equipment is designed to be mounted in a server rack, and those are measured in U.
However, unlike the Crosspoint I talked about before, the SMX does have two internal case fans. And they are LOUD and always on. I didn’t take any audio recordings, but right away I knew I’d have to change those out. There are about 15 screws that attach the top metal plate to the Extron. Take those off and you have access to the inside.
Luckily the case fans are standard computer case fans. 60mm x 60mm x 25mm, three wires (power, ground and tach). Unfortunately these are 24 volt fans and the much quieter Noctua fans I wanted to use were 12 volt, so I had to buy some buck converters to drop the voltage down to 12 volt to run the fans correctly.
Now, you could run this thing with both fans disconnected. The SMX will still function throwing any errors, but my apartment gets mighty toasty in the summer (thank you, Japan and your lack of insulation in homes), and I didn’t want to risk this overheating or shortening its lifespan.
Anyway, if you want this to run much quieter, I would suggest replacing the stock fans immediately. But if this is gonna be in a closet or basement or something with your actual devices wires running far from it, I guess you can ignore that step.
The 2U I own has four expansion slots, and depending on the expansion card, each could take one or two slots. Mine came with an 8×4 HDMI card that occupies two slots. Just this week I purchased an 8×8 HDMI expansion card (another two slots) to bring my total to 16×12.
And just like with the Crosspoint, this has networking functionality and built-in storage, though this one came with 6 megabytes. For this I created another web interface as well (this was actually the one I did first, and then went back and redid the interface for the Crosspoint). The files for this are available at the bottom of this post.
I’ve been extremely happy with this two pieces of equipment and it has made my a/v setup much easier to use.
To download my web interface for the Crosspoint, click here. Download, extract, and upload the two files to your Crosspoint’s file management interface.
To download my web interface for the SMX, click here. Download, extract, and upload the two files to your Crosspoint’s file management interface.