Reviewed: November 30, 2004
A few years ago only game reviewers and rich people had to worry about the logistics of hooking multiple game systems up to a single TV, but now that game systems are coming down in price (or more people are getting rich) there is a growing need for system switchboxes. And now that next generation gaming is going Hi-Def the Pelican HD System Selector couldnít have come at a better time. But is there really a demand for a ďbudgetĒ switcher in what is considered a ďrich manís universeĒ?
Itís rather ironic that this new piece of hardware came across my desk for review when it did. Just last month I upgraded to a new HD projection TV and even though the back of the TV had more connections that I had ever seen, it still wasnít enough once I factored in a DVD player, HD receiver, and three game systems.
I started calling around to the specialty stores and checking online prices, and component cable switchboxes were all running around $100, at least for the good ones. At $32 (less at most stores like Wal-mart) this budget switchbox from Pelican does just about the same thing as those other expensive switchboxes but at a third of the price. Although, to get that price down certain sacrifices had to be made, and we are left with a box that only gets you halfway to perfection.
The HD System Selector comes with everything you need assuming you already have the game systems and the HD cable kits for each respective console. The HD kits use RGB cables to split the video signal allowing for a much sharper image and progressive scan support if the game (and your TV) support it. Even if you havenít upgraded all of your consoles to component cables, the HD System Selector will still work for you, as it also supports composite (yellow cable) and S-Video connections.
The switchbox is a compact and relatively attractive design that will blend into your stack of gaming and AV equipment. Itís primarily black with a silver finished front and flip-down panel for access to the front video jacks.
Now comes my only and only complaint with this entire device Ė and itís a BIG one, big enough to knock several points from the score. There is no fiber optic (TOS Link) switcher on this box. Come on. If you are running Hi-Def then you are most certainly running Dolby Digital, DTS, or both. TOS Link is built into the PS2 and itís also built-into the HD adapter for the Xbox. Itís also included in just about any DVD player over $60.
Pelican does offer a ďProĒ version of this switchbox for about $100 that does support digital audio, which only begs the question, ďWhy make one that doesnít have it?Ē Sure, you can shave off a few bucks but the end result is a box that nobody is going to want. HDTV and digital audio go hand in hand, and anyone who succumbs to this deceptively low price is going to be disappointed.
Overlooking the sound component in a switchbox that is obviously targeted toward high-end gamers with high-end systems is a major screw-up. Fortunately for me, my AV receiver has enough optical inputs to support all my consoles, HD unit, and DVD player but Iím having to use quirky inputs like AUX, TAPE2, and CD for my various consoles. It would have been so much simpler to have everything junction at the box and go into one input on my receiver.
Ironically, the HD System Selector actually has jacks for CAT#5 Ethernet, which is of dubious value. Chances are you already have a hub or router near your game systems if you are running two or more consoles online, or you just swap the cable out the back like I do. Given the choice of switching Internet access or digital sound, Iíll choose sound any day, and Iím sure everyone else would agree.
At first glance the back of the box looks a bit overwhelming but everything is color-coded and itís virtually impossible to make a mistake. The box comes with all of the cables (not exactly Monster brand quality but adequate) required to plug into your TV, so all you have to do is plug each system into the box and label the inputs with the included nameplates. Each input supports Component, Composite, S-Video, Ethernet, and stereo audio. There are three inputs on the back and one on the front.
There is no remote control, so you have to manually push the buttons to switch devices. This can be a bit clumsy in low light conditions since the box is neither powered nor lit. The lack of power also means there is no amplification of the video signal which can result in a slight loss of video quality if you were to compare it to a direct connection. Itís probably only noticeable on HDTVís, but then again, if you need this box you probably have an HDTV, or at least a relatively high-quality flat screen.
There is also no up-conversion so you only get out of the box what you put into it. You canít use an S-Video connection for your GameCube and turn it into composite simply by passing it through this box; not than anyone should expect such a service from a simple switchbox.
The Pelican HD System Selector is a big step in the right direction, but it only addresses half of the high-end gamerís needs. This particular model could have used one additional ďrearĒ input and support for digital sound and it would have been a perfect 10, must-have addition to any Hi-Def gamerís setup. Then again, thatís what the Pro version is for. Just reading the info for the Pro version of this unit, Iíd give that device a perfect 10 on specs alone.
As it is, without digital audio switching the entire thing is arguably worthless unless you are that rare gamer with an expensive TV and no surround sound system to back it up. Either way, Iíd pass on this budget box and go with their $100 System Selector Pro model that does offer the audio switching. Splurge now. Chances are youíll have digital audio someday and youíll need that extra connectivity.