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Belkin OmniView SOHO DVI/USB KVM Switch Review

June 15, 2004

Belkin OmniView SOHO DVI/USB KVM 2 Port SwitchWell, there’s a mouthful of acronyms for you.  For those unfamiliar, a KVM switch is a device to switch a Keyboard, Video monitor, and Mouse between several computers.  DVI in this case stands for “Digital Visual Interface”, a standard for connecting computers to (mostly) LCD monitors, and of course USB is Universal Serial Bus and SOHO stands for “Small Office – Home Office”.

Regular readers may recall that a short time back I ended up replacing a dying old Viewsonic 19” CRT with the excellent Princeton VL1916 19” LCD monitor.  Well, of course one thing leads to another, and I decided that it’d be convenient to be able to use this with both my desktop and my PowerBook.

I’ve used KVM switches in the past, but those were the dark days of the technology—not-too-bright mainly mechanical switches, usually with a lot of quality loss on the VGA signal. They were annoying, but handy under certain circumstances.

Times have changed…


Both my desktop and the PowerBook have the option of putting out a DVI signal, and I’ve now got a monitor that will take DVI input.  Why this is important requires a little explanation…

VGA signals are analog signals.  In simple terms, your video card converts the digital image produced by your computer into a series of voltages for Red, Green and Blue.  This signal is then converted by the CRT into the image.  The VGA signal is susceptible to noise and interference just like any analog signal.

LCDs, on the other hand, are inherently digital.  If you hand a VGA signal to an LCD monitor, it has to convert the analog signal (back) into a digital image.  With DVI, your video card sends a digital signal direct to the LCD monitor, skipping the conversion to analog and back to digital, and giving you a “truer” picture without the “interpretation” of all that conversion.

Also important, it means that the signal between the two is digital, and not susceptible to the same kind of interference as analog.

Consider an analog cordless phone versus a digital cordless phone—with the analog phone, you get all of the “radio” noise—static, hissing, etc.  With digital, it mostly either works 100%, or (with the exception of some artifacts at the very fringe) it totally fails.  This is because digital signals can be error corrected.

What all of this means is that a DVI KVM switch, unlike it’s VGA brethren, should put out an image pretty much identical to what you’d get without it.

So, I decided to give one a try.  I also wanted to use USB for keyboard and mouse, since both the Mac and the PC support them.  This narrowed down the playing field considerably.  The few KVMs that support DVI and USB are fairly expensive, in the $200 – $400 range.  The Belkin two-port switch (model F1DD102U), however is routinely available via mail order suppliers for $150 – $175.

Note: Bear in mind that there are some hidden costs to a KVM switch—you also have to factor in the cost of DVI and USB cables to the switch, and any additional cables you need to hook up the monitor, keyboard and mouse.  Belkin also offers a cable pack for this purpose, but it’s considerably more expensive than purchasing quality cables separately.

The unit itself is nice, albeit a little “exotic shaped”.  The back cover lifts off to reveal the connector bay, and serves to force the cables into a nice bundle when it’s in place.

The switch takes DVI, USB (1 or 2), and stereo audio connections from each machine, and has a single DVI output, Keyboard USB connector, Mouse USB connector, “Other” switched USB connector, and stereo audio out.  The “other” connector is a nice touch that allows you to switch additional USB devices, such as printers, etc.

Setup is easy; run your cables, plug them in and go.  There is no software to install (the unit comes with a special serial cable to re-flash the ROM, but my unit came with the current release). 

Switching between the computers can be done by pressing the switch on the unit corresponding to the machine you want to use, or by pressing the scroll lock key twice, and hitting the up or down arrows.  Switching is NOT instantaneous—the screen blacks for several seconds when you switch.

Video quality is as good as I expected—I see no difference between using the KVM or not.  I’m a trifle disappointed that the unit is not transparent to the USB keyboard, however.  Since I wanted both PC and Mac functionality on the keyboard, I’d gone with a Logitech keyboard that supported both.  Unfortunately, none of the “specialty” functions on the keyboard are supported—in fact, Logitech’s driver can’t find a Logitech keyboard on either machine.  I presume this is due to the unit filtering the keyboard output looking for the scroll-lock switch sequence.

This is a particular pain with the Mac, since the keyboard maps Command to the “windows” key and Options to the Alt key—ass-backwards from what I want, something the Logitech driver could have corrected. The solution to this is the excellent little freeware uControl pref panel, which can swap these keys on a keyboard by keyboard basis (meaning the notebook’s keyboard stays correct).  It can also be used to disable the Caps Lock, a Good Thing™.

The only other problem I’ve found is that once in a blue moon, when I switch to the PC it doesn’t find all of its USB devices—most notably, the mouse.  This would appear to be due to the real aggressive power management settings I’m using, and at the moment, I’m just tolerating it.  Often it will pick the mouse back up in a few seconds.  If not, hey, it’s Windows—it’s probably overdue for a reboot anyway…

One thing I’ve not mentioned is the audio switching, mostly because I haven’t tried it—I have both machines tied into my speakers, meaning that I can start a playlist on iTunes on the PowerBook, and switch over to the Windows box and still listen.  I can only assume that the audio switching works as advertised, but I can’t say anything regarding how it affects sound quality, if it does at all.  If you’re picky about sound quality, then you probably are outputting 5.1 audio, in which case switching two channels isn’t going to work well for you anyway.

All in all, the unit functions very well; if you’re in the market for a DVI/USB KVM switch, I’d have to say that this unit is well worth your time to give it a try.

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Comments

113 Responses to “Belkin OmniView SOHO DVI/USB KVM Switch Review”

  1. Skog on June 30th, 2005 10:48 am

    Tom Cleary asked:
    Does anyone have knowledge of a usb sharing device for sharing a keyboard between two computers?
    I got an USB hub from Maplin that switches between two inputs. I am using it to share the keyboard between a Powermac and an Imac at the moment and it works without any problems.
    It is labeled as “4 Port USB 2.0 Switching Hub”, it is their own brand I think. It is a powered unit but I use it without the power attached as it is connected to another powered USB hub.

    http://www.maplin.co.uk/module.aspx?ModuleNo=35658&doy=30m6

    4 Port USB 2.0 Switching Hub

    I have been waiting for prices to come down before taking the step of buying a KVM dvi usb switcher box. After reading this page I have decided to abandon dvi switching as a strategy for multiple computer use. It appears that the technical challenges are just to great. I cannot under any circumstance risk damaging my graphic designer LCD. The way forward could be to add another LCD that has an analogue input and find a reliable analogue vga Kvm switching unit. Can anybody recommend a reliable vga Kvm with a 3 way switch that uses usb?

    Skog

  2. Dino on June 30th, 2005 2:40 pm

    This one is for all you PC and Mac owners!

    The saga is finally over…I currently own a 23in Apple Cinema Display HD that I use hooked up to my 12in Powerbook and just recently upgraded my pc and graphics card. The problem was that I wanted to use my PC and Powerbook with my Apple display and I was sick and tired of swapping out the cables. Here’s what happened.

    Day 1
    I went out and bought a Belkin OmniView SOHO Series 2-Port KVM Switch with Audio (Model #F1DD102U) for about $200 in store. I’m sure you can find them cheaper online but I was too excited to try and get this thing working. Luckily, this computer store has an account with Belkin so I only have to wait two business days to get it in store.

    Day 2
    I figure I’ll be needing a USB keyboard and Mouse so I go out to best buy and buy myself the Microsoft Wireless Optical Desktop Elite for about $90. Still waiting for the KVM switch…

    Day 3
    The Belkin KVM switch finally got shipped in and I am all excited to get this thing working with my PC, Mac, and display. So I’m getting ready to set everything up and open the box and realize I didn’t have any DVI cables to hook up my computers to this switch. Duh…

    Day 4
    Go out and get DVI cables (about $25 a piece) for this thing and go home to realize that I need USB cables also…

    Day 5
    Go out and buy USB cables (about $20 a piece). Finally! I have all the cables I need. So I go to plug in the DVI cable from my display into the KVM switch and it turns out that the connector on the end of the Apple display is too wide for the back of the KVM switch. The case design of the Belkin KVM switch is too small to fit anything but a regular sized DVI connector. Figures…

    Day 6
    Go out and get a Female to Male DVI cable so I can just extend the cable of the Apple Display. This way the connector will fit into the case of the Belin KVM switch. I get home and try it out and it worked! Now onto the setup. First thing was first. Got to get the PC working with the display. So after I hook up the display cable to the KVM switch, I hook up a DVI cable from my PC to the switch, then a USB cable from the PC to the switch. Then I hook up the receiver to my wireless keyboard/mouse set into the keyboard port of the kvm switch. Turn the computer on and got it working. The box of the KVM switch says it only supports resolutions up to 1600×1200, but turns out that it works on my Cinema Display (1920×1200). So I finally got my PC to work on my Cinema Display. (Getting the right graphics card for the pc to work with the Apple display was another issue in itself) Everything is great except that only the keyboard works. So just to test it out, I unplug the desktop receiver and plug it into the mouse port of the KVM switch. Now the mouse works and the keyboard doesn’t. So now I try plugging the desktop receiver into one of the empty USB extension ports in the KVM switch and finally both the keyboard and mouse work. Except that really annoying beeping sound is still going. So I plug in an old USB mouse into the keyboard port of the KVM switch and that stopped the noise. Now onto getting the Powerbook working… I plug in a DVI cable into the KVM switch and start to plug the other end of the DVI cable into the mini DVI adapter that came with the Powerbook. Of course, something has to go wrong. The mini DVI adapter and the DVI cable I bought aren’t compatible. Turns out that the DVI cable I bought was DVI-I and the mini DVI adapter is DVI-D. Back to the store tomorrow…

    Day 7
    Go out and get a DVI-D cable. Get home and plug it into the KVM switch and powerbook and everything was plugged in to both computers at this point. The KVM switch worked. I haven’t tested the hotkeys to switch computers yet but I figure as long as the buttons on the front of the KVM switch work, then it’s fine with me. The only thing that did annoy me was that I had to have an extra USB mouse plugged into the keyboard port of the KVM switch just to stop it from beeping. So I do some research and find out that there’s a firmware update to the KVM switch. There’s a ‘No keyboard present’ firmware update to stop it from beeping. Of course my computer doesn’t have a parallel port to do the update so I have to bring it to work the next day…

    Day 8
    Bring the KVM switch to work and plug it in using the parallel cable that it came with. I kept getting an error every time I tried updating it though. After messing with it a while and emails from Belkin reps, I decided to just plug it in back home and leave the extra mouse plugged into it. I figured, after all this hassle the past week, as long as it worked, I would be happy. So I go home and plug everything back in to get it working. I found this PS/2 to USB adapter that I had laying around and plugged the adapter into the the Keyboard port of the KVM switch instead of using a mouse and it actually stopped it from beeping. So finally, after 8 days of this crap, the KVM switch finally works and it works well I might add.

    I hope this helps anyone looking to get this Belkin KVM switch working. Enjoy!

  3. chris on August 9th, 2005 3:58 pm

    I have a 20″ Apple Cinema Display which is on a powermac g5. I also haev a PC witha Radeon 9700 pro (DVI OUT). I was interested in purchasing a KVM switch recently and as stated previously, the most cost efficient alternative is the Belkin. I emailed their tech support before even finding this great site and I heard that there is still currently issues with the Apple Cinema Displays. They replied fairly quickly and stated that it should be fixed in a month or so. (Sounds like it won’t be fixed for longer than that however.) I requested to be updated upon the fix so hopefully I will keep you guys updated as to when it is properly fixed for ACD (and I imagine all the problems that are encountered with MAC users and the Belkin). I’ll ask them to take a look at the problems encountered on this page and hopefully get a better response.

  4. Susan Gasper on August 17th, 2005 7:14 am

    I recently purchased the Belkin SOHO with the 1600×1200 to connect my G5 and pc to the 23″ HD Cinema Widescreen. What I see when I am viewing my mac side is yellow dots in some parts of the images (that were not there before, I loose some clarity, and some of my graphics are strangly bring in other data. Basically, it makes the beautiful screen look bad. Do you have any suggestions – do I need to find a switch that will use higher resolution?

  5. Jon-J on August 17th, 2005 2:32 pm

    So Belkin is out of the question… I found a unit by IOGear that looks promising, but very similar physically to the ATEN. Does anyone have any experience with the IOgear?

    thx,
    JJ

  6. Jeremy on September 16th, 2005 7:27 am

    I have been looking at the Iogear as well.It includes all of the necessaru cables and should have no issues fitting the wider than usual Apple Cinema Display connector.

    Here is a link over at NewEgg: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.asp?Item=N82E16817107456

    I’ll let one of you brave souls test it out first. 😉

  7. Alphadog on September 18th, 2005 7:49 pm

    The Iogear unit I have is the is GCS1762 (dual monitor DVI KVM). It’s crap for anyone with NVidia4 chipsets on their motherboard. The video was good, but the USB stuttering on any port was a show-stopper for me.

  8. Jeff on September 22nd, 2005 1:30 pm

    I have the F1DD102U . I’m having the same problem where when a 20″ Cinema Display ADC is connected to a PowerBook, 12″ or 15″ the unit powers off. I am having Belkin send me a replacement based on the comments. Has anyone found a solution to this?

  9. DocDragon on October 29th, 2005 9:35 pm

    Gosh, I’m so glad I found this page and to hear about the difficulties and problems with DVI-KVM switches. I was considering an AddLogix or Aten KVM switch until I found this page. There seems to be some hope, though, with the Avocent SwitchView. homePCnetwork has tested the problematic Belkin and also recently the Avocent SwitchView. Find the review here: http://www.homepcnetwork.com/hdgrvwavocentkvmf.htm

    I hope this helps ;).

    DD

  10. Margaret Tyler on November 12th, 2005 9:48 am

    Looking for a reliable KVM PS/2 switch that will support a Logitech USB trackball connected with a usb-ps/2 adapter.

  11. M. McCulloch on February 4th, 2006 2:37 pm

    Given the issues with video noise, even with DVI switching, I still think the best course is to buy a monitor with multiple video inputs and switch using the monitor’s functions. That’s what I do since my VGA KVM switcher seriously degrades the video signal — and DVI KVM reviews indicate similar problems with video switching from noise to black screens.

    Just switch the keyboard/mouse through a USB switcher. So switching is then a two-button affair, but not having to deal with video noise is worth it IMO.

    Why doesn’t Apple provide more than one input connector on their pricey displays? That is the ONE factor keeping me away from a purchase and the reason I’ll probably stick with Viewsonic.

  12. [OvO]wl on June 21st, 2009 11:12 am

    Hi

    i am currently using a “Belkin 2-Port KVM Switch with Audio Support and Built-In Cabling”. You know the one that’s black and looks like a squid! I can’t use this KVM anymore – it’s driving me nuts.

    Basically I only have 1 issue with it, but it really is annoying. It derives it’s power from the USB socket and uses this power to determine if a computer is on. If it decides the computer is not on it automatically switches to the other computer and doesn’t register itself with the computer if it assumes that it isn’t on. This autoswitch feature is _REALLY_ annoying. I can’t access computer BIOS, and it has locked me out of my computer many times so i have had to SSH in to restart it.

    Can anyone recommend me a cheep 4 port USB & VGA KVM that doesn’t auto switch please? I can’t take this anymore…

  13. Angel Christ on March 2nd, 2011 11:51 pm

    I just purchase this KVM Switches and I like this product very much, its working I think its good to work with.

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