The Integration Guide to HDMI Distribution

January 10, 2017

This Integration Guide was sponsored by AVProConnect and Rose Electronics as a supplement to Residential Systems, January 2017

The AV distribution ecosystem, comprised of its associate cables, matrix switchers, and extenders, has revolutionized residential integration. As we march toward even greater high definition resolutions in televisions, gaming consoles, and even music, HDMI and HDBaseT standards are poised to evolve even further, in the process addressing some of the problems (cable runs, bandwidth, etc.) that both consumers and integrators have come to accept as part of the trade off for enabling operability with the swath of HD and 4K video products on the market.

“4K UHD has had a huge impact,” said Christian Thomas, for WyreStorm Technologies. “As a technological evolution, it has required all manufacturers to get on board extremely quickly—much faster that when HD was introduced. However, much like the introduction of HD, the industry has had a number of varying standards to wait for and interpret, and confusing issues to make sense of in terms of compatibility and standardization. The UHD Alliance, Blu-ray Disc Association, HDMI 2.0, HDCP 2.2, HDR, Dolby Vision, chroma subsampling rates, color depths, and refresh rates have all contributed to the uncertainty.”

As a result, Thomas continued, “a lot of manufacturers claimed early compatibility they just can’t back up, which is leading to some of the problems now being seen as 4K content and sources are available [and] more 4K projects are installed.”

Achieving a unified standard stands alongside bandwidth as one of the greatest stumbling blocks of the technology. The full, beautiful range that UHD, 4K, HDR, and other high-definition formats afford are often thwarted by devices in a distribution system that do not support the required bandwidth needed to showcase these technologies. This is a point made clear by Matt Murray of AVProStore, when he noted that “you hear lots of numbers and monikers thrown around, like 4K60, UHD, HDR, WCG, etc., but these are all meaningless [unless] you focus on one simple number: 18Gbps throughput. If you achieve 18Gbps, you will get everything outputted by the source, and delivering game-changing video to clients is a simple matter.”

All technologies must overcome obstacles to achieve optimal performance, and those associated with AV distribution are no different. Manufacturers in the CI space know this all too well, and in addition to maintaining the relatively high standard already established, they are also looking to better address and shape what looms on the horizon.

CROWD PLEASERS

Stability, ease of installation, and interoperability are key elements of superb AV distribution systems. WyreStorm has harnessed these three elements in its low-profile EX-70-4K and EX-35-4K extenders that include functions such as Power over HDBaseT, which Thomas noted is significant to home tech pros looking to safeguard their distribution as fewer power supplies also means reduced potential points of failure in an installation. The company also has developed a SmartEDID feature on its latest H2 and incoming H2X HDBaseT matrices that can dynamically detect the display/source resolution capabilities and automatically output the highest resolution available. This functionality is also included in its scaling HDBaseT receiver to resolve issues with mixing 4K and 2K screens by downscaling UHD content to 1080/720p or upscaling incoming HD content to 4K/60Hz 4:4:4 8-bit, as required by the system.

To extend 4K at 60Hz 4:2:0 content as far as 100m with a full selection of control options, SnapAV has introduced the Binary brand, of which the Binary B-540 Series of HDBaseT extenders are standouts.

“Another example of how we have to implement certain technologies in response to 4K UHD is the audio latency issues that have been experienced between certain manufacturers of screens and signal distribution equipment,” Thomas said. “Our latest H2 HDBaseT features revised chipsets that resolve this issue. As 4K UHD is still a developing technology, new issues will emerge, so it is just up to the manufacturer to be nimble in terms of product development, given compatibility is even more important.”

HDBaseT technology is the backbone of Atlona’s matrices and extenders, including its AT-UHD-EX-100CEA-KIT, which was designed specifically for residential systems that require audio from the TV to be amplified by an AVR near the set-top box, and its range of UHD-PRO3 switchers.

“With the capability of transporting 4K video, uncompressed audio, RS-232, IR, and ethernet, all over a single Category 5 cable and to do it reliably, our HDBaseT products line has definitely been the most popular,” said Joshua Castro, Atlona’s product manager. “With the simple connection of an ethernet cable, devices like our AT-UHD-EX-100CEA-KIT with point-to-point HDMI, IP, IR, RS-232, and audio return channel are immensely popular. Other solutions like our AT-UHD-PRO3 line of matrixes, allow customers the flexibility of creating a whole-house AV distribution system from five rooms to up to 20 rooms, transporting 4K video and HDCP 2.2 content all over Category 5 cable. With less than 10 microseconds of latency, HDBaseT allows gaming integration to become a painless addition.

When HDBaseT was introduced, Key Digital, led by founder and president Mike Tsinberg, became early adopters and used HDBaseT exclusively on all of its Cat-5/6 driving products, as well as reinforced HDBaseT with its EDID control and full buffer technologies. These features are best underscored in the company’s KD-X611ProK HDBaseT/HDMI via single Cat-5e/6 (Tx+Rx Set) extenders, equipped with audio de-embedding, EDID control, hot plug control, long-range mode, a full buffer system, HDMI pass-through, as well as support for Ultra HD/4K and HDCP2.2.

“For gamers, HDBaseT is very advantageous because of very small latency that is paramount for fast-moving games,” Tsinberg said. “For integrators creating home theater, smart home, or commercial installations, HDBaseT offers very popular and key control interfaces such as RS-232, IR, and TCP/IP. HDBaseT is also upwardly compatible to 4K signals and offers very reasonable connectivity distances up to 330 feet.”

To extend 4K at 60Hz 4:2:0 content as far as 100m with a full selection of control options, SnapAV has introduced the Binary brand, of which the Binary B-540 Series of HDBaseT extenders are standouts.

“The B-500 series has been replaced by the new 4K-capable B-540 series with significant improvements in reliability, interoperability, video/audio quality, and ESD/surge protection,” said Brian Holden, SnapAV’s director of product development. “All Binary products are created and tested with one primary goal in mind: allowing dealers to confidently integrate them into every job, knowing they will deliver the critical audio/video performance their customers want, are produced under the highest quality standards, are always available for fast delivery, and are priced to fit most budgets.”

AVProStore’s flagship 18Gbps 8x8 Matrix switch, the AC-MX88-AUHD is designed to support ultra-high bandwidth.

AVProStore, in answer to greater signal throughput, has created its field tester Murideo line, which features UltraHD HDMI distribution products along with its flagship 18Gbps 8x8 Matrix switch, the AC-MX88-AUHD—a unit designed to support ultra-high bandwidth. It also features individual scalers on each output, so lower resolutions can be sent to older televisions and components without “dumbing down the whole system,” Murray noted.

The emergence of 18G content has initiated a product design philosophy and timeline management shift at Metra Home Theater Group, where the introduction of the HDMGA1 “Gigabit Accelerator” is an aid for integrators to quickly upgrade many of their jobs to full 18Gbs by boosting passive HDMI cables to 18Gbps in runs up to 15 meters.

Metra’s HDM-GA1 “Gigabit Accelerator” is an aid for integrators to quickly upgrade many of their jobs to full 18Gbs by boosting passive HDMI cables to 18Gbps in runs up to 15 meters.

“An existing job can be updated to support to the full 18Gbps as needed by the new HDMI 2.0A devices,” explained Brent McCall, Metra Home’s product manager. “We followed the Gigabit Accelerator up with our ‘first-to-market’ Velox active HDMI cable that fully supports the 18G environment also to a distance of 15 meters. In recent months, we introduced the newest Velox products, an HDMI Pre-Terminated Fiber System capable of going up to 100 meters and the new Velox Passive HDMI Cable that will take the 18G signal to a distance of 8 meters without any added electronics. When integrators add the Gigabit Accelerator to the Velox Passive HDMI Cable, it is good to a length of 22 meters.”

KanexPro’s 4K HDMI Extender over HDBaseT 2.0 (EXT-HDBTKVM100) is unique in its ability to pass USB 2.0 for videoconferencing, Skype calls, and gaming.

KanexPro’s new line of Ultra Slim HDMI Distribution amplifiers now supports 4K at 60Hz with YUV 4:4:4 at 10 bit, HDR, and a bandwidth of 18Gbps (mainly HDMI 2.0 specs), while the company’s 4K HDMI Extender over HDBaseT 2.0 (EXT-HDBTKVM100) is a unique extender for its ability to pass USB 2.0 for videoconferencing, Skype calls, and gaming.

“The 4K HDMI Extender over HDBaseT 2.0 is ideal for high-end gaming and smart homes, allowing users to extend their keyboard and mouse from their basement entertainment rack to the display,” said Kashyap Khetia, product marketing manager for KanexPro. “In addition, it’s powered over HDBaseT, meaning that only one power supply would be needed from one side to extend this HDMI distribution with USB 2.0.”

Zigen’s POE-70 Extender supports more advanced 4K 18G performance, and features a full 12V phoenix block connector to power a multitude of more advanced peripherals.

Zigen is set to deliver a host of connectivity products that will support more advanced 4K 18G performance while encouraging the use of differing transmission platforms (AV-over-IP, fiber, Cat-x cable, etc.), but the company is keen to highlight its POE-70 extender.

“It’s full IR, which means it’s full-band IR,” said Evan Rapp, vice president of marketing for Zigen. “It will talk to virtually anything. It’s full duplexing RS-232, so there are no concerns about communications. And, we were the first to provide a full 12V phoenix block connector to power a multitude of more advanced peripherals. Because of our design, the EDID systems are empowered to work more seamlessly, which reduces handshaking and performance issues.”

Crestron’s 8x8 DigitalMedia Switcher offers a system design program that can zero in on the endpoints tailored to the client’s needs and allows customization of the chassis for scalable installations.

Crestron’s 8x8 DigitalMedia Switcher offers a system design program that can zero in on the endpoints tailored to the client’s needs and allows customization of the chassis for scalable installations.

“[4K] has had an impact on video distribution, as the physical infrastructure required to get a signal from point A to point B has to do with the issue of copy protection or the amount of bandwidth required,” said Michael Turner, Crestron’s RSM residential. “As the bandwidth increases, the distance you can send the signal decreases. To compensate for these new challenges, Crestron offers copper, fiber, and streaming solutions to achieve greater lengths.”

HDanywhere noted that its hardware is currently on an 18-month cycle with minor revisions applied at 12 months. This is a measure that HDanywhere’s technical director Daniel Adams said ensures the company remains competitive while acknowledging the main drawback: the inability to mass produce or strategically plan long-term while “key players are in a state of flux.”

“We think installers are also feeling this uncertainty, and it might not come as any surprise that our most popular multiroom/matrix, to date, is our MHUB 2K (1080p/Full HD) system,” Adams said. “It doesn’t have HDCP 2.2 nor can it support 4K/UHD resolutions. However, the system is rock-solid with regard to its stability, and it operates within established and well-understood norms that people can understand easily. We have only just superseded it with our new MHUB 4K (4K/UHD/HDR) series, but we think it demonstrates that consistency, stability, and solid performance can compete with specification any day.”

STABLE SPECS, PLEASE

AV distribution systems are significantly more dynamic than even two years ago, with 4K and UHD gaining traction among end users, but there is still much more to be done to improve the performance of HDMI technology within integrated projects. The wish list is varied and long for what future iterations of the standard should include, but CI manufacturers are unanimous in wanting greater lengths without signal degradation as well as stability and unity in the specs that the standard already supports.

“Consistency is an issue, and HDMI LLC needs to enforce requirements as part of their specification,” Adams said. “There are too many variables in the spec, like CEC, for example, which should be a standard but isn’t. It is a specification that can be ignored entirely or implemented the way any manufacturer would like. From our perspective, as a manufacturer of a one-size-fits-all device, it will greatly simplify the technical challenges when building or servicing a multiroom/matrix product. More importantly, it would give customers the confidence in compatibility between devices and much less ‘random’ HDMI issues caused by the interoperability of different implementations.”

Adams’ concerns were echoed by KanexPro’s Khetia, who said that he’s eager to see further developments in a “reliable 4K technology that provides integrators with long-term solutions in terms of signal distribution for whole home and the growth and standardization of 4K content. While there are many solutions available to integrators now, many of the solutions aren’t as reliable and don’t solve every problem. It will be interesting to see the development of 4K and beyond, and how many brands deal with this new adaptive and must-have technology.”

Llanor Alleyne is a contributing editor to Residential Systems.

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