The Latest Developments in Custom Integration Signal Distribution Products
Integrated systems, as developed and honed in the residential integration channel, have evolved into beautiful, desirable commodities. Elaborate, complex, and exceedingly functional, professional whole-home automation and entertainment systems have set themselves apart in an age of buttonless innovation and smaller components, often building on these newer developments to maintain their status as the ultimate choice for discerning consumers.
Behind and inside every unique custom integration project, however, is a nerve system of hubs, routers, and switchers that deliver valuable information that is necessary to the full functioning of the whole. Much like the human nervous system, this network of information goes virtually unnoticed until a vital organ—the heart, for example—fails. In the CI channel, such failures can be costly, especially to integrators who have staked their businesses on the smooth operability of their systems’ designs—making it even more important that every pulse, signal, and command fulfills its stated role at a superior level.
AMX products, such as the Enova-DGX16 SmartScale, are designed to intelligently deliver video perfectly scaled for each connected display.
Achieving communication between components without loss of signal integrity has been a goal for every manufacturer currently working in consumer electronics. Distance runs have been a considerable roadblock in this endeavor, leaving signal product manufacturers to simultaneously work on improving the quality of their wired products, while continuing to apply newer technologies, such as HDBaseT, to their wireless offerings.
At Crestron, the focus has been on developing AV distribution products that deliver quality images and sound over both copper and fiber cable. “Many manufactures have the ability to distribute AV over one or the other, but our engineered solutions have interoperability between both,” noted Michael DiBella, Crestron’s solutions marketing manager for AV products. “This allows for complete AV distribution over both long and short distances on the same platform. Bringing this capability one step further, we can also distribute HDCP-encrypted content over both copper and fiber on the same platform.
DiBella pointed to Crestron’s DM scaler as the ultimate example of this dual capability. Part of the company’s popular DigitalMedia range of control and automation products, the DM-RMC Scaler C is a one-box interface solution for a single display device, moving HD video, audio, and Ethernet over copper or a fiber optic cable without any compression or repeaters.
Accell introduced its UltraCat HD HDMI over Cat-5e extenders during CES 2011, at a time when HDBaseT technology, developed by Valens Semiconductor, was becoming the buzzword in signal distribution circles. Michael Weizer, director of marketing for Accell, provided an explanation of why when he noted that for sites pre-wired with Cat-5 cable, baluns are the go-to solution, but they often do not work in specific installations.
AVocation Systems’ Mountain Series line of HDMI matrix switchers began with a simple 8x8 HDMI matrix router and were expanded to enable the addition of either eight or 16 I/O’s of analog and digital audio.
“These inconsistencies are not just the baluns’ fault,” Weizer said. “The quality of the category cable, the quality of the field termination, and the RJ45 connector combined with environmental issues, such as signal killing electromagnetic interference (EMI), all put up barriers to the successful transmission of long-length HDMI signal transfer. What many don’t realize is that it’s a marvel that baluns work at all.”
The UltraCat extender, which incorporates an HDBaseT chip set, serves as Accell’s counterpunch to this issue, Weizer said, delivering point-to-point high-speed data transmission over a single Cat-5e cable up to 328 feet (100m).
Atlona has integrated the HDBaseT “Lite” chipset into its AT-PRO3HD44M matrix switcher, which is often used in smaller applications.
“[It] still provides most of the capabilities of HDBaseT and offers up to 70 meters (228 feet) of a single UTP Cat-5/6/7,” said Mike Grubb, national sales manager for Atlona. “This single UTP carries two-way RS-232 serial commands, bidirectional IR, HDMI up to 1080p quality, and POH.”
For its latest switching products, AMX has taken an all-in-one approach to multimedia distribution throughout the connected home network. “Instead of individual AV components like a controller or switcher, the new Enova DVX and DGX are total AV solutions in compact units with a controller, switcher, transcoder, intelligent scaling, multi-format inputs, local and remote distribution, and more,” said Adam Gershon, AMX’s residential product manager.
AMX has also incorporated a couple of proprietary technologies into these switching products. According to Gershon, SmartScale is designed to intelligently deliver video perfectly scaled for each connected display, eliminating integration challenges faced when encountering displays with varying resolutions, while InstaGate Pro addresses key constraints and delays created by HDMI/HDCP.
Gefen has gone a different route, implementing its own Fast Switch Technology (FST) into all of its switchers using HDMI. Hagai Gefen, president and CEO, described FST as a technology that speeds the HDCP handshaking process.
“With FST, those 10 seconds have been reduced to zero when switching sources,” Gefen noted. “High-definition video appears on the display immediately with no latency.”
DVIGear’s modular MXP series of digital matrix routing switchers enable I/O configurations from 9x9 up to 80x80 and the ability to accept many cable types, including copper, Cat-5, optical cables with various types of connectors.
The proprietary technology is best highlighted by Gefen’s 8x8 CrossPoint Matrix for HDMI, a rack-mountable matrix with built-in EDID management, local front-panel control, IR remote access, RS-232 serial control, IP control, support for DVI sources and displays, and the ability of users to select fast or slow FST mode.
With the goal of alleviating the pains integrators feel when trying to distribute audio and HDMI, AVocation Systems has introduced its Mountain Series line of HDMI matrix switchers. “We started with a simple 8x8 HDMI matrix router and have expanded it to include all kinds of options for the dealers to choose from at different price points,” explained Trent Mulligan, AVocation Systems’ sales and marketing manager. “In addition to the 8x8 HDMI, you can add either eight or 16 I/Os of analog and digital audio. The audio I/Os offer the integrator independent routing of audio/ video, as well as volume control for the analog outputs.”
If even more functionality is required, the integrator has the option to add conversion to the audio, meaning you can strip the audio out of HDMI and route it through any other format— analog, digital, or HDMI.
DVIGear’s modular MXP series of digital matrix routing switchers enable I/O configurations from 9x9 up to 80x80. With the ability to accept many cable types, including copper, Cat-5, optical cables with various types of connectors, the MXP series features copper cable inputs with built-in equalization that support direct connection of cables up to 197 feet (60mm), while offering EDID management, pixel accurate reclocking on outputs for minimum jitter, and USB, RS232, TCP/IP LAN and a web browser interface for remote system management and control.
In response to customer feedback, Intelix will be debuting the new Flex Matrix line at next month’s CEDIA EXPO. The Flex products, as noted by Cameron Smith, general manager of the company, are a consolidation of several technologies into one device.
Gefen’s proprietary technology is best highlighted by its 8x8 CrossPoint Matrix for HDMI, a rack-mountable matrix with built-in EDID management, local front-panel control, IR remote access, RS-232 serial control, IP control, support for DVI sources and displays, and the ability of users to select fast or slow FST mode.
“The Flex line provides you with a matrix router and cards that let you do twisted pair outputs, HDBaseT outputs, scaling at the inputs, and analog-to-digital conversion all in one box,” Smith said. “These products are unique in that they let contractors select exactly what they need for specific applications without having to make any compromises. Plus, since they are card-based, they can be adjusted for the size of any job to be 8x8, 4x4, 4x8, or whatever the configuration needs to be.”
Focusing on the delivery of 3D content, IOGear’s 3D Complete+ (GHDSSW4) goes beyond the usual functionality of a 4x1 HDMI switcher. Without the use of software, the GHDSSW4 converts 2D media (DVDS, Blu-ray, TV sporting events, home videos, etc.) to 3D, with user-defined controls that allow adjustments of the 3D level and real-time fine-tuning of pop-out and depth effects. IOGear pitches GHDSSW4 to integrators, with the company noting that “electronic systems contractors can now sell 3D projectors and displays with the IOGEAR 3D Complete+ as an accessory value add-on and literally open up entire video libraries for 3D viewing.
DVDO also has a genre-eschewing product on the market in its DVDO AIR HDMI-replacing wireless HD connection system. Fully HDMI compliant, capable of 1080p video, 7.1 surround sound, 3D and CEC (using a TV’s remote to control the source), DVDO AIR also integrates with DVDO HD switching and scaling components.
“The industry has been trying to find a reliable, no-compromise wireless solution for years, and while there are numerous systems on the market, none have provided a true cable replacement until now,” said Joseph Lias, DVDO’s president. “Other solutions require compression, color space manipulation, or some other degradation of the audio or video to support wireless transmission of HD content. DVDO Air is the latest addition to DVDO’s innovative product line, leveraging the WirelessHD standard.”
As it is the central purpose of AV distribution, it is only natural that better, greater resolution is the defining innovation focus for manufacturers in the channel. This means intense development of products that support 4K and significantly improve the quality of IP-based media distribution.
“We see an on-going trend for higher resolutions and color bit depth,” said Steven Barlow, president of DVIGear, noting that this trend will drive digital bit rates higher and pose more challenges for high-speed digital signal switching and distribution.
Current 1080p HDMI signals with 8-bit color operate at aggregate bit rates (R, G and B) of approximately 4.5 Gbps. Barlow pointed out that next-generation 4K systems (30 Hz) will operate at double this bit rate (approximately 9 Gbps). “While it will take some years for the new 4K format to fully catch on, doubling the bit rate of the HDMI signals will be a game changer as most equipment and cables installed earlier will simply not work at these data rates,” he noted.
Barlow finds support for this vision in DiBella, who said Crestron is preparing to further support 4K resolutions over the internet and points to YouTube as the only online hosting service to allow streaming of 4K videos. “To support the distribution of 4K resolutions, we have built our switchers to be able to stream this resolution,” he said. “The most common trend driving this is the increased focus on video over IP, driven by decreasing cost of complex high-performance networks.”
Based in Brooklyn, NY, Llanor Alleyne is a contributing editor to Residential Systems.
SOLUTIONS, HOUSTON, TX
What features do you value in routers, switchers, or hubs?
Atlona has been our primary source for integration products for all of our installations. We especially appreciate the new features included in the AT-PRO3HD44M, such as the ability to power the receiver baluns using PoH (power over HDBaseT), the local coaxial audio output per zone, and the EDID-friendly nature of HDBaseT. This 4x4 matrix with its 1U rack mount and slick case design fits well with other high-end products we are installing. Atlona has become our partner in integration products by setting themselves apart as a leader in design and functionality.
JB&A, SAN RAFAEL, CA
What features do you value in routers, switchers, or hubs?
One of the best features of all of Gefen’s products is rock solid reliability. Gefen, having been at the forefront of many new developments, including wireless and digital signage technologies, has a solid reputation for quality in this industry that is well earned and well deserved. Though the playing field has changed radically in the past few years, our resellers know that Gefen equipment is backed by years of experience, unparalleled engineering expertise and frankly, one of the best technical support teams in the business.