HDBaseT distribution: What you need to know

posted on Monday, 17th December 2012 by David Slater

HDMI  HDBaseT 

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HDBaseT technology is fast becoming a red hot topic for the custom install community, not least because it simplifies HD signal distribution, improves system reliability and offers greater install flexibility. For a clearer insight into this single wire revolution, we talked to Adrian Ickeringill, general manager of leading HD distribution and HDBaseT experts Wyrestorm...

When it comes to HD content distribution around the home, what are the key issues facing installers today?

Ickeringill: Generally they're to do with the length and stability of the signal and what the user wants to do in terms of control. These factors are governed by the connected devices, the surrounding environment and the cable itself...

Surely the choice of Cat cable is pretty academic?

Ickeringill: It may seem like the most basic aspect of an installation, but this is precisely where a great many HD projects run into trouble. Poor quality, incorrectly terminated or badly installed Cat5e or Cat6 cable can mean massive headaches for any installer when it comes to bandwidth, the successful transmission of high definition and the passing of reliable IR control signals to and from connected devices.

We always stress the importance of using high quality cable, of the correct gauge, that is properly terminated and that suites the application. It's about using right materials for the job and then making sure those materials are properly installed. We also advise installers to be aware that poorly maintained, dirty or unreliable mains supplies can negatively impact distribution. That's why we recommend surge protection on every job as a matter of course.

Retrofitting a property offers additional challenges and headaches…

Ickeringill: Yes, the installer never really knows what they are working with. Cable is often buried in the wall; patch panels and wall plates can affect the successful reception of a transmission by up to 10 per cent and who knows what condition the cable itself is in - bent or twisted, suffering from electromagnetic interference. It's a lot to consider… there's a lot that can go wrong, particularly with conventional twin-cable UTP distribution. As all these factors are so difficult to determine in retrofit installations, the emphasis should be testing before commencing installation.

How can an installer test an existing cable network?

Ickeringill: Using a point-to-point HDBT extender set is one quick and easy way to check the integrity of an installed cable. If you need more, we offer a test kit comprising of a signal pattern generator, Full HD 7-inch portable monitor and battery packs, which give an installer the ability to more thoroughly examine cable resources, bandwidth and the compatibility of EDID, HDCP handshakes between devices. The pattern generator is able to copy the EDID from any screen and replicate it on the monitor, so you can essentially try out your installation to make sure any compatibility issues are addressed before hand.

What troubleshooting routines do you advocate?

Ickeringill: HD distribution is somewhat more subtle and involved than in the days of analogue, and problem solving is part and parcel of any installation, but preparation together with logical troubleshooting will overcome any potential difficulties. Like a doctor, working down a list of the most common issues will inevitably reach the root cause of the complaint.

Once connections between devices and power supplies checked and you are sure you are well within transmission range, a good place to start would be to make sure all your devices are set to output the same signal. HDBaseT is designed for compatibility, meaning that it will generally try and output to the minimum resolution detected for maximum chance of signal reception; if it encounters any conflict the result is no picture.  As such, reduce the output settings of displays to see if that solves the problem. If so, work back from there to find the cause of the conflict. 

Bandwidth bottlenecks over Cat5 can happen for many reasons, but reducing settings of each individual device to lessen the signal bandwidth will reveal if something is putting a strain on the capacity of the cable. If in doubt, swap out the cable to another fully working output port to see if the problem follows you, or if possible, test source and display with a completely different cable - start back point by point until you reach the cause of the problem.  

Why should installers migrate to HDBaseT distribution sooner rather than later?

Ickeringill: Basically, it's an installer's dream. You are getting more for less and you are getting it faster, easier and more reliable. This translates to significant reductions in cable infrastructure and installation times, while at the same time future-proofing your job.

You get the same delivery of 1080p HD video and audio and two-way IR and RS232 control between source and display, as with typical dual-cable UTP installations, but you get it over lengths up to 100m using only a single standard Cat5e or Cat6 cable. As the installer has one less cable run per output to worry about, and that single cable reaches twice the distance, it offers an obvious initial saving straight off the bat. 

HDBaseT is also tailor-made for Smart TVs and wireless control options using ipads and iphones. It's also ready for the next generation of 4K Ultra HD displays. It also supports LAN access (Local Area Network Ethernet pass-through) and power-over-Ethernet (POE).

Another benefit of HDBaseT is its resistance to electromagnetic interference, combined with a vastly decreased susceptibility to the adverse effects of inferior cable. This isn't to say that HDBaseT means installers needn't care about cable quality - on the contrary, but more that HDBT distribution is far less likely to cripple your installation, resulting in wasted time and effort spent on site. It's the closest we have come in the industry actual plug-and-play HD distribution.

Which type of cable and what hardware is required at either end for distributing HDBaseT and how can an existing infrastructure be used?

Ickeringill: If you have inherited a retrofit project with preinstalled Cat5e, HDBaseT distribution will function just fine with 3D, Blu-ray, gigabit Ethernet and control signals. However, given the bandwidth needed to handle modern content is continually expanding we generally suggest Cat6 cable for new installations to make sure you avoid bandwidth issues in future, especially given the capacity required for 4k projects. 

In terms of hardware, your choices are simple: either an HDBaseT transmitter and receiver for simple extension of HDMI devices, or an HDBaseT matrix or digital amplifier with an HDBaseT receiver at the end of the transmission.

You guys are pretty clued up. How long has Wyrestorm has been working with HDBaseT technology?

Ickeringill: We were one of the first companies to join the likes of Sony, Samsung and LG in the HDBaseT Alliance. We released our first HDBT point-to-point extender set way back in October 2010, followed by an HDBT matrix in February 2011. We like to think we have an innate understanding and extensive knowledge of the technology, to better provide customers with the HDBaseT equipment and feature sets that are most useful in installations.

Heavy investment means that our range now comprises 15 HDBaseT products, including the recent HDBaseT 'Lite' classification range that removes more advanced features such as Ethernet passthrough, POE, 48bit Deep Colour, 4k resolution and 100m cable runs, instead enabling transmissions of HD video, audio and two-way IR control over a single Cat5e/6 cable up to 70m. Of course HDBaseT 'Lite' retains the same rock-solid HDBT resistance to interference to safeguard installations.

Our full HDBaseT matrices are available in 8x8, 8x16 and 16x16 configurations, with the 'Lite' versions in 4x4, 6x6, 4x8 and 8x8. We have a new modular version containing customisable transmission cards available early next year to give installers even more single-cable distribution options. Similarly, Wyrestorm single-cable HDBaseT transmitters and receivers are available separately or as part of an extender set to lengthen transmissions by a further 100m, both as separate baluns placed behind devices and displays or flush in-wall varieties.  All our extenders are fully cascadable up to 7 times, meaning the technology is as flexible as it is resilient.

Generally speaking, how flexible is the system?

Ickeringill: Wyrestorm HDBaseT products are designed and tested specifically with integration in mind to make installations linking different devices as quick and successful as possible. Residential or commercial, daisy-chain or star topologies, you could be distributing and controlling different content to a number of display locations or several screens in one area with the HDBaseT transmission fed through a splitter. 

It seems as though we are only scratching the surface of what's possible with HDBaseT…

Ickeringill: Technology moves a breakneck speed. Soon twin Cat5 will feel as antiquated as component, with its limitations fully exposed by Ultra HD and 48bit colour. We'll soon be launching the Wyrestorm HDBaseT Digital Amplifier/display receiver, the first device of its kind in the world that enables the extraction of HD audio from HDMI video and control signals using class D amplifier technology over a single Cat5e/6 cable. Offering 15w per channel, with a sub-woofer pre-out, it can be installed as a centralised amplifier in line with speakers or as an in-room device using its HDMI breakout for local displays connected via single Cat5e/6. Each HDBT output will function as a transmitter extending the signal a further 100m. Stereo audio and Full HD video, plus RS232 & IR, is received from an HDBT transmitting device, such as a Wyrestorm HDBT matrix.

While the limitations of dual Cat5 distribution are now abundantly clear for us all to see, the possibilities of HDBaseT that were just glimpsed only 12 months ago are well within reach today.

For more on what Wyrestorm has to offer, visit our Partner Page.

David Slater

David Slater started his writing career with SVI writing a popular column, he has also guested on publications like Home Cinema Choice and
Living North

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