Reviewed: HydraConnect Karma-AV training day

posted on Saturday, 5th April 2014 by David Slater

Training  Karma-av  HDBaseT 

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HydraConnect is an HDMI signal distribution brand with a growing reputation for flexible, powerful control solutions with unique functionality. Distributed in the UK by Karma-AV, the company started offering HDMI distribution hardware three years ago and Inside CI was recently offered an opportunity to sit in on a training course being held by the company's visiting national sales and marketing manager Sean Greer.

The HydraConnect range is certainly versatile. The HSS-2 8x8 was an early launch from the brand and is an AVmatrix (also available in a 4 x 4 version) that comes in a 2U rack mountable chassis. In addition to the eight HDMI inputs and outputs, there are two selectable local HDMI outputs and analogue audio support.  Also available is the HS-3x3BT which is essentially an upgrade with matching HDBaseT Full outputs. If installers don't require the analogue audio output, there's also an iteration to suit.

Interestingly, the US-based company differs from many others in the signal distribution arena in that only offers Full HDbaseT and not HDbaseT Lite. The reason, explains Greer, is that it rates reliability as the most important factor in HD distribution. All units have built-in remote support which effectively eliminates the need for IR blasters.

New from the brand is a small project HS-8x4BT matrix, ideal if integrators need to route additional sources but don't require additional HDBaseT outputs.

However arguably the most interesting launches from the brand are 8x8 and 16x16 switches with integrated Dolby Digital downmixing and extensive audio management, and it's these that our training course majored on.

The star of the range is the HM-16x16BT (pictured above), a fourth generation matrix with full audio support. Impressively, the system can run Dolby Digital 5.1 to any location that can handle it as well as stripping it out from HDMI into stereo on a zone by zone basis. "You can strip audio off the HDMI device in either native two-channel PCM or 5.1Dolby Digital, whatever the EDID configures that port as," explains Greer. Cleverly, the matrix can automatically detect whether the output device is an AV receiver or connected TV, and send the appropriate signal. This functionality makes the HydraConnect proposition truly unique.

What's more, this big switch offers sixteen analogue outputs, plus sixteen digital optical outputs.  Lip sync, tone control and volume are all built into the box. HydraConnect calls the functionality Audio Remix. Inside the matric is a fully managed switch running on a Linux processor.

HEXT21b Extender Kit

The partnering HEXT-21b extenders (pictured above) are small and powered at the transmitter end only, so no local juice is required; they support 3D and IR pass-through and have diagnostic LEDs.

All the HydraConnect kit features a web-based interface and are IP controlled, which makes them very simple to set up. Open the browser window and just three clicks will enable you to set them up. A Discovery tab will automatically find every product connected to the switch, it detect what is connected to the extenders, and interrogation brings back the manufacturers details and control codes. The Authenticate tab creates HDCP paths to every output and input source for instantaneous switching. A testing page that generates a test signal to each location; this makes fault finding really easy. When the system is working as intended, you can Lock down the configuration.

The sharing option is particularly impressive. If you are sharing your source with two rooms and one user starts to take control of the source, the TV in the second room will text display who is sharing and controlling the source. 

There's refinement beyond the audio extraction trickery here that every installer will appreciate. One external embellishment is a small metal bar that allows you to tie rap the HDMI cables to the matrix giving extra support to HDMI cables. Everything seems really sleek about this box of tricks.

The 16x16BT is designed to integrate with any control system; all drivers are included for each of the major control manufacturers making the installation process straightforward.

For example, integration setup with Control4 proves very simple and has the added feature of something which you cannot normally do, which is to watch TV and listen to another source. This is achieved by using virtual HDMI drivers which are setup in the Control4 driver. During our training session, Greer configured the matrix within five minutes and synced it to the Control4 control system with one touch of a button in Composer. Neat!

Overall, we rate the HydraConnect HM-16x16BT a very clever product. The installation is smart, the Linux processor is a solid piece of kit and importantly it seems very reliable. On the subject of 4K Ultra HD, Greer is cautious as the specification is far from finalised. High frame rate 60Hz UHD and compatibility with HDCP are areas that HydraConnect is currently evaluating.  

Overall, we rate HydraConnect's training course very highly, and it provides plenty of food for thought. All HydraConnect  products come with a five year warranty and in a nice touch, the company offers a first unit commissioning walk through for installers on their debut installation.

For more information about the range and training contact Karma-AV. For more information on Karma-AV's product portfolio visit our partner page here.

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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