Those who formerly experienced idle time in elevators or at the gas pump already know it-video is everywhere. And where there's video, there's often audio. Thus, behind the scenes, audio and video wire, cable, and fiber optics are running the show.
The unmitigated growth of audio and video signal distribution is not without boundaries. The Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive was adopted in 2003 by the European Union, and the initiative has already begun to work its way through the legislative process in the U.S. This will mean that RoHS compliant wire and cable is required for commercial projects.
Next on the horizon is halogen-free cable, says Kirk Horlbeck, Liberty Wire and Cable's senior vice president for corporate marketing and international business development. "Even in minor building fires, halogen constituents in the fumes create dangerous situations," Horlbeck said, "so there's been a big push for halogen-free products, which are often referred to as low smoke zero halogen (LSZH) materials."
Fiber vs. copper
The inner workings of wire and cable have also been affected by materials costs. The cost of copper has risen significantly in recent years, leading to some new factors in the infrastructure equation. In some cases, the cost of a traditional copper installation has escalated to a point where designers and integrators are taking a fresh look at fiber optics.
"We're seeing more and more people recognizing that it's not just a large installation, long-distance technology, that fiber has some real technical and economic advantages as you go down the scale in complexity and distance," noted John Lopinto, president and CEO of Communications Specialties. "It's still not the answer for everything all the time, but it just keeps finding more applications as the cost of copper goes up and the price of fiber comes down."
Meanwhile, the cost of fiber optic products is actually decreasing while their functionality is increasing. If this weren't enough, fiber is also experiencing enhanced appeal in light of higher bandwidth required by the migration to 1080p and HD-SDI in video signal distribution.
Higher bandwidth is the name of the game in the UTP cable sector as well. The buzzword these days is "augmented Cat-6," which is the type of cable required for 10GigBase-T, and hence is being widely used for infrastructure wiring. "Most new installations are incorporating this type of cable, even if their current switchers and routers cannot handle the 10 Gigabit speeds as yet," observed Ali Haghjoo, CEO of Hall Research. "This is done in anticipation of inevitable reduction in costs and future upgrades to their hardware."
Augmented Cat-6 has its drawbacks, of course. Its outer diameter is about 50 percent larger than Cat-5, and it is fairly stiff, which means a larger bend radius, and Haghjoo suggests that it can be accommodated with a dual-gang wall plate.
It may be sometime before installers have the option of taking things to the next level with Cat-7, which can also handle 10 Gigabit speeds, as its complex construction and costs that exceed those of fiber optic cable often take it out of consideration at this time.
The reliable and ever-present Cat-5e cable continues to gain foothold, as it replaces traditional audio and video cables in many applications. However, even with component video traveling safely more than 1000 feet on Cat-5e if managed properly with the proper devices, coax remains a favorite of video purists and integrators designing projects where image quality is key.
"UTP is creating even more of an impact on the audio side," observed Kip Coates, marketing manager for Belden. Numerous audio networking protocols are making it easy to send 256 channels of audio down one four-pair cable, which is a fairly appealing conversion that is benefiting installations of many sizes.