Not Your Basic Cable

Not Your Basic Cable

Consolidate and Save With HDBaseT and 5Play

In the field of AV , it’s all about the connections. And while social skills may have something to do with winning projects, it’s those other kinds of links—the ones that get gear to work seamlessly together—that have the power to transform what integrators can do, and what their clients expect.

Enter HDBaseT, a consumer electronics (CE) connectivity technology optimized for whole-home and commercial multimedia distribution. When HDBaseT 1.0 was finalized in June 2010, its developers set out to provide a digital home networking alternative to a host of standards in place, such as HDMI (High- Definition Multimedia Interface), coaxial cable, and composite video. The result: a significantly more efficient approach wherein a single 100m/328-foot Cat-5e/Cat-6 cable delivers a complete package of HD video, audio, 100BaseT ethernet, power over cable, and various control signals.

The primary engine behind the rapid adoption of HDBaseT into the marketplace has been the HDBaseT Alliance, a consortium consisting of Samsung Electronics, Sony Pictures Entertainment, LG Electronics, and Valens Semiconductor, which together have formed a team to help promote the HDBaseT technology originally created by Valens. “People want the ability to connect more devices and more displays, and also be able to connect to an internet infrastructure,” explained Micha Risling, marketing chair for the HDBaseT Alliance. “HDMI is a great solution, but the growing need to distribute audio and video content over longer distances is a trend that HDMI was not defined to address.

“After examining all the options,” Risling continued, “Valens asked integrators a simple question: ‘Which cable would you prefer to work with?’ The answer was Cat-5. It is the most costeffective, the easiest to install, and the easiest to handle.”

The manufacturer KanexPro, which offers HDBaseT technology solutions like the Long-Runner 100m Ethernet Switcher to route HDMI signals up to 100m to a display, noted three main reasons why the market was ripe for the arrival of HDBaseT. “The demand for converged distribution of HD multimedia content and the lack of adequate existing technologies are driving the industry toward an HD digital connectivity standard,” said Kashyap Khetia, marketing director for KanexPro. “There are a number of reasons why the market necessitated the R&D of HDBaseT. First, installers and AV system engineers were always faced with the dilemma of extending HDMI over longer runs, and using traditional baluns that used two Cat-5 cables; it made the installation problematic when HDMI did not deliver the full HD signals. Second, HDBaseT enables a single LA N cable— Cat-6 recommended—to replace multiple cables and connectors in the home entertainment and business environment. Third, HDBaseT overcomes the reliability, cost, and reach limitations of existing wired connectivity and emerging wireless technologies.”

Referring to the quintuple convergence (HD video, audio, internet, control, power over cable) within HDBaseT as “5Play”, the Alliance sees special significance in the power-carrying capabilities in bringing newfound flexibility to installers. Due to Power Over HDBaseT (POH), installers now have a solution that reduces overall network power consumption, enables consumer and commercial installations to place components in the ideal location whether or not an electrical outlet is present, and simplifies/reduces the costs associated with electronics by eliminating the need to call in an electrician.

At Crestron, all of these benefits have come together cleanly in popular product offerings like the DigitalMedia 8G Cable, which has been available for HD video and audio distribution since June 2010. “HDBaseT is part of a huge opportunity that we saw,” said Justin Kennington, Crestron product line manager, DigitalMedia. “Now that digital audio and video can be reliably transmitted over existing Cat-5 cable, there’s now an easy upgrade path for the customers. We can say to them, ‘Let’s talk about upgrading your whole system to digital, and we don’t have to tear out all these walls: Just pull out the analog switch, drop in a new digital media switch, and go.’ That’s all thanks to HDBaseT.”

In the field of AV , it’s all about the connections. And while social skills may have something to do with winning projects, it’s those other kinds of links—the ones that get gear to work seamlessly together—that have the power to transform what integrators can do, and what their clients expect.

Large-scale commercial installations are already taking notice. A new Chicago-area Best Buy, for example, specified HDBaseT to carry high-quality video from source equipment to displays throughout the store. “They were facing an issue of how to sell the most high-end HD displays and still come up with a distribution system that will be not too expensive, very flexible, and very reliable,” Risling explained. “HDBaseT has allowed Best Buy to improve on the analog-based distribution systems they were using, and improve the picture quality that they’re showing to their customers. The pilot has been very successful: no complaints, very reliable, and at very high quality.”

The cost savings of HDBaseT don’t hurt this format’s chances, boding well for increased applications in everything from digital signage, surveillance and security installations, whole-home networking, and professional video broadcasting, to hospitality and educational environments. “When compared to a traditional installation including separate HDMI, IR , RS-232, and LAN cables, the cost savings for an HDBaseT installation in cables alone is substantial,” noted KanexPro’s Khetia. “A traditional installation costs approximately $13 per foot, not including the added cost of repeaters for solving distance limitations. Using HDBaseT technology sent over a single LA N cable costs less than 10 cents per foot.”

Those shrinking numbers are adding up to something big for AV . “Our DigitalMedia division has shipped millions of dollars worth of HDBaseT equipment in the past year and is our fastest growing product line in company history,” Crestron’s Kennington stated. “HDBaseT is a fantastic communication method—it will carry video, audio, control, internet, and your power along with it. The question is, ‘What are all the things that we can do with that?’ You can simply carry audio and video, or bring it all under one umbrella so that your entire AV distribution system plays nicely together. That’s what it’s about: Applying this great technology in intelligent ways that are useful.”

Margin Builder

“With HDBaseT, the ability to reuse the existing infrastructure and provide a significant update is huge,” advised Justin Kennington, Crestron’s product line manager of Digital Media. “In the residential sector, we’re offering a buy-back program, and saying to integrators, ‘Sell us the old equipment, and we’ll introduce a new system you can give to your customer.’ That’s huge: in residential, we have thousands of video over Cat-5 cable switchers installed in the field. Those are thousands of qualified opportunities to sell new systems.”

David Weiss ( writes extensively about AV, audio, and broadcast technology.