The Ramifications of Crestron DigitalMedia by Christopher Maione

I don't typically write about specific products, but I feel this product line has a significant impact on our industry.

So first, the excitement. Crestron DigitalMedia is amazing stuff. Hats off to them for being ahead of the game and out of the gate first with this sort of product A matrix switcher system with inputs and outputs specifically designed to accommodate an end-to-end solution for switching and routing HDCP compliant digital signals.

Next, we enter a brave new digital world. My head spins with the complexity of the commercial AV world and having to deal with HDCP compliant devices. What happened to my simple DA? Gone. Routing HDCP compliant devices (Cable/Satellite TV Tuners, Blu-ray DVD, Xbox etc.) is no simple feat. Basically the Hollywood piracy police (copy guard protection) have taken over the world of HD content and created a near impenetrable system for "protecting" the distribution of content (Movies, Games etc.).

Unfortunately for the commercial AV world, we are going to have to deal with this stuff and figure a way to route and distribute the digital signals while maintaining the HDCP and AACS (Advanced Access Content Protection System) compliancy. Enter Crestron DigitalMedia. This product line consists of various digital interfaces (HDMI, DVI, SDI) and a slot based matrix switcher provide an end to end solution for moving audio/video/control (such as HDMI) from a sources device (Blu-ray DVD, Xbox, Cable / Satellite TV) to a display (flat panel, video projector) while maintaining the required HDCP "handshake." Without the handshake from source to display you get nothing but a black screen. Maintaining the handshake involves passing a complex control signal and authenticating "keys" between the source and display to allow the content to be viewed.

Okay, now for some disillusionment. Hollywood and the copyright police will dictate how we must design AV systems? This is bad...real bad. I think the fact that the world of consumer copyright content control is influencing how we now must design commercial AV systems is ridiculous. Is this the so called "convergence" of consumer and commercial AV? I don't think so. This is just the copyright police shooting at the bad guys and hitting the innocent bystanding AV industry (where there really aren't copyright protection issues) and forcing us to react. Take for example a basic boardroom, which in addition to the staples of PC and laptop display, we would typically include—you guessed it—a Blu-ray DVD player and an HD Cable or Satellite TV box. We’ve now entered the world of HDCP compliance where without the proper digital "handshake" the video signals will not be displayed.

Pre-digital, many AV system designs would have included Extron interfaces, and Extron / AMX (AutoPatch) matrix switchers, now Crestron DigitalMedia has provided an end-to-end solution. I'm sure the folks at Extron and AMX are not happy about this at all and why they are also selling HDCP compliant switchers. From what I hear and see, the product line has taken off like wildfire and AV consultants and AV systems integrators have joined the DM revolution.

Heads up—this stuff is complex! It's also a bit finicky when it comes to strict adherence of cable distances and proper terminations. In addition, the matrix switch requires a boatload of IP addresses and its configuration can be challenging. There is also a moving target in the world of HDCP compliance as the standard evolves (changes). Patches and firmware updates are being pushed out "chasing" the ever-changing world of consumer electronics equipment.

I think it's great the migration to fully digital signal is challenging our industry and requiring us to learn new skills as we leave the analog world for digital. It will be interesting to see which consultants and AV system integrators actually pursue their certification, which comes in two flavors, Certified Designer and Certified Engineer.

One word of advice to the end-user world: the analog sunset is going to bring some very challenging and interesting items we are going to have to address, in regards to AV systems design and engineering. Digital is here to stay, and there will undoubtedly be a variety of unknowns popping up as the HDCP standards evolve. If your project has a Crestron DM solution—make sure the consultant, designer, engineer and installers all have their certification to ensure they have the training required to successfully navigate through the complexities of routing HDCP-compliant devices. FYI, You can verify a person’s certification on the Crestron DigitalMedia Website.

Christopher Maione is president of Christopher Maione Associates. Reach him at cmaione@chrismaione.com.