Percolating underneath the wave of optimism that filled the aisles of the CEDIA and InfoComm trade shows is always the reality of implementing 4K in today’s evolving AV marketplace.
Ultra HD and its groundswell of momentum can be seen throughout the show floor, and its importance has never been more evident than the peaking interest in video technologies, which are represented by the surging sales of new generations TVs and displays.
Not all is well, however, and there is some reason for caution. These formats are moving at an incredible rate and there is potential they could race past current and future infrastructure methods that dealers utilize on a daily basis.
What this means in the simplest of terms is that cabling, AV receivers, matrix switches and even displays may not support Ultra HD, high dynamic range (HDR), wide color gamuts (WCGs) and other provisions associated with 4K.
On top of that, at CES the HDMI Group introduced Rev2.1 of the specification to throw another connectivity curveball at integrators who are just getting comfortable with HDMI 2.0.
What’s the Problem?
Each year the Fla.-based connectivity and A/V manufacturer Metra Home Theater Group presents its “Lunch and Learn” sessions with HDMI expert, Jeff Boccaccio, president of independent testing agency DPL Labs, during CEDIA. Last fall’s sessions focused on the transition the market is in the midst of and the bandwidth appetite of 4K with HDR and WCGs.
Boccaccio emphasized to the session’s packed attendance that the electronics industry is at an important juncture with video migrating into a new era of performance that exceeds the capabilities of current technologies.
“Personally I believe it has always been critical to get system infrastructures to a high level that will support new features
such as HDR and 4K at 60Hz applications. Many integrators and dealers were confused when Rev2.0 [HDMI] rolled out because they were not aware that it was still 4K and 4:2:0 simply operating in a 10.2Gbps environment,” says Boccaccio. “Increasing frame rate and lowering color quality set the stage for a transition to 18Gbps bandwidth over time. Finally
with the announcement of HDR and other supporting education, custom integrators discovered the necessity in designing infrastructures that could support the entire 18Gbps bandwidth. At the time DPL Labs had to move the needle forward supporting a new 4K testing methodology for the new 18Gbps format.”
“When we’re working on a new design for a new product, we must plan for the signal sweet spot to allow it to work with both fixed and adaptive display EQ types.” Brent McCall, Metra
Noting how volatile the transition from current specifications to what dealers will be facing in the near future, Boccaccio says it is imperative that whatever infrastructure dealers install support today’s and future formats.
Joel Silver, president and founder of the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF), says he has discovered through testing that today’s first-generation of Ultra Blu-ray disc players from Samsung and Philips are outputting about 13.5Gbps and once these signals hit an AV receiver or switcher they get squeezed down to about 9Gbps and the HDR is gone. He also says that in some cases there is no picture at all, but the important point is that whether clients receive squeezed down or other image problems they are not getting the full potential of their systems.
“The information that came out for years with HDMI is that it was proposing you would get the picture, but it’s not the picture you are paying for,” stresses Silver.
“It’s not what you want. They promoted backwards compatibility with HDMI 1.4, but it is not backwards compatible.”
Silver’s solution to support 4K is an age-old idea that dealers have used for years in a variety of ways.
“My advice is to run conduit,” he says. “Even with fiber I still tell people to pull conduit. I don’t know what’s coming down the pike, but I do know that it will require more bandwidth.”
Brent McCall, product manager for Metra Home Theater Group, adds that the biggest areas of concern his company sees relate to hardware setup. McCall says that when systems are initially set up they do not typically output full 4K HDR.
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“In addition to the setup issue, we also receive a lot of calls regarding signal infrastructure going past 10Gbps, which is not always supported,” explains McCall. “The issue may not always be a cabling problem; it could be anything from an older device such as an AV receiver, switcher, display or source. It could be firmware that could be the limiting factor. In other cases, the problem can actually be found within the cabling or signal carriage products such as Redmere Active Cables and HDBaseT devices that cannot handle any bandwidth above 10Gbps, and it will have to be replaced.”
McCall says Metra spends a lot of time in the R&D stages forecasting emerging technologies in order to stay ahead of the market’s adoption curve, and Metra spends a lot of time developing products that could potentially fix anticipated problems in the field.
Another issue Boccaccio mentioned is the trend of television manufacturers utilizing equalization (EQ) chips and the problems this is causing with increased bandwidth. McCall says this problem involves the HDMI’s 2.0 requirement to overcome any issues associated with cabling, and the fact that there is no written standard on how television manufacturers should implement these EQ chips.
“When we’re working on a new design for a new product, we must plan for the signal sweet spot to allow it to work with both fixed and adaptive display EQ types,” says McCall. “This led to our HDM-GA1 Gigabit Accelerator, which has been such a strong product for us because it does hit dead center of the EQ sweet spot regardless of which display is being used. The HDM-GA1 will give the installer a safe and reliable way to go longer distances.”
Can Fiber Cure High Bandwidth Woes?
Silver notes fiber technology offers some intriguing possibilities for dealers. In his testing of fiber products, Silver comments the products easily pass 18Gbps, and multi-strand fiber solutions could provide a means of future proofing for dealers.
Cleerline Technology Group president and managing director Robert D’Addario also sees the transition from copper to fiber and other solutions. D’Addario says two of the factors driving Cleerline’s sales are 4K and the looming rollout of 8K.
D’Addario says high-bandwidth video is pushing the limits of copper’s ability to deliver reliable, quality content. As the market evolves D’Addario says that while copper could work, dealers can guarantee that installed bulk fiber will have a longer lifespan. In addition to video, D’Addario points out that the Internet of Things (IoT) is also driving interest in fiber, and this is another category that could occupy bandwidth as more devices add networking capabilities.
“What works today might not work tomorrow. Hybrid HDMI is a very good alternative to bulk fiber and we are working on incorporating SSF [a Cleerline line of fiber-based solutions] into products like that in the near future to replace our current active HDMI cables branded Planet Waves. But I’m a big advocate of putting in an infrastructure that you know you’ll be able to utilize regardless of the format of the future,” D’Addario says. “Traditionally that was coax, then Cat-5e, then Cat-6, but now we’re saying emphatically fiber.”
Another important caveat with copper as the industry moves forward is how the signal is being transmitted. Cameron C. Smith, CEO, TechLogix, says that with 4K occupying so much of the bandwidth of copper the signal, as Silver noted, is being compressed. Fiber, he says, allows for the transmission of uncompressed 4K signals with HDR, WCG and advanced chroma subsampling rates. Another benefit of fiber is that it is not subject to radio frequency (RF) and electromagnetic (EM) interference.
“Copper’s bandwidth is limited to 10Gbps unless compression is placed on the signal, whereas fiber supports UHD formats without compression. Another advantage is fiber is immune to RF and EM interference, both of which trouble UHD signals on copper over long runs,” says Smith. “AptoVision [a chipset manufacturer] is doing a good job of developing solutions which will easily support copper and fiber cabling; however, many higher-end applications frown upon compressing the signal. The catch with copper is that Cat-6a or Cat-7 cable is required and that can be more expensive than fiber and those cables are significantly harder to work with.”
Smith points out that new copper solutions such as Cat-8 can support current 4K/2K at 60Hz and 4:4:4, which equates to 18Gbps with bandwidth up to 40Gbps as far as 30 meters. However, he emphasizes that fiber has come a long way and it offers performance traits in addition to speed and bandwidth that include short-term load pull strength of 225 pounds versus category cable’s 25 pounds, and a bend radius of 2.2mm for Cleerline’s SSF fiber compared to Cat-6a’s 87mm and Cat-8’s 90mm.
Networking Technologies Offer Another Alternative
One of the most interesting aspects of the evolving AV market is that many commercial solutions exist that can support the residential market’s hunger for bandwidth.
Admitting that consumer preferences drive many technology trends in the commercial market, Steven Barlow, president of DVIGear, says that while the appetite for 4K with HDR and WCGs isn’t as big as the consumer market, commercial equipment manufacturers have been preparing for this type of scenario for years. Barlow states that DVIGear recommends to dealers to prepare for 4K even if they aren’t installing 4K-based systems now. He says the reason for this is simply that every step up — 1080p to 4K at 30Hz; 4K at 30Hz to 4K at 60Hz, etc. — essentially requires a jump of twice the bandwidth.
“The obligation to the clients is to avoid headaches. Be honest and tell them the cable doesn’t work. Don’t make the mistake again — run conduit.” Joel Silver, ISF
Barlow emphasizes that it is not realistic to go from 1080p to 4K at 60Hz with current cables because that requires a quadrupling of speed. He notes that dramatic performance increases like that is a lot to ask for with something even as mundane as cables.
Putting the numbers aside, Barlow boils down the situation succinctly by stating that dealers should specify systems with future formats in mind.
“What we are evangelizing is that if you buy or sell a system, that it be 4K ready. Ultra HD in general means 4K at 30Hz or 4K at 60Hz. There is a lot of gamesmanship out there. It is important when talking 30Hz vs. 60Hz what chroma subsampling is being used. In our case 4:4:4 is in our discussions,” he says. “We are urging people to buy hardware that supports 4K at 60Hz. If a customer buys a system and it is 1080p then they come back to you and want 4K, you may have to explain to them they need a new system. That disturbs a lot of customers. Customers glance at these details unless they are astute. You need to plan ahead so you need to know what you are specifying.”
Barlow says DVIGear’s DisplayNet line of products is another option for dealers. The products employ 10Gbe-networking technologies to packetize and transmit uncompressed, audio and KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) signals. According to Barlow networking technologies are vastly ahead of formats such as HDMI.
“HDMI was never designed for long distances or complex routing applications, and 10Gbe Ethernet is design for long distances,” asserts Barlow. “The coding system for 10Gbe is extremely efficient, and the genius of the AptoVision Division is to use the 10Gbe Ethernet system and use a chipset that takes advantage of it. … DisplayNet allows for any 10Gbe Ethernet switch, and if you look down the road at 8K for example — it is on our product roadmap — it’s using 40Gbe switches, which are already on the market and have been for years.”
Walking the show floor of an event like InfoComm has also revealed a number of other AV and KVM over IP solutions from companies such as Adder Technologies, Black Box Design, ATEN, RGB Spectrum, and in the residential market Just Add Power has also innovated in the AV over IP category.
Keeping Up with a Moving Target
A good example of how Metra is working with Boccaccio can be found in Boccaccio’s advice in dealing with the information overload that is sweeping the industry. Boccaccio is telling dealers to streamline their thinking to keep from being overwhelmed by all the numbers being thrown around right now. He emphasizes that dealers keep it simple by looking for products that are capable of delivering 18Gbps bandwidth.
Providing a level of protection for dealers against connectivity issues are companies like AV ProStore, which offers system testers to AV professionals. The Sioux Falls, S.D.-based company provides a selection of distribution amplifiers, matrix switchers and testers designed for 18Gbps applications. AV ProStore offers dealer incentives to step into testing products from manufacturers such as Quantum Data and Murideo, including trade-ins and other sales specials.
These products are designed to test for 18Gbps bandwidth as well as other provisions such as 60Hz refresh rates and 4:4:4 chroma subsampling on formats such as HDMI and HDBaseT.
Silver sums up the current situation by pointing out the CEDIA 2016 was a real turning point for the electronics industry. He theorizes the next big innovation to hit the market could be 120Hz frame rates, which he says will make the broadcast of sports on TV much better.
“Sports at 120Hz will be a revelation. It will look almost 3D. We have been watching 60Hz [content] for so long that we’ve accepted it. … Years ago Noel Lee [CEO of Monster] talked about 18Gbps and he was right, but he got no credit. It shouldn’t be a surprise for people that did their homework. There are massive headaches for UHD players with older TVs,” Silver adds. “The obligation to the clients is to avoid the headaches. You need to be honest with the client and tell them the old cable doesn’t work. Don’t make the mistake again — run conduit. We learn as we go, and we have learned that bandwidth will
only go up.”