Crestron’s New 4K UHD Certification Program: What Does it Mean?

Crestron claims to be the only organization that can create and certify a 4K Ultra HD ecosystem from end-to-end. Marketing speak or the real deal?

Julie Jacobson
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At Integrated Systems Europe 2014, Crestron made a big splash over its end-to-end 4K Ultra HD certification initiative that seemed at first blush to be a bit of a gimmick.

After speaking with Tom Barnett, director of residential marketing for Crestron, it makes great sense and demonstrates a massive investment by the company in 4K video distribution.

There are two pieces to Crestron’s 4K initiative. The first is a product line that covers most of the ecosystem from switchers to scalers.

The second part covers things that Crestron has little control over, such as sources, displays and cable lengths in any given installation. For that, the company tests devices and configurations in its DigitalMedia Lab to ensure end-to-end 4K video distribution. This is where the certification comes in.

Let’s start with the new Crestron products.

Crestron 4K UHD-Enabled Products

Crestron’s DigitalMedia line, which employs HDBaseT, fiber and streaming for audio and video distribution (plus data and control), has been one of the company’s most successful product launches. Barnett claims there are more than 2 million “endpoints” today connected to DigitalMedia switchers.

Crestron dealers and their customers need not fear that 4K content will render these products obsolete.

“All of the switches have always had the bandwidth for 4K,” says Barnett. “But now we have input and output cards, blades and room boxes that support 4K.”

Barnett says Crestron will offer some kind of trade-in program for legacy cards and that the 4K versions will retail for about $200 more than their 1080p counterparts.

In addition to new 4K-enabled I/O cards, blades and room boxes, Crestron introduced at ISE the HD-XSPA (now shipping), a 4K-capable 7.1 AVR featuring four HDMI inputs and an integrated Crestron DigitalMedia 8G+ input, so no separate room box is required.

For 5.1 systems, two of the unused amp channels can be allocated to a stereo zone.

Down-mixing and Down-scaling

Key to the DigitalMedia line is the ability to downscale 4K content to support 1080p displays, and downmix audio to provide stereo feeds for secondary zones … all without compromising 4K video quality and multichannel lossless audio for primary zones.

Users can mix and match these formats within a DM environment.

For example, the new DMC-4K-HD-DSP HDMI input card includes 4K video distribution as well as stereo down-mixing of multichannel inputs, enabling simultaneous distribution of multichannel and two-channel audio.

More crucial is the case of video distribution.

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Regarding displays, “for a while I think there will be a mix of 1080p and 4K,” Barnett says.

Unfortunately, when you mix a 4K source with a 1080p display, you’ll usually wind up with a blank screen. Video needs to be down-scaled to match the resolution of a legacy TV.

Vizio is one company that includes 4K downscaling for its new 1080p sets, but such features are rare.

For these cases, Crestron offers downscaling solutions for legacy TVs in the form of room boxes with integrated scalers.

“These scalers have proven very popular in HD systems for upscaling and instant switching, and will be even more important in 4K systems for downscaling,” says Barnett, noting that most reputable 4K displays already have built-in upscaling.