Increasing Burden on AV Infrastructure Calls for Better Bandwidth

Published: July 31, 2015

Back in the mid-1960s Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, famously predicted the computing industry would continually add power and diminish the cost of products at a rapid pace. Fifty years later, the tech market can look back and commend the accuracy of what would become known as “Moore’s Law,” and even apply it to categories beyond computing.

One such category that has been seemingly approaching Moore’s Law-like levels of evolution is video.

Over the past 15 years the video market has gone from standard-definition (SD) resolution to a combination of 720p and 1080i high definition (HD), to “full HD” 1080p, 3D 1080p and most recently 4K or Ultra HD. If that hasn’t been a rapid enough format evolution (at the same time shifting associated content playback from VHS to DVD to Blu-ray and impending Ultra HD Blu-ray), in as few as five years the 8K Super Hi-Vision format may be implemented by the Japanese broadcaster NHK in time for the 2020 Olympics.

Facilitating the signal transmission during this time span has been analog component video, RGBHV, DVI and HDMI. Today HDMI and the increasingly popular HDBaseT protocols are enabling the transmission of digital AV formats that include new object-based surround-sound audio such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, as well as the aforementioned Ultra HD/4K video.

Crunching the Numbers

Taking a close look at the video category, it’s important for integrators in the commercial market to realize the momentum behind 4K is legitimate. Unlike the passing fad of 3D, which was arguably driven by the consumer electronics industry’s desire to bolster TV sales, 4K is receiving support in broadcast, pro AV and the consumer markets. With that comes additional technical considerations.

As part of a recent webinar presented by Commercial Integrator sister publication CE Pro, Kevin Iselli, senior curriculum developer, Crestron Electronics, explained the stress that today’s video formats places on the infrastructure of distributed AV system. Iselli points out that existing 1080p systems are becoming bogged down with the resolutions of devices such as MacBook Pros, iPads and PCs such as Dell’s XPS 15 and Precision M3800, which produce high-quality resolutions reaching 2048 x 1536 to 3200 x 1800, for instance. The critical nature of AV transmission will only increase as 4K becomes more accessible.

He succinctly notes that when dealing with the much higher resolution Ultra HD format, the pixel count soars from just over 2 million (1920 x 1080) to well over 8 million pixels (3840 x 2160). This increase, Iselli says, places an enormous burden on distributed A/V systems and their architecture.

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“Infrastructure is key to handling 4K and the high data rates necessary to support 4K, especially with longer [cable] runs,” he notes. “At 1080p cables can get as long as 40 feet; with 4K, anything beyond 3 feet gets to be a challenge for carrying these signals.”

Doug Engstrom, vice president of communications and technical support, Contemporary Research, says that from his company’s perspective, the market is trending toward the growing implantation of digital channels for in-house RF systems. Engstrom adds the company also sees increased potential in streaming media with websites improving their bandwidth and multicasting capabilities, which is necessitating the need for more robust encoders and modulating solutions.

Engstrom adds that one thing to keep in mind pertaining to RF is that certain content may not be subject to the intellectual property right protection, which may help dealers deliver AV distribution systems in more wide-reaching applications.

“The primary focus for 4K standards and protection applies to entertainment content for good reason; in-house commercial digital RF systems primarily distribute news, information, weather and non-proprietary content, so the new standards aren’t mission critical,” he says.

Playing the Game-Changer

Besides its impact on the dealer channel, arguably no segment of the electronics industry is affected more by evolving formats and technologies than cable manufacturers, which must keep pace with the technological changes as well as the commensurate copyright protection that accompanies next-generation formats.

Robert D’Addario, president, managing director, Cleerline Technology Group, explains that the ever-increasing bandwidth requirements of these formats necessitates new engineering solutions to ensure cable reliability.

“Specific to the integration market there are two trends driving our product sales. One is 4K/2K and the horizon of 8K/4K, high-bandwidth video that is pushing copper out of the design,” he comments. “Fiber gives our customers the most flexibility for the future. An integrator might be able to find a copper solution that works today, but we can guarantee installed bulk fiber will have a much longer lifespan and horizon to sup-port the technologies of tomorrow, which seem to be coming faster and faster.”

(The other trend D’Addario sees doesn’t relate to the management and distribution of AV content, but it’s still relevant to dealers nevertheless: the Internet of Things, whose impact is only starting to be realized and mainly right now on the residential side.)

When it comes to AV distribution, D’Addario says the constant change that is happening with high-definition copyright protection (HDCP) realistically means that what works today may not work for tomorrow’s needs, and this is where the bandwidth capabilities help support future technologies.

“The hybrid HDMI is a very good alternative to bulk fiber, and we are working on incorporating SSF [fiber cable product line] into product like that in the very near future, especially to replace our current active HDMI cables branded Planet Waves,” he says. “But I’m big advocate of putting in an infrastructure that you know you’ll be able to utilize regardless of the format in the future. Traditionally that was coax, then Cat-5e and after that it was Cat-6. Now we’re saying emphatically fiber. Fiber is the best medium for designing an infrastructure for the long term; through media conversion you can make any IP-based product work inexpensively and reliably.”

Expanding on D’Addario’s points, Iselli says that integrators not only need to use quality hardware and cabling solutions, they must follow industry recommendations in how they handle hardware and cables in order to support a complete end-to-end solution that delivers longterm customer satisfaction.

“Ultra HD/4K at 60Hz puts strain on electronics; 8-bit color requires more than 14Gbps,” he emphasizes. “Using good cables is only part of the solution in delivering 4K signals. Care of cables is needed to stay with their bend radius, etc. Dealers must follow guidelines with cable runs to ensure performance and reliability.”

Posted in: News

Tagged with: 4K

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