AV distribution over IP has been with us for a few years now, mostly SD and HD video. However, due to the constraints of the bandwidth requirements of 4K Ultra HD, distribution over a data network was only a dream. Specifically, Ultra HD video or 4K/60 4:4:4 with high dynamic range (HDR), requires 18Gigabits bandwidth. But popular alternative HDMI distribution solutions, like HDBaseT for example, can only handle a little over 10Gigabits. What’s an integrator to do?
Over the last few years, it has become very clear that home networks, both wired and – more prevalently, wireless – have become very important to end users. Particularly as smartphone penetration increased, consumers began to not only demand home networks…but they also stressed these same networks by loading them up with multiple devices – not to mention streaming services (i.e. Netflix) on multiple screens, etc.
It is now abundantly clear that a robust network lies at the heart of a residential installation. And not just for data purposes, but increasingly for entertainment distribution throughout the home as well.
At the Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) trade show this February in Amsterdam, a veritable plethora of new Ultra HD over IP solutions were introduced. Thanks to innovations in chipset technology, software algorithms, cabling and more – Ultra HD over IP has arrived.
Here then is a quick list of things to keep in mind as you look at new options for your clients’ home networks.
1. Systems are Grouped Around Two Predominant Standards
Companies are grouping around two different camps based on the network speed. The first camp is offering solutions that will work on a 1Gigabit network. Considering that the vast majority of residential network installations over the last couple of years were 1G systems, this means with some simple add-ons, they can convert their system to UHD over IP distribution.
The other emerging standard is systems based on a 10Gigabit network. These newer 10G systems are higher performance, but also higher priced. The 10G standard has little to no installed based in the residential market now – but it is already pretty big on the commercial side.
2. All Use an Encode/Decode Process
All of these new system, regardless of their type, work in a similar way. They all use an encode/decode or transmit/receive system. Simply put, you place a box by the source and connect it via HDMI – and to your Ethernet network with the appropriate category cable.
Then you place another box by the display which is also connected via HDMI. The box by the source encodes or transmits the signal. The box by the display decodes or receives the signal.
The encoder takes the streaming video signal, packetizes it, transmits it over and Ethernet network and then the decoder decodes the packets back into a video signal at the display.
3. Each Type Has Strengths and Weaknesses
Each system has its strengths and weaknesses, so you must choose carefully based on the needs of your client base. Also, the type of installation may be a factor – for example, if you are in a retrofit installation and the client has an existing 1G network that is relatively robust, just by adding encode/decode boxes, you are in business. However, beware – the ability to use a single 1G system very much depends on how heavy of a video user the client is. You may have to run a separate entertainment-only network parallel to their existing data network.
In the case of the 10G systems, they may be the ideal solution in a new installation scenario, as they are robust enough to handle both data and entertainment and thanks to a lower compression rate, they offer a better overall performance. But, they are quite expensive and a little trickier to install,
4. Beware of Too-Good-To-Be-True Claims
We have witnessed some dubious performance claims from some of the suppliers. For example, some 1G system providers claim 4K/60 4:4:4 HDR performance. But because of the high compression rates required on 1G systems, when you really question them closely, you discover they really “meant” 4K/30…or 4:2:0…or not HDR. Remember, they are trying to stuff a lot of bandwidth into a small 1G pipeline. It is doable to get 10.2G through a 1G pipeline through compression. It is much, much harder (impossible some say) to stuff an 18G signal into a 1G pipeline.
5. It’s Time to Arm Yourself With Knowledge
One thing is crystal clear, UHD over IP is here – and its time has come. And it is going to change EVERYTHING. Although the process will likely take years, they will ultimately replace proprietary matrix switching solutions such as those offered by Crestron, Control4, Savant and others.
So how do these powerhouse control companies feel about the situation? Both Crestron and Savant launched UHD over IP solutions at this ISE. As the old commercial goes, “If you can’t beat them…join them.”