Right now, it’s a demanding time for AV system designers and installers. With the prospect of widespread adoption of 4K, and a complex mix of sources and signals, in applications like collaboration, AV networking and connectivity has never been more demanding. Wireless is probably the nearest thing to a universal solution, but Stuart Lockhart, general manager of Vision Audiovisual, believes that a robust, universally applicable wireless technology is still some way off:
“Wireless is the future, but it’s still in the future. We’ve been testing new chipsets for 12 months now and they’re still quite poor quality. Some new chipsets have just come out that look promising.”
Last month’s InfoComm saw the most significant announcement since ISE – version 2.0 of the HDBaseT specification. HDBaseT 2.0 adds USB to its list of supported signal types and also the option of fibre. The latter increases the effective distance limit from 100 metres to several hundred metres. Another interesting development is that the formerly point-to-point technology is now a point-to-multipoint technology, and has gained 4K capabilities. The new version of HDBaseT will be widely available in September.
Another interesting footnote to the new standard describes Ethernet Fallback Mode. This is a feature that enables the HDBaseT protocol to identify instances where a connected device does not support HDBaseT, but does support standard Ethernet. In this situation, the HDBaseT device defaults to the status of an Ethernet host. Since HDBaseT uses the same RJ-45 connectors, plugging in a non-compatible HDBaseT device will automatically trigger Ethernet mode and will establish an Ethernet link.
With 105 device manufacturers now members of the HDBaseT Alliance, the standard is picking up significant volumes of support, but it is not universally popular. Lockhart explains that Vision is selling alternative technology for distributing signals through IP category cabling: “We’ve got two products now that move HDMI and serial control signal around using an IP infrastructure. The quality is amazing and the price is getting pretty good. We’ve just had a price reduction on our simple peer-to-peer solution to £246 (SSP) for the set. That’s really low. I’m very bullish about these products.”
But is HDMI-over-IP capable of solving the distance issue, with AV networks extending across large corporate buildings and university campuses. Lockhart explains: “The only limitation with our HDMI-over-IP equipment is that the Tx and Rx have to be on the same network. You might have two buildings connected with fibre, in which case, as long as the LAN is the same, you could have a Tx in one building and the Rx in another.”
Elsewhere, you might need an extender, he continue:“Short range (<50m) extenders don’t convert the signal, they just treat it for running over CAT5. Anything else, including HDBaseT and our HDMI-over-IP products, has to convert the signals. Our HDMI-over-IP products convert the signals into regular TCP/IP packets so they can be handled over a network in the normal way, and using the existing gear. HDBaseT, version 1.0 at least, has a limited range because it’s a bespoke signal.”
With 4K in the offing, Lockhart advises a little forward thinking if you want to keep your customers happy: “It’s easy to change interface boxes, but not so easy to change cables if they’re in walls etc, so, for example, make sure you use a Category 2 HDMI cable so it’s 4K compliant.” As to the faceplate, Lockhart advises the use of his own product, Techconnect, to make a later updating as easy as possible: “A fixed faceplate means a whole new faceplate when they want to update in the future. Of course, Techconnect mitigates that.”
HDBaseT is viewed as a salvation and something of a de facto standard? Lockhart is in partial agreement: “HDBaseT is defacto standard where quality is paramount e.g. home cinema. But HDMI-over-IP products are cheaper and more flexible, so they are also becoming a defacto where compression is allowable.”
He also concedes that are still issues to resolve with HDMI-over-IP. For example, there is the problem of dealing with embedded audio – when the customer wants it stripped out for routing through a different channel. Lockhart is dissatisfied with most of the currently available solutions: “I’m launching an audio decoder in August. I tested a whole load and they were horrific. Often these things will take a 5.1 signal and just pick out the L and R signals, so the audio sounds thin and horrible. Of course in our world most amps are analogue so you need audio in analogue format.”
But of the challenges facing network designers and installers at present, the most pressing have been created by the move towards collaborative working and BYOD. For years, meeting participants have had to contend with the game of ‘pass the VGA’ in order to share their laptop content via the meeting room AV.
Today, companies feel compelled to change their existing workspaces to suit new ways of working and change means flexibility and agility. Legrand product manager Jeff McDermott explained that integrators often have to overcome structural obstacles that stand in the way of effective installations:”They have to work with how a room is configured and their biggest challenge is often to bring services to conference tables and other work surfaces. They are conscientious about the aesthetics of the job and want to make cables and components invisible yet accessible for future needs.”
In the last couple years, solutions have been found in the form of presentation gateways, such as Barco’s ClickShare and Christie Brio. But there is some resistance to these solutions on the grounds that they are expensive, particularly when they are deployed over a large number of meeting rooms or classrooms, and secondly they might not be compatible with legacy equipment.
Lockhart says: “We’ve got a simple wired solution (Techconnect Select. We think this is better because you don’t need to load software/drivers (you do with Barco/Christie and Crestron), and it works for all devices – including iPads.”
But at the recent InfoComm, the other plays in the market were far from resting on their laurels. Barco launched its ClickShare management suite (see the story in news); Christie showed the three flavours of Brio; and Kramer introduced two versions of its Via technology – Collage and the sub $1,000 Connect.
Christie Brio Team is self contained and does not require access to the local area network. Individuals can connect to the Brio Team unit and wirelessly share information with team members in the same room. Featuring integrated Wi-Fi, AirPlay and WiDi receivers, Brio Team requires no additional drivers and has no external dongles to operate. AN enhanced model, Christie Brio Team+ offers the additional advantage of displaying original video content at native resolutions through DVI-D wired video inputs. The Team+ unit has an integrated wireless access point (WAP), supporting output sources of up to 2560 x 1600 at 30 Hz or 1920 x 1080 at 60 Hz with HDCP. Finally, at the top of the range, Christie has added the Christie Brio Enterprise which integrates into the local area network for access to Internet and network services. Any content from devices connected to Brio Enterprise units can be shared across all the displays in the same meeting regardless of geographical locations. Brio Enterprise processes high-quality video with sources playing at full 1080p with HDCP support. It can also support Miracast, Chromecast and any future wireless transmission protocols by connecting a receiver to a wired input.
New entrants to the collaboration scene, Kramer Electronics announced the VIA Collage Wireless Collaboration device at InfoComm 2015. The VIA Collage solves BYOD challenges by integrating PC, Mac, iOS and Android sources. Up to 256 users can access a single unit, with up to 6 presenters’ screens can be displayed on a single display device (and up to 12 can be shown simultaneously when two displays are used). The VIA Collage also allows for video streaming and has an HDMI input to allow the integration of an external video source to a meeting. The VIA Collage also supports third party applications such as Skype, Go To Meeting and Lync through its built-n. The digital canvas created by the Collage allows meeting participants to all work on the same document in real time and save the results to their device. Kramer also introduced a mini version of Via Collage called Via Connect, which displays four sources simultaneously on a single display.