HDBaseT: The New HDMI?

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Remember a couple of months back I wrote how 4K UHD TVs currently being sold by Samsung, Sony and LG, and other 4K UHD sets that will go on sale this year, would be incompatible with future 4K broadcast, streaming, download and Blu-ray formats and that a new HDMI 2.0 standard would be needed to convey the signal from 4K UHD content components to 4K UHD sets? (Whew! Anyway, refresh your memory here.)

A new variable has entered the future 4K equation:

HDBaseT.

As many custom installers have learned over the last year or so, HDBaseT has become the go-to solution for long cable runs since it can handle uncompressed HD and 4K video up to 328 feet (100 meters), more than three times that of regular HDMI cable.

But what the HDBaseT Alliance people want us to know is that HDBaseT is a perfect connection solution for 4K and even plain old 1080 HDTV. (Check out the HDBaseT Alliance’s video here.)

What can HDBaseT do?

HDBaseT uses regular, ordinary, plain old, available at any Radio Shack Ethernet (aka CAT5e) cable with RJ45 jacks to convey not only uncompressed 4K video (and, of course, full 1080p HD), but, simultaneously, all multi-channel digital audio, 100 Mb Ethernet, CEC (Consumer Electronics Controls) as well as RS-232c and USB controls, and, best of all, power, up to 100 watts.

In other words, instead of five separate connections, you need just one. Logically, these combined HDBaseT capabilities are all collected under the rubric “5Play.”

Not only does HDBaseT converge every conceivable connection into one cheap cable, but enables a whole collection of capabilities. For instance, all source components can be centrally located, way away from the TV, all interconnected though an HDBaseT switch – which works just like an Ethernet switcher – with one long HDBaseT CAT5e cable snaking through your home to each TV.

Within an HDBaseT AV system, multiple TVs around the house can access the same source simultaneously, and your whole system, regardless of the mix of components or brands, all can be controlled from a smartphone or tablet app.

In the future, video components need only be plugged into an HDBaseT switch-fed RJ45 wall outlet to supply all connectivity.

All of which would seem to make it a perfect and compelling solution for consumers looking to not only eliminate the rats’ nest of wires behind their TV and AV stack, but to create a cleaner aesthetic in their living rooms.

A new HDBaseT spec, v2.0, is expected this August to further streamline the transmission process, shrink components and add capabilities.

HDBaseT Limitations

HDBaseT, however, doesn’t have nearly enough industry support to move into the consumer space, as it has a jones to do.

After a brief conversation with folks of Valens Seminconductor, which developed HDBaseT in 2010, I’m not sure they fully understand just how different the needs and desires of the mainstream AV market is from the more advanced custom installation market, with whose mindset they are deeply entwined.

HDBaseT’s founders include heavyweights Samsung and LG along with Sony Pictures – but, oddly, not Sony Electronics – and HDBaseT developer Valens. There is no other TV maker among its largely custom install and high-end projector 46 adopter members, however, although AVR makers Onkyo and Pioneer are, as are projector makers Epson and NEC. Pioneer just announced its first HDBaseT-equipped Elite receiver, and last week NEC unveiled the NP-PA602U, its first projector equipped with a Valens HDBaseT chip set.

A more critical limitation is the 100 watts of power HDBaseT is able to convey. That’s only enough wattage to power up to a 60-inch LED HDTV for sets complying with the new Energy Star 6.0 specification for TVs. Large-screen plasma TVs draw far more power than LED sets, as do new 84-inch 4K UHD sets.

The HDBaseT people say a new Energy Star spec would/could create a standard of 1 inch+1 watt that would enable HDBaseT to power the future onslaught of 84-inch UHDs. But this goal seems unlikely in the short term – it took more than two years to move from the Energy Star’s 5.x standard to this year’s new 6.0 spec. This means HDBaseT will only be 4Play for the next generation of 60-inch-plus LED and UHD sets.

But even without power, shrinking the number of TV and UHD connections to two still presents a tempting cabling future, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Samsung and LG HDBaseT-enabled gear at CES 2014.

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