VIDEO is in the House
June 1, 2007
As security dealers and systems integrators move into more residential home control and audio/video jobs, their installers’ familiarity with the cabling used to send video throughout a home must increase. Recent improvements like high-definition video have greatly increased the bandwidth required to move video for entertainment purposes around a home.
Among the types of cable that can be used to send video around a house are RG 59 or RG 6 coaxial cable, Cat 5e, DVI (which has been used for a short time mostly to connect components) and HDMI. Coaxial is used more often for cable and satellite television distribution, whereas Cat 5e typically is used more for surveillance video, although its use for entertainment video has been demonstrated.
“A lot of people in the automation part of the industry are transmitting video over Cat 5e, and again that’s more with touch panels and the like â€” it’s typically not high-definition,” maintains Wayne Hostetler, strategic accounts manager for HomeChoice products, Belden Inc., St. Louis.
“What’s starting to happen now is, in some instances in some of the larger markets, you’re starting to see Cat 5 and Cat 6,” asserts Jeff Stout, business development manager for the Northeast region of Tri-Ed Distribution Inc., Woodbury, N.Y.
“A lot of people are starting to look at IP video cameras and tying them into a broadband Internet connection at the house and using that for remote monitoring,” he reports. “It’s one of the biggest things that I’m seeing as far as a growth area â€” people taking on video in the home as part of their security package, more than just standard intrusion, fire and CO.”
Hostetler thinks Cat 5e cable currently is overkill. “In the home, there’s no application that requires Cat 5e,” he insists. “Cat 5 is capable of handling most anything that goes on in the home. More and more, we’re selling Cat 5e and Cat 6, which is overkill in this day and age, but it’s a future-proofing issue.”
Bob Gartland, president of AVAD, Van Nuys, Calif., agrees that Cat 5e is being installed frequently. “Because of the proliferation of devices working on Cat 5e, we are seeing dealers pull multiple runs to a room or location,” Gartland comments.
“Many new products allow HDMI, component video and other signals to be adapted to run on Cat 5e,” he maintains. “It’s much quicker and easier install, it’s affordable, and its flexibility gives the dealer option for upgrades down the road.”
Because of these evolving technologies, the demand for certain cable assemblies of different types of wire keeps changing, Hostetler points out.
“Every configuration seems a little different,” he asserts. “We kind of go with the flow as far as that’s concerned. We try to be responsive to the demands of our parts distributors and the end users. Every show you go to, there seems to be a new configuration called for.”
Getting Fiber in Your MixFiber-optic cable sometimes is used between floors in multi-unit residential and commercial buildings and between buildings because signals can travel farther than in copper wiring.
“Fiber is a great way to transmit a lot of data over a little bit of cable,” Stout points out. “The problem is the equipment that takes it from fiber to standard mode is very costly.
“You can get houses prewired with fiber in them, and it’s incredibly efficient, but when you get into houses where you’re doing retrofit work, if you try to run fiber, if you have a problem behind a wall, it can be a nightmare to diagnose with fiber,” he complains.
If another contractor working in a new house under construction accidentally pinches the fiber-optic wire already installed, it has to be replaced, and that can be expensive.
“There are dealers that do fiber well, but most of the dealers I see up here in the Northeast have a real good comfort level with copper, and they see fiber as a commercial solution, a building solution,” Stout maintains.
A residential application for fiber-optic cabling is sending video to pool or coach houses in large estate homes. But many dealer/integrators then convert the signal back to copper for distribution throughout the building.
Hostetler thinks the fiber-optic cable that is being installed in homes is for future-proofing. “We have a lot of people who call out fiber for no particular reason other than to say they have it,” he maintains. “I’d estimate 99 percent of it is still dark.
“If you’d asked us 10 years ago, everybody would have thought we were on fiber,” Hostetler says of future expectations. “Sometimes it’s a connectivity issue. It’s a difficult and tedious process and has to be done exactly correct to make it work. A lot of people don’t have that expertise when copper wire is serving the purpose.”
HDMI Still a Work in ProgressNew high-capacity cables like HDMI and DVI have been introduced to handle the greater amount of picture information required for high-definition video.
HDMI handles the video in an uncompressed state and provides copy protection, which DVI does not. The complexity of HDMI cable and its connectors require additional training for those designing and installing home control and audio/video systems.
“HDMI is a totally new world for most installers,” maintains David Coleman, program manager, CE cable products, Honeywell, Pleasant Prairie, Wis. “Security installers should be aware of HDMI and get more information about it to decide whether or not it is right for them.”
HDMI cable can replace up to 13 analog cables, Coleman calculates, but prices and quality of the cable from different sources has varied. It has 19 wires in it, eight of which are four twisted pairs.
“The process of building an HDMI cable has hundreds of critical steps,” Coleman emphasizes. “Because it is such a sophisticated product to build, not everyone does it the same, which means that not all HDMI cables are created equally.
“Thus, if you buy two different HDMI cables at two different prices, there is very likely a reason for it, but not always,” he asserts. “The fact is, you could be wasting your money on a cheap cable as on an expensive cable. You still get manufacturers out there who will provide some smoke and mirrors and marketing glitz to earn more for their cable.
“The good news is that it’s an all-digital world now,” Coleman continues. “What that means is there’s quantifiable, scientific things you can look at to differentiate one cable’s performance from another.”
An eye pattern test (shaped like a human eye) can graphically depict a digital signal transmission and is the best way to compare the performance of different HDMI cables.
The HDMI Licensing Group, which licenses all HDMI products, estimates HDMI units are growing at 125 percent year over year.
“They have started doing a better job working with their adopters as far as compliance goes and now are testing for HDCP compliance, a common cause of failure,” Coleman declares.
The problem has sometimes been the quality of the components and whether they are sending out strong enough voltage down the HDMI cable to the receiving component for the digital “handshake” that the components use to recognize each other, maintains Jon Litt, national sales manager for custom installation for Monster Cable Products Inc., Brisbane, Calif.
Proponents of HDMI cabling say reports of a lack of standardization and interoperability slowing HDMI cable usage are no longer true because of improvements made in compliance with tighter HDMI cable specifications.
“Over 500 manufacturers have adopted it,” Coleman asserts. “It is quite clearly the standard now.”
Whether HDMI cable will be used throughout homes is still to be determined.
“Some forward-thinking dealers are trying to distribute HDMI cable throughout the house with active hardware that can ensure that the signal can travel long distances,” Coleman reports. “By itself, an HDMI signal has a very hard time traveling long distances.”
HDMI cable is available in 35- and 50-foot lengths for runs through ceilings and walls from video sources to display devices, such as front-projection video units. What about cutting custom lengths of HDMI cable?
“It’s difficult to apply an HDMI connector in the field,” maintains Hostetler. “It’s a real tedious, difficult process. Most guys sell them as assemblies. I don’t know anybody doing an HDMI connector in the field.”
For a few months, DVI cables were in use for high-definition video. But HDMI already is replacing them, and converters from DVI to HDMI are available for outputs on components.
WIDTH OF BAND TO EXPANDWhich cables will become more dominant in the future is up for debate. But even higher quality video is expected in the future, so future-proofing homes with high-bandwidth cable is recommended, suggests Litt.
“It’s all about bandwidth, so you’re going to see that bandwidth ceiling continue to be raised, and then you’re going to start getting into HDMI distribution,” Litt predicts.
Stout has heard good and bad about HDMI and its expense, but he agrees that it may be the future.
“HDMI is probably where it’s going to go because it handles audio and video,” he thinks. “Eventually, HDMI will be used to distribute video. It eventually will port video to different places in the house. It is an amazing product.”
Stout thinks the video distribution method will depend on how the signal is delivered to the home.
“You’re going to capitalize on that broadband presence in homes,” he predicts. “The cable companies have a broadband presence driven by that coax coming in your house. The phone guys have all been twisted pair for hundreds of years.
“By strengthening their backbone, they’re going to capitalize on that, and so you can get video over your Cat 5 connections in the house,” he believes.
As proof, Stout points to the amount of video content, such as You Tube and legal movie downloads, that already is being delivered over the Internet.
“I think the future for video distribution throughout the home ultimately is going to be IP-based,” Coleman declares.
Hostetler thinks Cat 5e and 6 along with fiber may play a greater role in the future of video cables. “I certainly don’t see the death of copper wire yet,” he cautions. “Obviously, the buzz words are for wireless components, but there is a lot of copper wire in wireless configurations. And anybody that carries a cell phone knows full well that wireless is not infallible in the four corners of a room.”
DEFINITIONSThe High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) is an all-digital audio/video interface capable of transmitting uncompressed streams. HDMI provides an interface between any compatible digital audio/video source, such as a set-top box, a DVD player, a PC, a video game console, or an AV receiver and a compatible digital audio and/or video monitor, such as a digital television (DTV). In 2006, HDMI began to appear as a feature on prosumer HDTV camcorders and even high-end digital still cameras.
High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) is a form of Digital Rights Management (DRM) developed by Intel Corporation to control digital audio and video content as it travels across Digital Visual Interface (DVI) or High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) connections. The specification is proprietary, and creating an implementation of HDCP requires a license.
The Digital Visual Interface (DVI) is a video interface standard designed to maximize the visual quality of digital display devices such as flat panel LCD computer displays and digital projectors. It was developed by an industry consortium, the Digital Display Working Group (DDWG). It is designed primarily for carrying uncompressed digital video data to a display. It is partially compatible with the HDMI standard in digital mode (DVI-D). Some new DVD players, TV sets (including HDTV sets) and video projectors have DVI/HDCP connectors; these are physically the same as DVI connectors but transmit an encrypted signal using the HDCP protocol for copy protection.
Sidebar: Installation Tips - Round Corners, Use Good ConnectorsThink of the turns of high-quality video cable like the off-ramps of a superhighway, suggests Jon Litt, national sales manager for custom installation for Monster Cable Products Inc., Brisbane, Calif.
He tells of jobs when he was an installer where 90-degree turns cut off just a few random cable or satellite television channels. Rounding the corners solved the problem.
Litt also advises not exceeding the recommended distance for sending video signals and using high-quality connectors that are attached well.
“You could have the best cable in the world, but if you put a sloppy termination at the end of it, you’ve just defeated the purpose of having a good cable,” Litt points out. “Some connectors may look the same, but the inside of that connector really makes the difference.”
Connectors should have as much contact with the wire as possible, he recommends, and not just touch the wire at two points.