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What is HD Base-T? Will It Kill HDMI? Should I Care?

Yet another use for the wonder wire, CAT-5, and this is the best one yet. HD Base-T promises to free us from many fo theose silly HDMI limitations, by delivering uncompressed audio and video over distances Payton Manning can't even throw, and that's just the beginning. The plethroa of advantages HD Base-T brings to the table will be a real game changer, if it ever sees large scale adoption and implementation.

What is HD Base-T?

Well, it could be the greatest thing to hit HD media connectivity since sliced bread. Admit it, you’ve never really liked HDMI and all it’s attendant issues anyway, right? HD Base-T is more than HDMI on steroids. It’s a way to transport digital media over a single cable, sure, but it goes far beyond that.

For one thing, that cable is every custom installer’s wonder wire; CAT-5e. Yes, there have been HDMI over CAT-5 transceivers with us for a couple of years now, but this is different; way different. Maybe HD Base-T should be called HD LAN, but, like HDMI, it delivers uncompressed digital video and audio over a single cable. It also adds power, control, and Ethernet to the mix, forming what the HD Base-T Alliance has termed “5-Play”. “So what?” you say, “HDMI can do all that now, except for power”

Sure it can, but not for 100 meters over a single CAT-5e that you already have in your walls! HDMI can’t do it using a standard RJ-45 connector, instead of that infernal HDMI connector either, which admittedly has seen some improvement over the years, but is still cause for frustration. Ask any custom installer to confirm that if you have doubts.

HD Base-T Will Enable Thinner, Lighter, and Cheaper TVs that Use Less Power
The power portion of the equation is not the standard POE, either, which has rather severe power limitations associated with it. HD Base-T on the other hand, can deliver up to 100 watts. TV manufacturers are seeing large screen flat panel TVs in their crystal balls that use less than this figure arriving within the next few years. You can already get 40”, LED powered TVs that use less than this much power.

It will actually help make TVs even smaller and more efficient, because a pure HD Base-T TV set would be able to eliminate the traditional power cord altogether. This cuts costs, and saves space and weight, because it eliminates one of the heaviest and more expensive components inside a traditional TV, the AC/DC power supply. Get rid of that, and your TV will be easier to connect, thinner, lighter, and yes, cheaper. The lack of a traditional power supply means the TV can be more efficient, because no power supply is 100% efficient.

That means that you’ll be able to hang a TV anywhere you can get, or already have a CAT-5, and plug in a single cable, terminated with a standard RJ-45 connector, and be good to go for power, HD audio and video, and streaming content, even 330′ from your head end.

Speaking of streaming content, the current HD Base-T supports 10/100 Ethernet, but is capable of scaling up to Gigabit Ethernet. The technology even supports USB for control applications.

Does it Do 3D and 1080P?
Does it rain in Seattle?

What About Wireless?
We’ve heard for years that wireless is going to be the way of the future. I’ve even had to patiently explain to clients why they really shouldn’t forgo the relatively inexpensive CAT-6 cabling in their new, multi-million dollar homes because they are going to have a wireless network. It’s not redundant to have a hard wired network. A wired network offers bandwidth and security that a wireless network simply can’t match. Even if it could, no one has figured out a nice, affordable way to send the requisite power through the airwaves to your TV on the wall, such as HD Base-T can do.

Is HD Base-T The Same as Ethernet?
No, it isn’t. You can’t plug it into your standard Ethernet routers and switches, even though it uses the same cable and connectors. That’s because, although it packetizes data, it doesn’t do it the same way that Ethernet does. It works at a lower frequency, to help noise rejection, and ensure all devices receive a pure, clean signal.

Is It Really a Network?
Although it isn’t Ethernet, it is a network. That means you can plug all your HD Base-T enabled devices together, and they can share information back and forth. You’ll be able to have multiple displays from a single source, for example. You will also be able to send content from one box or display to another on the network, even if there is no direct connection between them.

For example, you may have a TV and cable box in the family room, connected to a Blu-Ray player in the media room and that player is connected to a  media server in your closet. The family room TV will be able to display content from the server, even though there is no direct connection between the two. The mind reels at the possibilities.

That’s one of the great things about the technology. Components can be interconnected any number of ways to share content and control. Daisy chain or star wiring topologies work just fine, and up to 8 x 100 meter runs can be supported on a single system. That’s more distance than your average homeowner will have to contend with.

Who’s Behind It?
Some of the most powerful players in the consumer electronics industry formed the HD Base-T Alliance. We’re talking Samsung, Sony Pictures Entertainment, LG Electronics, and Valens Semiconductor. Valens Semiconductor? While not a household name in CE, Valens developed the HD Base-T system. I’m sure a handsome bonus awaits the exec who green lighted that project over at Valens.

More companies are joining the alliance as you read this. Currently, among names you’d probably recognize are Extron, Crestron, Gefen, LeGrand, Panduit, and many others you likely haven’t heard of, either because they service other markets or make behind the scenes components you won’t find in your Big Box or electronics store. You’ll notice that these companies earn their dough selling infrastructure, control, content transport, and switching components.

What’s On the Market That Uses HD Base-T Now?
Not too much, unfortunately. Crestron’s Digital Media series of components uses it in their 8G product, much to the chagrin of those who installed the non 8G stuff using the big, expensive cable just a few short months ago. Ah, the pace of change in the CE industry. Fortunately, the older cable is fully capable of supporting the new 8G components, albeit over shorter distances than CAT-6.

Tributaries is introducing a line of HDMI over a single CAT-5 components that use HD Base-T to send HDMI 100 meters over a single CAT-5. The Tributaries pieces are currently supporting only 3 of the 5 plays however, leaving power and control on the table. Gefen is another well regarded switching and HDMI extender company who’s embraced the technology to deliver a HDMI over a single cable solution.

When the audio companies jump on this, it will be a game changer. You’ll simply have one cable that runs from your surround receiver to each component, whether directly, or through an HD Base-T switch.

If this technology is widely adopted as the new connectivity standard by TV, source, and audio manufacturers it will transform the A/V landscape. Gone will be the gangs of custom installers roaming the landscape, missing giant patches of hair.

When Will We Really See It?
It is already available on switching and signal transport components. However, after a large, introductory splash, I was unable to find any A/V displays, sources, or other components which support this technology planned for roll out in the near future. Stay tuned for what transpires at the CEDIA Expo, now only 6 months away. A few more well placed calls to industry insiders may yet turn up something new and exciting, so stay tuned for more.

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