Preparing for 3D in the Home with Cables and Connectors

By Yasmin Hashmi, HiddenWires & 3Droundabout

Go to any broadcast or home technology trade show and 3D is everywhere. It may not have taken off as dramatically as some expected, but the genie is firmly out of the bottle. 3D films are popular, Google Maps works in 3D, there are 3D broadcasts, and 3D gaming is set to be huge. So given that it may not take that long before 3D is everywhere, how should integrators prepare their customers for 3D in terms of cables and connectors? We asked a number of leading industry lights for their opinions. Here are there replies:

Chris Bundy, Director of Marketing, Atlona

There is a lot of misinformation going around right now regarding 3D content. The fact is, as far as cables and connectors go, anyone with an HDMI 1.3 cable is ready to pass 3D signals. That said, High Speed HDMI with Ethernet provides users with a certain amount of future proofing, as it is rated at higher bandwidths, and is capable of taking more data bi-directionally between source and display. Features such as the Audio Return Channel (ARC) and Ethernet channels have not been utilised by too many manufacturers as far as consumer products go, but make no mistake; those products are on the horizon and will be here soon. Integrators should think ahead when it comes to 3D audio/video systems.

Advances in technology are coming fairly frequently. Valens Semiconductor has recently come out with chipsets that can transfer the same 3D video, uncompressed audio, Ethernet, and control signals carried by HDMI over low-cost CAT5 or CAT6 cables. Valens, along with Sony, Samsung, and LG are the founding companies of the HDBaseT Alliance, formed to promote their new standard designed to use CAT5 to replace multiple cables in AV systems [Editors' note: see Micha Risling's HDBaseT article this month]. Currently, this technology is embedded into baluns or extenders such as our HD-V40SRS, however, in the near future, we will start seeing this technology embedded directly into sources such as Blu-ray players and 3D displays from LG, Sony and Samsung.

Bob Hart, Consultant, Bryant Unlimited

As with all things these days, bandwidth is key. Most users will already be receiving the incoming signal by cable, satellite or fibre. HDMI 1.4A is the most recent version of the 3DTV standard that covers the cable and connectors that go between 3DTV devices such as the set-top box, satellite box, Blu-ray player and the HDTV. HDMI 1.4A will automatically sense and support the 3D formats currently in use, and should be relatively future proof. HDMI interconnect cables for domestic use are freely available via the Internet.

Jack Urrutia, Applications Engineer, Channel Vision Technology

For many years now, my company has been creating products that maintain and deliver high-quality RF signals over the coax cable in the home. To a certain degree, nothing really changes when it comes to distributing 3D HDTV. It is still critical to use high-quality amplifiers, splitters, cable, and connectors that are installed with care. There will undoubtedly be RF distribution products that will be marketed as, ’3D HDTV compatible’, but while this will be a true statement, it is a case of stating the obvious. Even though the content of a 3D HDTV signal will be different to a standard HDTV signal, it will not challenge the bandwidth capabilities of the RF delivery system. This means that the high-quality coax products that installers have been using for years will continue to work for 3D HDTV content.

Once the RF signal has reached its ultimate destination, it may need to be connected to a decoder box before the content can be delivered to the TV. The cable between the decoder box and the TV will most certainly be an HDMI cable. The current HDMI 1.4 cable specification is designed to accommodate 3D content. As long as no attempt is made to distribute the HDMI output to multiple TVs, installers should have no major problems making systems work correctly. In the past, many installers have encountered significant problems when attempting to implement whole-house HDMI distribution systems. High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) problems have been at the centre of troubles for HDMI users since the introduction of this technology. Given that 3D is just one more form of content to be protected, it seems likely to add to the frustrations of those who attempt whole-house HDMI distribution systems.

Tim Fox, Sales Manager, VDC Trading

With the advent of HDMI 1.4, and specifically 3D, it has never been more important to get the underlying infrastructure right, and that means investing in quality cable which will do justice to your installation. A system is only as good as its weakest point. We believe installers should quote for dual CAT6 runs to deliver a good HDMI backbone with options – this is in addition to a good coax and Ethernet network for standard uses. It is vital to ensure the cable is of a good construction and containing quality conducting material. If installers are planning to run HDMI leads rather than extenders, the quality argument is even more important, especially when run lengths are in excess of 5m. If your customers are expecting high performance, plan to deliver that through good cable, or plan to handle a disappointed customer!

Ralph Parrett, Director of Technical Services, Liberty AV

Installers and integrators should be installing the best infrastructure available. 3D requires nearly twice the bandwidth of standard broadcasts. A quality infrastructure is going to cost more than ‘lowest bidder’ products. Installers and integrators should ensure they are recommending and installing cables and connectors that have the necessary bandwidth for today’s signals and tomorrow’s requirements. Technology is rapidly accommodating HDMI transmission over twisted pair, fibre optic, and RF coaxial infrastructure. HDMI interconnect cables should be rated for High Speed or High Speed with Ethernet. Class E or Category 6 F/UTP cable is recommended for twisted pair applications with one caveat – the new HDBaseT standard has worked very well on standard Class D or Category 5e F/UTP cable. Fibre optic cable should be a minimum of OM2 Multimode. Single Mode Fibre has no known bandwidth limit but the equipment is going to cost a great deal more. Use a good quality 3GHz RF cable that exhibits a structural return loss (SRL) ratio of -20dB or greater out to 3.0GHz.

Don’t scrimp on the connectors. You’re installing great cable, why cripple the signal by adding impedance mismatches and SRL issues from cheap connectors? Old analogue broadcasts had long wavelengths and the short impedance mismatch from a cheap connector had little or no effect. High-frequency digital signals have much shorter wavelengths and the impedance mismatch can really begin to affect your signal delivery. Make sure your connector is verified to the maximum frequency set that you plan on delivering.

A service to offer, in addition to your cable and connectors, is testing and validation. The best cable and connectors in the world won’t work if something is wrong. Always test and validate each circuit, including pass-through and panel junctions. A continuity test will not catch all issues, so use a tester that measures performance.

Jonathan Pengilley, Managing Director, Habitech

If any friend of mine asks me for advice with regard to home technology I always say the same thing: “The most important thing is to get the right cable infrastructure in place.” It is the only thing you can’t change once the walls are plastered. So with regard to 3D, what are the consequences?

Well 3D is not revolutionary technology, it is two images that are polarised so as humans we see a stereo image shot from two cameras. However, it does have drastic consequences for us CI mortals. BANDWIDTH. Basically, it means that twice as much data is required at the TV to create two images. So, I hear you ask, “If Sky is broadcasting in 3D already, what’s the issue?” Yes they are, but they have dropped the resolution to get the two images to you.

Let me bore you with some bandwidth/data rate facts: The number of pixels (dots) to make a 480p 16:9 image is approx 400,000, 720p is approx 614,000 and 1080p is 2,000,000. Now double that for 3D Blu-ray and you get 4,000,000. Now think with a frame rate of 25fps (25 frames per second). My calculator is old like me, and it came up with ‘Error’. And that is per second!

What am I getting at? Data volumes or bandwidth are going through the roof. So if you do nothing else, put good cable in that can handle big bandwidth. What do I recommend? Lots of CAT6 or HNC Pro+ as we call it at Habitech. Why CAT6 and not fibre or CAT7/8? Price versus performance. CAT6 is very low cost for the amount of bandwidth. It is also pretty simple to terminate and most people can install it well as long as they adhere to some basic principles. That is the reason I am not a fan of fibre at present. I have spoken to a number of commercial fibre installers and they all told me that their engineers have approximately GBP4000 of tools to terminate fibre quickly and correctly. Well that doesn’t work for the amount that we will do in CI at present. I suppose there is an argument to pull the fibre alongside the copper and leave it unterminated for the time when copper can’t cope and the cost of termination has fallen drastically.

Don’t forget that the chip manufacturers are constantly getting more bandwidth down the same cable. I was not aware that the new UTP 3D HDMI 1.4 baluns are carrying 10.5Gbps down CAT6. That is a lot of data and will cope with 3D 1080p from a Blu-ray player.

P.S. I believe that wireless technology will never keep up with media demands, so don’t let anyone tell you it can all be done wirelessly. You will get hurt.

Rich Baxter, Senior Certified Trainer, Monster Europe

As 3D technology evolves, it is more important than ever for custom installers to future-proof for as long as possible when setting up a new 3D home cinema – because not all 3D is the same. It’s OK to use HDMI 1.3 cable for Sky 3D as the technology employed is ‘passive side by side’. Simply put, the Sky HD box can only output maximum 1080i, 8-bit colour and 50Hz technology, so ‘passive side by side’ splits this in two halves for each eye, meaning in 3D, the Sky box still outputs in 3D the same as it does in HD, thus only requiring a 1.3 HDMI cable.

Full Blu-ray ‘active’ 3D is a whole different standard that does require a fully-certified HDMI 1.4a cable at 10.2Gbps or above. Why above? 3D Blu-ray won’t stay at just 50Hz or 100Hz. As refresh rates evolve, we will soon see 3D content at 240Hz, meaning higher-bandwidth HDMI cables. Is it also possible that one day we may see 3D in 4k x 2k and at 16-bit colour? One other important factor with 3D is that live streaming content will soon be available through BD-Live. Having a fully-certified HDMI 1.4 cable already installed will mean you can stream the content through the HDMI cable to the source and back through the TV and not have to worry about installing Ethernet cables as well (of course, the TV and the source needed to support this feature). Using an Internet over Powerline system would be of massive benefit with this. So, in summary, HDMI is the only connection that supports the different 3D formats at this moment, although in time, DisplayPort may have something to say about that…

Bob Dolatowski, President, NextGen

Firstly, choose HDMI cables that actually meet the latest specifications both on paper and in the field to ensure that it will handle 3D and 1.4 applications. Unfortunately, despite outlandish marketing claims, not all cables are created equal. Some manufacturers have only had a short 1m cable tested in order to pass HDMI certification, however the problem comes the longer the cable gets – performance falls off quickly. We have to watch every aspect of the manufacturing process carefully, the connector, gage and quality of cable and most importantly, have each length tested for quality.

That’s why we are proud members of the DPL Labs Program, to ensure that ALL of our cables meet or exceed the latest HDMI standards. DPL Laboratories, Inc. of Ormond Beach, Florida (DPL Labs) administers the Digital Performance Level Seal of Approval Program (the DPL Program) in which its independent laboratory tests high-bandwidth, high-definition digital signalling products, such as HDMI cables, against an objective standard to determine an accurate performance level based on actual data-backed results.

Secondly, choose a cable that will provide your customer with the proper performance now and into the future, as well as one built to quality standards so that it will reliably deliver that same level of performance with no interruptions. There is a proliferation of cheap cables on the market claiming highest quality, but our research, along with DPL Labs, shows that many of these cables either won’t work properly or will break down over time, eventually leading to failure.

At the same time, some cable manufacturers charge an arm and leg with no evidence that their cables perform better, if as well as, less expensive models. My recommendation is to look for a cable that exceeds the needs of the application and can back up its claims with verifiable performance data.

Matthew Simmons, Director of Product, Path Group

As the industry develops ever more exciting new bandwidth-hungry technologies, the installer and integrator are being asked constantly to help their clients make the best decisions to satisfy their desire for performance, while offering value for money, and simultaneously deliver solutions that are easy to maintain and upgrade.

With the demand for 3DTVs likely to increase, driven by greater availability of content, and we are certain that Super High-Def will be a future driver, how does the installer ensure that their clients get the best performance, but deliver it without risking non-profitable follow-up service and maintenance calls, and future-proof their clients – to a degree.

While the sources, such as Blu-ray players and rendering devices such as plasma and now 3DTVs, are typically rack-mounted or wall-mounted, the connections between are often less accessible and are regularly built into the building structure. It is therefore important to pick a cable supplier that has a reputation for high performance, quality and future-proofing as much as possible. If they offer lifetime product guarantee, even better.

Any signal path is as good as its weakest link and it is important with sources producing ever higher resolutions and rendering devices capable of resolving in very high definition, that the interconnects are the absolute best quality possible, especially where cable runs are long; often the case with installed solutions. Pick HDMI cables which conform to the ‘Eye Test’ – the industry benchmark for performance. Despite assertion to the contrary in the populist media, countless independent cable reviews have proven that digital performance is not all the same – especially over long lengths. And you do tend to pay for what you get. At IXOS, the extra cost being ploughed into better components, better connectors, better screening and uncompromising QC tolerances, not to mention a first-to-market product innovation strategy rather than re-badging off-the-shelf clones.

Lastly, one of the great things about our industry is that technology never stays still, and again, the installer is always looking to future-proof themselves. While sources or renderers can be upgraded, if you pick the highest performing HDMI 1.4 cables now, that is, high-speed, 3D ready, with Ethernet (my pick for the next tech wave) and tested to greater than 1080, you have a fighting chance of not needing to dig it all out of the wall for a good while.

Yasmin Hashmi is the Managing Editor of HiddenWires and 3Droundabout. Additional comments on this issue can be found at the HiddenWires LinkedIn Group where you can also participate in the discussion.

Copyright HiddenWires 2010.

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