Tech Thursday

HDBaseT: Ditch your media cords forever

Have you seen those commercials for ATT U-verse wireless receivers? For some reason, these annoy the heck out of me. Probably because I grew up in a big city with a fairly decent Over-the-air selection of tv channels so I’ve never had cable in my life*. The commercials also conveniently leave out that you still need a power source for the TV and presumably the receiver so you still might have some limitations where you can watch television. But there might be a way after all.

How great would it be if you could use a CAT5 cable to connect devices like TVs, Stereos, Roku, Xbot and PS3 instead of HDMI? That is what the HDBaseT standard is meant to do.

HDBaseT is a connectivity standard for whole-home and commercial distribution of uncompressed HD multimedia content. The cornerstone of HDBaseT technology is 5Play™, a feature set that converges uncompressed full HD digital video, audio,100BaseT Ethernet, power over cable and various control signals through a single LAN cable. source.

HDBaseT not only caries the transmission of uncompressed high-definition video and audio like HDMI but it also adds power, home networking, and some control signals all over a common cable with a standard connector. This could be the next connection technology you use to daisy chain your systems together. Well sign me up Sally!

How does it work?

“HDBaseT uses an asymmetric method, sending video, audio, Ethernet and controls from source to sink, but only 100Mb are transferred back (Ethernet and controls). Unlike conventional data communication which is a symmetrical application by nature, with required a bit error rate (BER) of at least 10 to the minus 12, the asymmetric nature of HDBaseT is based on an innovative DSP engine and an AFE (Application Front End) architecture.”

“A special line coding scheme was developed to provide a better transfer quality to some kinds of data (audio, controls, Ethernet) without the need to ‘pay’ the protecting overhead for the video content which consumes most of the bandwidth.”

HDBaseT uses a proprietary version of Pulse Amplitude Modulation (PAM) technology, where digital data is represented as a coding scheme using different levels of DC voltage at high rates. This enables the 5Play feature-set to be maintained over a single 100 m CAT cable, without the electrical characteristics of the wire affecting performance. Although HDBaseT uses the same coding technology as Ethernet and even has an Ethernet channel, its packet-based technology is different from the traditional Ethernet packets. HDBaseT simply relies on the same physical cabling which provides the inherent benefits of the cost-effective CAT infrastructure.

Life be a whole lot simpler if we could use just one type of cord for almost every electronic device we own. And if we were not limited to how we place things like furniture based on where an electric outlet was in our room. I think Cable Ready devices were meant to bring us in this direction but of course the cable companies won’t unscramble their signals because of piracy concerns. HDBaseT would be a step in the right direction especially for people who aren’t building a home from scratch. The only potential downside is this tidbit from the FAQ:

Q: Are all HDBaseT certified products compatible with any/other HDBT certified product?

A: That should be the case, and this is why the Alliance created the certification program. However, keep in mind that with extending signals, there might be interoperability issues that are not related to HDBaseT and were not meant to be identified as part of the certification program. HDBaseT is an important part of the solution, but it is part of the larger whole.

For example, Vendor A can design certain RS232 commands that work only with its own products. Vendor B uses different RS232 commands and in fact might interpret a “Power-on” command as a “Power-off” command. If you connect the two devices using HDBaseT, they will probably not work properly, just as but we all understand that the same issue will occur when the devices are connected without HDBaseT.

You will probably still need a really long extension cord to power up at least one of your devices if you decide you really want to watch the Super Bowl in the barn.  But at least that annoying kid from the commercial won’t be around.

[* I do have Comcast Cable for internet which comes with basic cable bundled into it.]


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