Remember when all home theater hook-up consisted of was the need to screw the pointy RF coax cable from the VCR into the TV? Sure, the picture and sound quality were crap, but we didn’t know any better at the time. We’ve come a long way since then, haven’t we? (Well, at least some of us have. My mother, not so much.) Through the evolution from RCA composite cables to S-video to Component video, we learned the benefits of separating out the various portions of the picture and sound signals to their own separate carriers. Then with HDMI, we learned how to combine them all back into one cable again. Now, an alliance of manufacturers has developed a new A/V connection called HDBaseT that it hopes will give HDMI the boot, and become the new all-in-one connection standard for home video and audio equipment. The question is, do we really need it?
Don’t get me wrong, HDMI is far from perfect. Its connectors lack a locking mechanism, and are often flimsy and unstable. It doesn’t a carry a signal well over long distances. And the ever-changing HDCP encryption protocols sometimes create a handshaking nightmare between devices – especially if you perform any sort of signal switching or splitting somewhere in the chain.
Although HDMI has combined high-def video and multi-channel high-res audio into one cable, we still need separate cords for power and for Ethernet networking. So cable clutter hasn’t been totally eliminated yet. (At least, that’s true through HDMI version 1.3. The newest HDMI v1.4 standard, which is only now starting to be rolled out to home theater gear, adds an Ethernet carrier channel to the cable. Nonetheless, we still need a separate power cord.)
HDBaseT seeks to alleviate some of these problems. The connection will consolidate video, audio, Ethernet, a USB signal, and even power all into one cable. It’s claimed to travel well over longer distances. It supports 3-D video. And the cable itself is a standard Cat-5e/Cat-6 LAN cable that will click into place on both ends. You’re probably already using one right now for your Ethernet connection.
As far as HDCP handshaking, I’m skeptical that there will really be any improvement there. The home video studios are incredibly paranoid about encryption and piracy. I don’t foresee any laxing of those standards. But you never know.
What will be even more problematic is the need to actually upgrade all of our equipment to new devices that support this connection type. We’ll need new Blu-ray players, new game consoles, new A/V receivers, new TVs, and new anything else that might fall in between. Many consumers are still getting used to the idea of HDMI in the first place. This may simply be too soon for a major overhaul of the standard, even if it does turn out to be technologically superior.
On the other hand, HDBaseT may be well timed to coincide with the introduction of 3-D to the market. 3-D video requires at least HDMI v1.4, and can’t be transmitted by prior versions. Consumers interested in 3-D will be required to upgrade much of their equipment anyway.
It’s not like this is the first attempt to replace HDMI, though. Previous efforts have failed to gain widespread industry acceptance. In its favor, the coalition behind HDBaseT includes major powerhouse players Sony, Samsung, and LG. Will those big names be enough to give it traction in the marketplace? We can only wait and see.
[via Slashdot. Thanks to William for the tip.]