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Do We Already Need a New Replacement for HDMI?

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.]

5 comments

  1. I’m a fan! The idea of one cable handling my internet signal, video, audio and power is awesome, and CAT5 cables are nice and easy to work with.

    If it all works with my existing home network, then we’ve got a winner on our hands :)

  2. Zaserov

    “What will be even more problematic is the need to actually upgrade all of our equipment to new devices that support this connection type.”

    Not only that, but there will surely be some sort of proprietary receiver/router/power conditioner that’s required to make the new cable worthwhile. After that initial purchase, though, it sounds like it could be a very simple and intuitive system. As long as every piece is part of the new standard, which seems to happen all of never.

  3. Stephen

    I love this! I believe I read that it can handle 100watts of power, so thats good enough to power a TV. So imagine mounting your tv and then simply running 1 little cord to the tv. It would look so much nicer. What I am exciting for (and slightly confused about) is the networking. Imagine plugging your tv’s, DVR, bluray, ps3, anything else into a special switch and instantly being able to stream that content to any tv in the house. I could simply plug in a tv in my bedroom and be able to connect to my dvr, ps3, and maybe a set top box if need be without doing any special streaming tricks or even running long cables or hdmi to ethernet conversion to get that in my room. Its just simply built in. I think this is way better than hdmi.

    The concerns are like you said. You need to upgrade. But I am curious as to if you need special nics on the sending in. Like for a ps3. Could ps3′s and bluray players simply update their firmware? Sure thay couldnt receive the power but that could at least send the audio/video and receive internet. They may evenb make conversion kits for tv’s. It could be a small box that you plug HDMI, ehternet, usb, and maybe even power into and then send an ehternet cord. I say bring this bad boy on. It will be a great upgrade to what we have now!

  4. I am actually all for it, for several reasons. The main is, like you said, distance limitation. Shoot, when hooking up the projector in the auditorium at our church, I finally decided to go with a 75 foot long DVI over HDMI. HDMI was INCREDIBLY expensive, and our input was a computer. While it has a Blu-Ray drive in it, I just slapped AnyDVD on there to deal with encryption issues. However, DVI has a distance limitation of about 10 feet (or is it ten meters?). Had to buy an amplifier to get the projector to even sync up with the signal. It works great – most of the time. Fast motion causes framerate to drop and lines lines to start crawling down the screen (reminds me of old sync issues when pointing a video camera at a television).

    I also have an ethernet cable hooked up to control the projector itself via the PC. The biggest issue I have is, because of the architecture of the building, the cables cant be run in the ceiling (as the ceiling is the underside of the roof – no crawl space or attic), so cables have to run along the ceiling and through (or over) beams. The ethernet cable is barely noticable. The big bulky DVI cable is. Running the cable through beams proved to be a nightmare (its one thing drilling a hole for a small ethernet cable, quite another to fit the plug of a dvi cable through it).

    Man, what I wouldn’t do to run video over ethernet!

    As far as confusing customers and having to replace equipment, I say that’s a pestimist view. Current owners are NOT going to replace their equipment. Shoot, I ran component up to a year ago – because my television at the time only supported component. The television only did 1080i, and it looked good. When I upgraded my television, I slowly upgraded SOME of my components to HDMI (the sat reciever, the PS3 and the HD-DVD player). The XBox is still hooked up with component (most of my games only do 720p anyways), and the Wii with component. The laserdisc player is hooked up with RF (was RCA, but my roommate’s insane cat decided she would chew it, and now have a broken pin), and the S-SVHS is hooked up with SVideo.

    Sorry, started chasing rabbits to try to make a simple point. Sure, let us have video over ethernet, but still keep the old inputs for legacy. People will update as they start acquiring new equipment. May take a few years to catch on, but I am all for going ethernet. Shoot, if you want to go coax, I am all for that. Coax is good enough to carry digital signal from my dish to my reciever, and from the pole to my cable modem and giving me faster speeds than the Fiber provider in my area offers. The reason coax sucks on video is because its analogue. Has plenty of capacity for transmitting digital.

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