Alliance aims to make HD-over-twisted-pair a reality

May 1, 2012
The HDBase-T Alliance describes itself as a cross-industry organization that was formed to promote and provide ...

From the May, 2012 Issue of Cabling Installation & Maintenance Magazine

The HDBase-T Alliance is seeing early success in the commercial market and has lofty goals.

by Patrick McLaughlin

The HDBase-T Alliance describes itself as a cross-industry organization that was formed to promote and provide a technical standard for a technology called HDBase-T. The stated purpose of HDBase-T is for whole-home distribution of uncompressed high-definition (HD) multimedia content.

Founding members of the organization include LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Valens Semiconductor. While that lineup and the notion of whole-house video transmission may make it sound like the alliance and its goals are far afield from structured cabling systems for enterprise environments, a closer look suggests that HDBase-T might be a technology our industry hears more and more about in the months and years ahead.

“The commercial installation market is probably the segment where HDBase-T is most successful,” said Micha Risling, vice president at Valens Semiconductor who serves as marketing chair for the HDBase-T Alliance. In an interview with Cabling Installation & Maintenance, Risling added that commercial-enterprise users have taken to the technology because they “need a reliable solution that is easy to work with.”

The alliance has produced several documents describing HDBase-T technology, its capabilities and environments in which it can be beneficial. As its name suggests, HDBase-T is engineered to run over twisted-pair copper cabling. The alliance specifically targets Category 5e and Category 6 cabling. A frequently-asked-questions document includes the following “compelling features” of HDBase-T.

  • Uncompressed video/audio up to 10.2 Gbits/sec.
  • The capability to scale up to 20 Gbits/sec of throughput while enabling multistream support
  • Maximum 100-meter cabling length, including support of multiple hops
  • Standard Category 5e/Category 6 cable and the 8-position/8-contact (RJ-45) connector
  • Power over HDBase-T technology that supports up to 100W of power
  • Support for 100-Mbit/sec Ethernet with the ability to scale up to Gigabit Ethernet
  • Convenient installation using existing in-wall Ethernet connectivity infrastructure

Additionally, the alliance has trademarked the term “5Play” to describe the convergence that it enables—the ability to send video, audio, Internet, control and power over a single twisted-pair cable. It describes these capabilities as follows.

Video and audio—Supports TV and PC video formats including standard, enhanced, high-definition and 3D video, as well as all standard audio formats. HDBase-T delivers full HD/3D and 2K/4K uncompressed video to a network of devices or as a point-to-point connection. Uncompressed content supports all video sources, including legacy products, and accurately renders gaming graphics and features such as electronic program guides, all without degrading video quality or adding latency.

100Base-T Ethernet—Supports 100-Mbit/sec Ethernet capabilities, enabling televisions, hi-fi equipment, computers and other consumer-electronics devices to communicate with each other and access stored multimedia content, including video, pictures and music.

Power over cable—Sending power over the same Category 5e/6 cable gives installers the option to forgo plugging devices into the wall outlet to power, allowing greater mobility. HDBase-T can power remote TVs and other devices up to 100 watts.

Control signals—Delivers different types of control signals for different purposes, from Consumer Electronic Controls (CEC) to Recommended Standard (RS)-232, USB and infrared, which operate remote equipment allowing a system to be easily controlled and monitored.

Power over HDBase-T

Daniel Feldman, vice president of business development with Microsemi, recently explained the benefits of Power-over-HDBase-T (PoH) and its 100-watt capability. “Today’s typical 40-inch LED TV requires 70 W of power, and the latest Energy Star 5.3 specifications restrict all TVs to 108 W of power consumption, regardless of screen size,” he said. “Energy Star 6.0 is targeting a cap of 85 W for all screen sizes. LCD and LED TV monitors are rapidly approaching an average of approximately one W per inch of screen size. At these levels, HDBase-T has ample power-delivery capabilities, even for supporting very large displays.”

Feldman also noted, “Core PoE technology has been enhanced for the PoH specification to include a higher current of almost 1 Amp for every two pairs, with an appropriate three-event classification that identifies PoH power sourcing equipment. This enables PoH technology to transfer up to 100 W of continuous DC power, per port, from one side of the HDBase-T link to the other. Unlike PoE, where the powered device must assume a worst-case cabling infrastructure at all times, PoH enables the powered device to identify the cable length/resistance and draw more power, as long as the overall power consumption does not exceed 100 W.”

Reaching the commercial market

As mentioned earlier, HDBase-T Alliance marketing chair Micha Risling stated that the commercial-installation market has been a successful path for the alliance. The group has emphasized the technology’s 100-meter distance capability as a key differentiator between it and other audio/video transmission technologies. “Until now,” the alliance has said, “commercial installations have made due with more home-centric technologies and cables, as only a few cable standards can accommodate the feature set required for audio/video connectivity. However, these standards, designed specifically for the consumer electronics market, place limitations on commercial integrators in terms of cable reach, feature capabilities, ease of installation and overall flexibility.”

Risling said that many commercial A/V installers who have become familiar with HDBase-T technology have carried its proverbial flag to the product manufacturers whose products they install, impressing upon these manufacturers the importance of becoming HDBase-T-capable. Risling admitted, “It’s not easy to get device manufacturers to build technology into their equipment. The strategy we had from the early days was to start with the commercial market by convincing makers of accessories to adopt HDBase-T. The idea was that once it was successful, installers will ask to embed the technology, simply because it makes sense.” Some installers, he explained, wield clout with manufacturers. “They can say, ‘If you build it, we will use your product. If you don’t, we’ll use your competitor,’” he said. “That has happened, and the strategy works.”

Interface familiarity

In addition to the 100-meter distance capabilities of twisted-pair cabling systems being an advantage, Risling pointed out that the 8P8C connector interface is also an asset. “One of the difficulties of new technologies is getting manufacturers to incorporate a new connector” into their products, he said. “The fact that HDBase-T rides on the RJ-45—that in many cases is already there—reduces complexity and overhead for many manufacturers. … Eventually, adopting HDBase-T requires some new hardware, either a new PCB [printed circuit board] or the supplement of an additional PCB to what is currently being used. But—and this is a very important factor—in most cases it does not require any framework changes on the product itself. From a system perspective, especially when sending video and audio over HDBase-T, the system sees it as an extension of HDMI. Integration is easy.”

He added that in the same vein, from the standpoint of A/V system users, “It also will allow users unfamiliar with HDBase-T to see the standard RJ-45 connector. They’ll simply plug into a standard Ethernet switch.”

Risling, as one would expect, is bullish on the technology’s capabilities as well as its prospects for success in the marketplace. He provided a backdrop for the environment into which the technology has been introduced: “Many had bad experiences with HDMI or with other technologies that were trying to send HDMI over copper or long-length cables.” As a result, many will be hesitant. But, Risling said, “The message for HDBase-T is, they simply need to try it.”

He pointed to Crestron Electronics as something of a testimonial to HDBase-T. “The fact that companies like Crestron, which does not compromise on quality, chose to use HDBase-T in their products means the technology works,” he said. “It is not a conceptual technology; it is a proven technology.”

In addition to Crestron, the membership ranks of HDBase-T include some other recognizable names in the commercial structured cabling industry, including Extron, Legrand Ortronics, Microsemi and Panduit.

HDBase-T technology may become another real-life example of technology systems converging over a single Internet Protocol-based platform—and that platform supported by structured cabling systems.

Patrick McLaughlin is our chief editor.

Questions and answers about HDBase-T

The following information is taken from a Frequently Asked Questions document published by the HDBase-T Alliance.

Q: Does the alliance currently have a specification?

A: Yes, the HDBase-T Alliance has been formed to license the existing HDBase-T specification and to engage in development activities to advance the specification in the evolving industry. HDBase-T technology has been in development over the past few years, culminating in the finalization of the HDBase-T 1.0 specification in June 2010. This specification is currently available to all members. The PoH addendum to the existing HDBase-T 1.0 specification was released in July 2011 and publicly announced in September.

Q: Will members collaborate on future specification development?

A: Yes, the goal of the HDBase-T Alliance is to offer opportunities for members to take an active role in future versions and use cases shaping and defining the specification for HDBase-T technology to meet the evolving needs of the marketplace. All HDBase-T Contributor and Promoter members are eligible to participate in Alliance working groups and committees and to assist in defining the next HDBase-T specification. In addition, the Alliance will look to develop certification and compliance guidelines for future HDBase-T-enabled products.

Q: Are there any special connector or cabling requirements that differ from existing Ethernet LAN products?

A: No. This is what makes HDBase-T so unique and easy to deploy. HDBase-T uses the existing Ethernet infrastructure, meaning adopters can use existing Category 5e/Category 6 LAN cables, Ethernet in-wall passive connectors and RJ-45 Ethernet jacks. Electronics manufacturers can also use the existing RJ-45 connector. In addition, HDBase-T is fully backward compatible with Ethernet protocol and connected devices can automatically switch to Ethernet communication mode only.

Q: Is there a product certification program?

A: On June 15, 2011, the Alliance announced the 1.0 Certification Program. It provides members with a set program for ensuring their products are compliant, interoperable and part of an established product ecosystem. This is an important milestone for the Alliance in promoting industry-wide adoption of HDBase-T technology for whole-home and commercial multimedia content distribution. The 1.0 Certification Program includes the HDBase-T Compliance Test Specification (CTS), designated logo guidelines as well as the first HDBase-T recognized test facility, located in Israel.

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