A Super Bowl Sunday HDMI Nightmare

Integrated Control Experts solves client’s frustrating HDMI problems using new test equipment. It's now armed with knowledge for better equipment selection.

Integrated Control Experts worked on the jobsite with Quantum Data to test the HDMI.
Eric Lee · February 17, 2009

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I had a client who was not happy with the performance of his theater. It was not the sound nor the picture he was unhappy with though … it was whether or not he was going to have an image on the screen when he turned the system on or changed sources.

Could you imagine as an end user saying prayers before you went to fire up your theater? Sound ridiculous? It was.

When the theater was initially installed we used component video. A year and a half ago, we installed a new 1080p projector. The projector was a large investment due to the screen size and type. The projector is enclosed in a sealed booth with dedicated cooling to keep the projector from overheating.

We had conversations with the client regarding HDMI pros and cons. We then decided to use HDMI over component video knowing there were some issues, but we felt they were manageable.

That is when the service calls began. We tried everything from swapping cables and equipment to reprogramming the control system for what we saw as latency issues. We felt we were making progress.

How many of us [integration companies] gear up for the Super Bowl? One of the biggest TV watching, beer-drinking, party-having days of the year. You know where I am leading you. That’s right, the theater did not fire up. We had audio, but no picture. This was the end in my mind. I needed help and expertise that I did not have.

Quantum Data to the Rescue

Like most computer users, we turned to Google to find the answer. We found a company named Quantum Data. The company is based in Elgin, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, which was ideal because the job site was in Chicago. They had pictures of test equipment and other “nerd-related” information right on their Web site.

Perfect. Now we just needed to convince them to help us. We called the company and spoke with Mark Stockfisch, the company’s CTO, who agreed to meet us at the site and to bring test equipment.

Many of the HDMI test tools we have seen for the custom installer have been wire continuity testers. These types of test devices are great for the designed purpose, but do not really allow you to see the interaction between the hardware. They will allow you to see if the cable is terminated properly at both ends, but is that the whole story as far as HDMI is concerned?

Fixing the Problems

The big day came. Mark Hollitch — one of my senior technicians — and I were meeting Stockfisch and Moon Ki Cho from Quantum Data on site. The guys from Quantum Data brought two pieces of test equipment: the 882EA and the HT-180. The 882EA is an HDMI 1.3 generator/analyzer that tests source, repeater, and sync devices for compliance per HDMI specification.

With the 882EA we discovered the following:

  • The projector’s EDID is a DVI EDID that only has one EDID block. HDMI devices have two EDID blocks.
  • The scaler’s EDID doesn’t change even if the sink device connected to its downstream changes, e.g. “from projector to 882EA.” It should read the sync device’s EDID and reflect that information by changing its EDID, e.g.” audio support claimed by the sync device” so that the information can be passed up to the source.
  • The scaler’s EDID block 0 checksum is bad. It’s 0xFA, but it should be 0xAC.
  • The scaler’s EDID Version is bad. It’s showing up as 255, but it should be 1.

The other source equipment in the system we also tested with the HT-180. The HT-180 is a piece of test equipment that every installer working with HDMI should have in their toolbox.

HT-180 is a diagnostic tool that tells the user what kind of interoperability issues might be present among source, repeater, and sync devices. While the HT-180 does not allow you to see the EDID blocks, it does allow you to see at a higher level where the issues are.

In one of our tests, the data we received back from the HT-180 logs included an error message “Bad EDID Checksum.” With the 882EA we had the ability to actually read the data. While I found that information fascinating, a table with a bunch of hex values, I could see why a manufacturer would need the more expensive 882E products.

For my purposes, just knowing that there are issues is extremely helpful. In the back of the downloadable manual for the HT-180 there is a table with 89 different codes and a glossary of HDMI terms. This information will allow you the installer to make sound decisions on how to get the issues resolved.

Lessons Learned

After spending the day with Quantum Data, I was armed with a boat load of information. The information alone is worthless, but when approaching manufacturers with that information, you now have the power.

How many times have you, the custom installer, been told by a manufacturer that they had never seen that problem before? I called the manufacturers of the products I tested. I shared my experience and findings with them, and I have been promised new firmware that will resolve these issues.

During the conversations I had with manufacturers I discovered that on all fronts there are levels of frustration with this technology. Some of the frustrations that were shared with me, I dare not publish. I am not looking for a lawsuit anymore than they are. Let’s just say that when you confront a manufacturer with real/verifiable data, it makes it very hard for them not to listen.

Eric Lee is president of Integrated Control Experts, a Chicago-based residential system integrator.

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News · Installation · Video Source · Wire and Cable · All Topics
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