Crestron’s New 4K UHD Certification Program: What Does it Mean?
Crestron claims to be the only organization that can create and certify a 4K Ultra HD ecosystem from end-to-end. Just a gimmick or the real deal?
Julie Jacobson · February 19, 2014
But after speaking with Tom Barnett, director of residential marketing for Crestron, it makes great sense and demonstrates a massive investment by the company in 4K video distribution.
There are two pieces to Crestron’s 4K initiative. The first is a product line that covers most of the ecosystem from switchers to scalers.
The second part covers things that Crestron has little control over, such as sources, displays and cable lengths in any given installation. For that, the company tests devices and configurations in its DigitalMedia Lab to ensure end-to-end 4K video distribution. This is where the certification comes in.
Let’s start with the new Crestron products.
Crestron 4K UHD-Enabled Products
Crestron’s DigitalMedia line, which employs HDBaseT, fiber and streaming for audio and video distribution (plus data and control), has been one of the company’s most successful product launches. Barnett claims there are more than 2 million “endpoints” today connected to DigitalMedia switchers.
Crestron dealers and their customers need not fear that 4K content will render these products obsolete.
“All of the switches have always had the bandwidth for 4K,” says Barnett. “But now we have input and output cards, blades and room boxes that support 4K.”
Barnett says Crestron will offer some kind of trade-in program for legacy cards and that the 4K versions will retail for about $200 more than their 1080p counterparts.
In addition to new 4K-enabled I/O cards, blades and room boxes, Crestron introduced at ISE the HD-XSPA (now shipping), a 4K-capable 7.1 AVR featuring four HDMI inputs and an integrated Crestron DigitalMedia 8G+ input, so no separate room box is required.
For 5.1 systems, two of the unused amp channels can be allocated to a stereo zone.
Down-mixing and Down-scaling
Key to the DigitalMedia line is the ability to downscale 4K content to support 1080p displays, and downmix audio to provide stereo feeds for secondary zones ... all without compromising 4K video quality and multichannel lossless audio for primary zones.
Users can mix and match these formats within a DM environment.
For example, the new DMC-4K-HD-DSP HDMI input card includes 4K video distribution as well as stereo down-mixing of multichannel inputs, enabling simultaneous distribution of multichannel and two-channel audio.
More crucial is the case of video distribution.
RELATED: Challenges of Distributing 4K Video (pdf)
Regarding displays, “for a while I think there will be a mix of 1080p and 4K,” Barnett says.
Unfortunately, when you mix a 4K source with a 1080p display, you’ll usually wind up with a blank screen. Video needs to be down-scaled to match the resolution of a legacy TV.
Vizio is one company that includes 4K downscaling for its new 1080p sets, but such features are rare.
For these cases, Crestron offers downscaling solutions for legacy TVs in the form of room boxes with integrated scalers.
“These scalers have proven very popular in HD systems for upscaling and instant switching, and will be even more important in 4K systems for downscaling,” says Barnett, noting that most reputable 4K displays already have built-in upscaling.
Certifying the 4K Ecosystem
It’s nice that Crestron offers a bunch of intermediate devices for a 4K distributed video environment, but the company does not make the sources and displays that bookend such an environment.
Because 4K is so new (not to mention the companion HDMI 2.0 spec), manufacturers had a “chicken-and-egg” problem during development, Barnett explains: “They didn’t have a wide field of sources and displays for interoperability testing.”
Dealers too have yet to define best practices.
Crestron is taking the guesswork out of the unknowns with its new DigitalMedia Lab. It is not unlike similar labs created by the company for testing IP cameras and light fixtures, says Barnett.
“We can tell you which cameras support home many streams,” he explains. “It’s the same with lighting. For a specific fixture, we can tell you to set the minimum dim to 8 percent and the maximum to 92 percent.”
In the case of 4K video, Crestron brings popular sources and displays into its lab and tests them with DigitalMedia devices in multiple conditions.
“We can tell the manufacturer if they need to make changes in their firmware or we can make changes in our firmware,” says Barnett. “A year from now, things are likely to have settled down a bit, but today it’s just not as simple as buying a 4K source and a 4K display and assuming they’ll work in an integrated system.”
But a year from now is too late for early adopters who want 4K today. It’s also too late for dealers who want to take advantage of today’s good margins on 4K products.
Now Crestron can advise dealers on best practices for any given product and warn them of quirks for solutions that do work … just maybe not so well.
For example, as Barnett says, “Maybe a particular display works, but when you switch sources, you see gibberish for about 5 seconds.”
Dealers can judge for themselves if the behavior is acceptable for their clients.
Crestron DigitalMedia is considered to be a top-of-the-line solution for video distribution, and the 4K program illustrates how users are buying more than a bunch of black boxes.
“A lot of what you’re buying is our experience with 2 million nodes,” Barnett says.
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Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org
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