The Ugly Truth About Ultra HD and What Dealers Need to Do About It
Ultra HD's rapid evolution is exceeding the capabilities of HDMI, and integrators need to look into future-proof solutions such as fiber products and networking technologies to resolve bandwidth issues and stay ahead of the 4K game.
Robert Archer · October 18, 2016
Percolating underneath the huge wave of optimism that filled the aisles of the CEDIA 2016 Expo in Dallas was the reality of implementing 4K in today’s evolving A/V marketplace.
Ultra HD and its groundswell of momentum could be seen throughout the show floor impressing almost 20,000 attendees, and its importance has never been more evident than the peaking interest in video technologies, which are represented by the surging sales of these new generations TVs.
Not all is well however. These formats are moving at an incredible rate and they could potentially race past current and future infrastructure methods that dealers utilize on a daily basis.
What this means in the simplest of terms is that cabling, A/V receivers, matrix switches and even displays may not support Ultra HD, high dynamic range (HDR), wide color gamuts (WCGs) and other provisions associated with 4K.
What’s the Problem?
As part of its educational initiatives, the Fla.-based connectivity and A/V manufacturer Metra Home Theater Group presents its “Lunch and Learn” sessions with HDMI expert and DPL Labs president Jeff Boccaccio during the CEDIA Expo each year.
This year’s “Lunch and Learn” sessions focused on the transition the market is in with the bandwidth appetite of 4K with HDR and WCGs.
Boccaccio emphasized to the sessions’ full attendance that the electronics industry is at an important juncture with video migrating into a new era of performance that exceeds the capabilities of current technologies.
“Personally, I believe it has always been critical to get system infrastructures to a high level that will support new features such as HDR and 4K at 60Hz applications. Many integrators and dealers were confused when Rev 2.0 [HDMI] rolled out because they were not aware that it was still 4K and 4:2:0 simply operating in a 10.2Gbps environment,” says Boccaccio.
“Increasing frame rate and lowering color quality set the stage for a transition to 18Gbps bandwidth over time. Finally, with the announcement of HDR and other supporting education, custom integrators discovered the necessity in designing infrastructures that could support the entire 18Gbps bandwidth. At the time, DPL Labs had to move the needle forward supporting a new 4K testing methodology for the new 18Gbps format.”
Noting how volatile the transition from current specifications to what dealers will be facing in the near future, Boccaccio says that it is imperative that whatever infrastructure dealers install, it must support today's formats and future formats.
Supporting Boccaccio’s comments is Joel Silver, president and founder of the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF).
Silver says that he has discovered through testing that today’s first-generation of Ultra Blu-ray disc players from Samsung and Philips are outputting about 13.5Gbps. Once these signals hit an A/V receiver or switcher, they get squeezed down to about 9Gbps and the HDR is gone.
He also says that, in some cases, there is no picture at all. The important point, thought, is that whether clients receive a squeezed down image or have other image problems, they are not getting the full potential of their systems.
“The information that came out for years with HDMI is that it was proposing you would get the picture, but it’s not the picture you are paying for,” stresses Silver. “It’s not what you want. They promoted backwards compatibility with HDMI 1.4, but it is not backwards compatible.”
Silver’s solution to support 4K is an age-old idea that dealers have used for years in a variety of ways.
“My advice is to run conduit,” he says. “I am pretty confident on telling people what to do up to about 2020, but then my crystal ball goes dim. Even with fiber, I still tell people to pull conduit. I don’t know what’s coming down the pike, but I do know that it will require more bandwidth.”
Focusing on some of the other aspects of system infrastructure that Silver alludes to, Brent McCall, product manager for Metra Home Theater Group, says the biggest areas of concern his company sees relate to hardware setup. McCall says that when systems are initially set up, they do not typically output full 4K HDR.
“In addition to the setup issue, we also receive a lot of calls regarding signal infrastructure going past 10Gbps, which is not always supported,” explains McCall.
“The issue may not always be a cabling problem. It could be anything from an older device such as an A/V receiver, switcher, display or source. It could be firmware that could be the limiting factor. In other cases, the problem can actually be found within the cabling or signal carriage products such as Redmere Active Cables and HDBaseT devices that cannot handle any bandwidth above 10Gbps, and it will have to be replaced.”
Cabling and HDMI product manufacturer McCall admits the industry’s rapidly changing standards make it a challenge to keep up, but he says that it is a rewarding time to introduce new products as a cabling company.
McCall says that Metra spends a lot of time in the research and development stages forecasting emerging technologies in order to stay ahead of the market’s adoption curve, and Metra spends a lot of time developing products that could potentially fix anticipated problems in the field.
Another issue that Boccaccio mentioned during his CEDIA Expo presentations is the trend of television manufacturers utilizing equalization (EQ) chips and the problems this is causing with increased bandwidth.
McCall says this problem involves the HDMI’s 2.0 requirement to overcome any issues associated with cabling, and the fact that there is no written standard on how television manufacturers should implement these EQ chips.
“When we’re working on a new design for a new product, we must plan for the signal sweet spot to allow it to work with both fixed and adaptive display EQ types,” states McCall.
“This leads to our HDM-GA1 Gigabit Accelerator, which has been such a strong product for us because it does hit the dead center of the EQ sweet spot regardless of which display is being used. The HDM-GA1 will give the installer a safe and reliable way to go longer distances.”
McCall adds that internally, the company documents the various television products and their connectivity performance, but it has no plans to release the information for public consumption.
Could Fiber Cure High Bandwidth Woes?
In an attempt to assess the use of fiber to address the bandwidth needs of 4K with HDR and WCGs, Silver notes the technology offers some intriguing possibilities for dealers.
In his testing of fiber products, Silver comments the products easily pass 18Gbps, and multi-strand fiber solutions could provide a means of future proofing for dealers.
Seeing the transition from copper to fiber and other solutions is Cleerline Technology Group president and managing director Robert D’Addario. Not surprisingly, D’Addario says two of the trends that are currently driving Cleerline’s sales are 4K and the looming rollout of 8K.
D’Addario says that high-bandwidth video is pushing the limits of copper’s ability to deliver reliable, quality content. As the market evolves, dealers can guarantee that installed bulk fiber will have a longer lifespan than copper.
In addition to video, D’Addario also points out that outside of the A/V market, the Internet of Things (IoT) is also driving interest in fiber, and this is another category that could potentially occupy bandwidth as more devices add networking capabilities.
“What works today might not work tomorrow. Hybrid HDMI is a very good alternative to bulk fiber and we are working on incorporating SSF [a Cleerline line of fiber-based solutions] into products like that in the near future to replace our current active HDMI cables branded Planet Waves. But I’m a big advocate of putting in an infrastructure that you know you’ll be able to utilize regardless of the format of the future,” D’Addario explains. “Traditionally that was coax, then Cat-5e, then Cat-6, but now we’re saying emphatically fiber.”
Another important caveat with copper is how the signal is being transmitted. Cameron C. Smith, CEO, TechLogix, says that with 4K occupying so much of the bandwidth of copper, the signal is getting compressed to make it fit over copper-based cabling.
Smith says fiber allows for the transmission of uncompressed 4K signals with HDR, WCGs and advanced sub chroma sampling rates. Another benefit of fiber is that it is not subject to radio frequency (RF) and electromagnetic (EM) interference, according to Smith.
“Copper’s bandwidth is limited to 10Gbps unless compression is placed on the signal, whereas fiber supports UHD formats without compression. Another advantage is that fiber is immune to RF and EM interference, both of which trouble UHD signals on copper over long runs,” says Smith.
“AptoVision [a chipset manufacturer serving the commercial A/V industry] is doing a good job of developing solutions which will easily support copper and fiber cabling, however many higher-end applications frown upon compressing the signal. The catch with copper is that Cat-6a or Cat-7 cable is required and that can be more expensive than fiber and those cables are significantly harder to work with.”
Smith points out that new copper solutions such as Cat-8 can support current 4K/2K at 60Hz and 4:4:4, which equates to 18Gbps with bandwidth up to 40Gbps as far as 30 meters.
However, he emphasizes that fiber has come a long way. It offers performance traits in addition to speed and bandwidth that include short-term load pull strength of 225 pounds versus category cable’s 25 pounds, and a bend radius of 2.2mm for Cleerline’s SSF fiber compared to Cat-6a’s 87mm and Cat-8’s 90mm.
Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). Bob also serves as the technology editor for CE Pro's sister publication Commercial Integrator. In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons in Haverhill, Mass. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Robert at firstname.lastname@example.org
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