November 07, 2007 by Lisa Montgomery
Why stuff your home with a slew of DVD players, media servers and satellite receivers, just so every TV in your house can display a wide assortment of video content? Using separate systems for separate TVs is so old school. Thanks to advances in technology and a new attitude toward design, you don’t have to turn your home into a mini Best Buy to have a great video experience all over the house. Sure, outfitting each viewing area with its own suite of components is an arrangement that works well and is still widely practiced in many households, but it’s now in vogue to invest in just one package of components and have a distribution system route the video to multiple displays.
The benefits are many: You’ll be able to spend your entertainment dollars on one set of high-end components instead of several mediocre stand-alone units. And it’ll be a lot easier to justify the cost of a huge media server when all of your TVs can tap into it. You’ll also get the added benefit of improved aesthetics. All of the components—media server, DVD player, satellite receiver and cable box—can be located together in one main equipment rack instead of in each separate viewing area. With the equipment stowed away inside a closet or a utility room in the basement, your house will simply look better. The only thing left to do is find a good spot for the TVs. Keep this in mind, you’ll need more than one satellite receiver and cable box in your entertainment closet to watch different programs simultaneously on different TVs.
At this one entertainment hub, a home systems installer will connect the various A/V components to some type of switching device. This device is then connected to each display via cabling. High-def video is the way to go these days, and your cabling options include Category 5e Ethernet cabling, RG-6 coaxial cabling or fiber-optic cabling. RG-6 is most commonly used for video distribution, although Category 5e is becoming a popular choice because it’s less expensive than RG-6 and is easier to install, particularly in existing homes. (Read more about your cable options: Making the Proper Connections)
However, the primary use for Category 5e cabling is computer networking. As a result, the reds, greens and blues of a video image that travel over Category 5e cabling might arise at a TV location at different times, creating what those in the industry call “color skew.” By attaching a special device (commonly referred to as a “balun”) to each end of the cabling, the trip over Category 5e cabling can be more successful. A transmitter gets the signal ready for the journey at the component end; a receiver fixes the signal at the TV end. The cost for video baluns: between $400 and $1,000 a pair. One pair of baluns can facilitate the distribution of video from one source—say a media server—to one display. To distribute video from multiple sources to multiple displays requires a matrix switcher (each component plugs into the switcher) in addition to a receiver at each display. Matrix switchers and Category 5e transmission gear come in a variety of configurations, from those that can feed two sources to four TV locations to those that can deliver video from as many as 256 components to as many as 256 displays, and everything in between.
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Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.
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