As someone who reviews a lot of home theater gear, I’m well acquainted with the many wires, cables and plugs it takes to get a system working. A few years ago I bought a small plastic cabinet at Target just to organize and store all my various cables. That three-drawer cabinet is now overflowing and spilling on the floor of my basement.
So what’s the problem? Am I just an AV cable fetishist? Gee, I hope not. The problem is that our products are complex, signals come in all shapes and sizes, and all that stuff needs to be able to connect and communicate smoothly with each other. Despite the one-cable world that HDMI promised, I still have several wires pouring from the back of my TV.
This could be changing over the next few years. A fairly recent technology called HDBaseT is evolving as a possible answer to the cable clutter problem. It’s sort of an extension of the trend to use IP distribution for audio and video, but it goes further than that.
HDBaseT technology can combine uncompressed high definition video, audio, 100BaseT Ethernet (your internet and home network), control and power all over a CAT5e cable. Yup, that’s everything over one cable. It can be used for whole-house media distribution or simply to connect your AV receiver to your TV.
The technology is being promoted by the HDBaseT Alliance, made up of LG, Samsung, Sony Pictures and Valens Semiconductor. That should give you an idea of who’s interested in making this work.
Imagine plugging all your sources into your AV receiver, then from your receiver you connect one Cat5e cable into the back of your flat panel TV. That’s it. HDBaseT even includes 100 watts of power so you wouldn’t need an additional power cord coming out of the television. Power considerations are one the biggest problems with wall-mounting a TV, and this technology would solve it. Plus it would deliver all the audio, video, control commands and network signals to the TV. Cool right?
There are a few other cool things that make HDBaseT sound like a home run. First, it can go a long distance—up to 100 meters. This could make it ideal for whole-home distribution. Want to get your audio and video content to play through your bedroom AV system as well as the living room and home theater—just run some CAT5e cable through the walls. Second, it’s a wide pipe. The Alliance says it can handle 3D video as well as resolution up to 4K. Finally, it’s not a new cable. Repeat, it’s not a new cable.
So is this going to be a paradigm shifting technology for the consumer electronics world?
Well, not so fast. First, powering most of today’s TVs requires more than 100 watts. Some 40-inch LED LCDs TVs will fit the bill, but not large plasma TVs. By next year Energy Star specification 5.1 will require TVs consume no more than 108 watts, so we’re getting closer.
Also, to work, we need the products. So far there are only a few HDBaseT product available, and they mostly come from control companies like Crestron or AMX. Gefen, Accell and KanexPro make HDMI extender kits that uses the technology.
I expect that slowly AV receivers, TVs and projectors will be launched with HDBaseT technology built into them. It may make its first headway in the commercial market where an easy solution to hooking up things like classroom projectors or advertising displays makes a lot of sense. In fact Best Buy is already using the technology to distribute signals in a store in Chicago.
HDBaseT is a great idea and a promising technology, so I hope to hear much more from this group soon.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. He's also the author of the book The Trouble with Rivers
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.