EI Editorial - The Shifting Tide of Video Distribution

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Blustream keeps the info flowing

Phil Davis, MD at Blustream, gives EI his company’s hot take on the emergence of Video over IP as a competitor to HDBaseT.

It’s eight years now since the video distribution market exploded due to the introduction of HDBaseT. At the time, our industry was restricted to poor quality HDMI over dual CAT solutions that could operate to a maximum of 40m. The idea then of distributing 4K 18Gbps video, two-Way IR, PoE, Ethernet and RS232 over a single CAT cable was simply unthinkable. Undeniably, HDBaseT has successfully changed the face of video distribution, providing installers and integrators with the tools required to deliver unprecedented standards of performance and flexibility. Suddenly, integrating whole home video distribution and control became feasible and the market has been growing rapidly ever since.

The introduction of 4K resolutions up to 18Gbps has been the biggest advancement this industry has witnessed in the last decade. It has, however, thrown up some weird and wonderful complexities that all manufacturers of sources, displays and distribution solutions are having to adapt to. The fun begins with the sources and their output resolutions. Leading manufacturers of common sources are outputting a variety of different resolutions, essentially different ‘flavours’ of 4K.

Installers now have new layers of complexity to consider when installing multi-zone, multi-source systems in homes or indeed commercial properties. As the popularity of HDMI distribution grows, so does the number of potential issues that need to be overcome. Resolution support, bandwidth capability and EDID compatibilities matter on an unprecedented scale.

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Humble beginnings of IP distribution

Engineers at Blustream remember evaluating Video over IP in 2010 and at that time the performance limitations were a serious barrier to sales. During this period of the technology’s development, switching times could be as much as eight to ten seconds, resolutions were limited to standard definition, you had snow screens during switching and ghosting on moving images made watching sport practically impossible. Fast forward to today and in stark contrast, Video over IP has become a serious contender for almost any standard of AV installation. During the last four years key manufacturers like Blustream have been developing advanced IP solutions that are delivering fresh levels of flexibility and video scaling essential in today’s complex 4K marketplace.

Toby Leader, Product Manager at Blustream, underlines that within 12 months of launch, our Multicast IP solutions were being installed across the world in homes, yachts, cinema chains, department stores, airports, hotels and broadcast studios. Blustream has been staggered by the level of opportunity that IP technology has delivered for its brand and its installation partners. The ability to specify a system of any size and simultaneously scale the resolution of all components in the system is unprecedented and offers functionality just not available before.

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Demystifying Video over IP

Some AV integrators currently approach Video over IP with caution. However, Daniel Adams, Blustream’s Technical Projects Manager, underlines the simplicity of the set-up process exploding the myth that IP distribution is a pig to learn and network qualifications are required to program switches. This might have been the case five years ago, but it could not be further from the truth now.

With Blustream Multicast we enjoy challenging anyone to come and see how easy it is to configure and install a system in a matter of minutes. Our configuration software guides users through a semi-automated process for assigning IP addresses and configuring the EDID settings for all components in the system.

HDBaseT vs Video over IP

HDBaseT is still the undisputed industry benchmark for residential multi-zone video distribution. The delivery of 4K UHD from sources such as Sky Q from a convenient rack location will always suit the robust performance and advanced features such as audio return (ARC) and Ethernet distribution within the HDBaseT platform.

Daniel and our in-house experts explain that as the market evolves Video over IP is quickly becoming important as installations become larger and more complex. For the first time AV integrators can quickly specify a system of practically any size and seamlessly program the receivers to output the dedicated resolution to suit the display. Advanced new hardware features such as audio breakout and USB for KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) distributrion will only further increase the number of installation applications for the Video over IP platform. But this isn’t a straight fight between two platforms. It’s not a war that will see one technology die away and the other rise as the only go-to solution for video distribution. Video over IP and HDBaseT technologies have their own specific strengths, meaning one technology does not suit every installation. At Blustream we recognise the importance of being at the forefront of both technologies as this knowledge and understanding gives us the expertise to deliver the best solution for every client on every job.