There has been a lot of talk about convergence in the cabling world; some of this has been driven by new technology and market overlapping. Today’s integrator has the ability to install a system that covers phones, computers, security, audio/video and even low-voltage power.
There are two types of convergence that we often discuss: technology and infrastructure convergence.
Technology convergence uses a single network system, such as Ethernet, to support multiple devices. All of these devices share the same cable and active gear. For example, you can now plug your desk phone and computer into the same telecom room switch. Ethernet networks can support just about every aspect of communication, voice, data, security, building control and even audio/video applications. This is not the type of convergence we are talking about.
Infrastructure convergence uses the same cable to support multiple systems. All sorts of devices connect to their own system using a universal cabling system. The biggest type of communication cabling being used today is category cable. While the entire system shares the same cable, the devices don’t talk the same language; therefore, they can’t communicate with each other. This system offers customers a universal, low cost-cabling system. But is it really the best solution for each application?
This blog examines one version of this type of convergence: the use of category cabling for HDBaseT signals.
How did category cable become the dominant communications cable? The main reason is the success of Ethernet, which is the de facto standard for today’s networks – but this was not always the case. If you go back a few years, network cabling included an IBM token ring (150 Ohm), ARCNET (twin-axial) and even Ethernet, which could be sent on Thicknet 10BASE5 and Thinnet 10BASE2 coaxial cable.
IEEE 802.3 (the Ethernet standard) over twisted pair won out, and category cabling was born. As IEEE was writing the Ethernet standards, TIA was creating the 568 standards to specify cable characteristics for category cabling. The two standards worked hand in hand; as Ethernet technology increased from 10 Mbps to 10 Gbps, category cabling standards kept pace, going from Category 3 to Category 6A.
Internationally, the ISO 11801 standard followed TIA’s lead. Ideally, every manufacturer produces a category cable that meets ANSI/TIA specifications (in the United States) or ISO specifications (internationally), giving the user a reasonable expectation that the cable will support his or her network.
Today’s network can support just about every aspect of communication, voice, data, security, building control and audio/video applications. With all devices following the same standard, we achieved interoperability. So, why don’t just use it for everything? It turns out that it has latency and bandwidth shortfalls, which don’t make it ideal for video. The issues are being corrected, but that is the subject of another blog.
The professional AV industry is in the process of trying to develop a standard for everyone to follow. For AV systems, you often need more than one type of signal: an application might require an audio signal, a video signal and a variety of control signals. An increasingly popular new standard, HDBaseT®, does just that.
This technology uses 5Play®: HDMI 1.4, 4K video with audio, USB 2.0, 100BASE-T Fast Ethernet, various control signals with low-voltage power (up to 100W).
A group of manufacturers formed the HDBaseT Alliance in 2010, with one of the goals being the development of a universal standard and interoperability between manufacturers. The HDBaseT 2.0 specification has been submitted to IEEE to become a universal standard, but is currently only in draft form. Although it might seem like it is, the HDBaseT 2.0 specification is not part of the IEEE Ethernet 802.3 standard. Also adding to the confusion is the universal appeal of category cabling, which the HDBaseT Alliance selected.
From the start, there have been minor issues with the cabling, and people have been improvising solutions. Making matters worse is the adoption and popularity of ultra-high-definition video, commonly referred to as 4K. The increased bandwidth of a 4K image, with almost 9 Mbps of information, causes even more strain on the infrastructure. Furthermore, this strain will only increase as the market moves to 8K, with even more color and faster frame rates. It’s possible for the bandwidth to push well beyond 50 Gbps per second. (Get more information on this topic here.)
Not only is the video signal a bandwidth hog, it is very latency sensitive. Due to time sensitivity, a video signal is different than a pure data signal. If a video signal is lost or damaged, those pieces of the image are lost and are never retransmitted. Instead, they appear as errors on the screen; if you have too many errors, the picture is lost altogether – but more on this in a different blog.
To adjust for these demands, most manufacturers have tried tweaking a variety of category cable types. Most have gone to a shielded cable or screened cable. Additionally, some have increased the category rating, even up to Category 7A, in hopes of improved results. This has stopped becoming a converged infrastructure, and turned into a search for a cable that can support this signal. Belden set out to uncover the true cabling requirements – and then to design a cable to meet it.
This blog is just one in a series that will cover in more detail the testing we completed and what we found, including 4K HDBaseT cabling misconceptions and myths. Subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss out!
Bob has been in the cabling industry since 1994, and has worked for Belden since 2004. Based in Dallas, Bob manages broadcast and AV sales in 13 states while also educating Belden-certified integrators and consultants about audio video and data communications standards and best practices. Bob has his BICSI-RCDD, InfoComm - CTS, and HDBaseT Certified Trainer credentials.