HDMI and the future of your home theater

By Dan Fulmer, CEO, FulTech Solutions, Inc.


We often get customers looking to add the newest BluRay or Smart TV to their home theater or home automation/smart home system.   With the holidays and shopping season well under way, whether installing a new system or upgrading an older system, there are some details to consider here.

To start, lets do a brief review of analog and digital signals.    Next week we’ll look into the how to of setting it up.

Analog signals are what most of our TVs have received for the past 50+ years.   Whether via rabbit ears, a cable plugged into the back or via the satellite box plugged into the back of your TV via the Coaxial input.   Then you also have composite video (the yellow cable) which gives a complete video signal over 1 wire, at 480p resolution.    Next up in quality is Component video inputs (Green, Red, Blue) that take the 3 main color signals over 3 wires.   This gets you up to a 1080i analog picture, depending on the source and scaling.    There is also S-video, but is rarely used in the residential “world” and is pretty much relegated to some existing commercial installations at this point.  On the audio side, you have your good ole analog audio L+R (white and red) pre-amp outputs.    Those are all analog signals, regardless of what the source is, they are going away.    Though the DirecTV receiver is completely digital, if you are using the ANALOG (composite or component) outputs from that receiver, you are sending analog video to your television.  At this point, the only true, completely legal, compatible DIGITAL signal on the market is via HDMI.  HDMI delivers 1080P video and can also deliver 3D, Deep Color (which is being used now) and 4K now known officially as Ultra HD (more on this advancement in a future blog), over a single cable (made up of many little wires actually, around 19 or so).  On the audio side of the digital realm, which can be done over the HDMI as well, you also have optical or Tosslink audio and Digital coaxial audio.  Both single cable and digital capable formats.

HDMI is a fairly complex technology, but simple to use when applied according to its specifications.  It isn’t just a single cable that sends audio and video.  It does much more than we can discuss in this blog, but suffice to say it handles not only video and audio, but also CEC (control), EDID (display/resolution information),  HDCP (security and encryption), and much more.  One of the main functions is to insure that an HDMI compliant device is not connected to a non-compliant or recording device, so you are unable to distribute this to others.  Another function is to insure “keys” are managed so viewing on multiple displays is limited. Keys are something (not physical, but logical – think software) that are allocated to a source (cable box, satellite box, DVD player, etc).   If a device has 1 key, it can only be viewed on 1 single display.  if the HDMI senses you have more than 1 TV or display, it will turn off the HDMI output and you will no longer get a picture.    Device keys are “loaded” by manufacturers at this time and is something that needs to be checked when purchasing equipment for a distributed system, too few keys means your source can’t distribute.   In addition, HDMI distribution is quite difficult at this time due to compliance issues.  As the above example illustrates, even if I have a large HDMI switch, with multiple sources and displays, if the source only has 1 key, it will still only be viewable on a single display, or the HDMI output will stop working.

Another new limitation on HDMI is its attenuation on the cable.  It basically loses signal power along the wire and starts to have issues at around 50 linear feet (not very far at all for a cable).  Finally, there is an inherent lag between devices “showing up” on the screen when switching between them.   For Analog devices this was on the order of milliseconds, now it is 5-15 seconds or more from the time you switch the TV or receiver to a different source, before it will show up on the display.   So, you can see, this technology creates some real limitations to doing what we’ve all done for years with our video and audio, distribute them around our homes.  Less than a handful of companies have conquered, and still remain fully legal and compliant with HDMI.   One of them is Crestron’s Digital Media or DM system, which manages and handles all aspects of HDMI, from EDID to key management, and in full compliance of the laws and regulations.  Extron and others are also coming out with similar systems, but check to see that some of the lesser known brands are fully compliant, or your system might just stop working with the next HDMI upgrade or device you buy.

This was all written into law, heavily lobbied by the MPAA and RIAA (same folks that sued you when you download songs from Napster).   Thus, after 2013, basically you cannot buy or install any analog sources.   At that time, manufacturers also have the right to turn off the analog outputs on equipment you already own.   This can be done via various methods, software updates via the internet, updates via a rented DVD or other disc, software updates via downloading or renting a movie.   Not saying this will happen, but it’s available to them.    So, after 2013, basically you will need to update most of your system.  The sunset may be extended somewhat and you may get a couple more years out of older equipment using converters and such, but the end of analog is nigh.

Next time we’ll consider how to setup your HDMI system with single source, multiple sources, TV sound vs  surround sound options.   Be sure to check back.


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Fultech Solutions is performing the services as an independent contractor for JEA, and the performance of these services shall not be deemed to constitute a partnership, joint venture, agency, or fiduciary relationship between JEA and Fultech Solutions. Neither Fultech Solutions nor JEA will be or become liable or bound by any representation, act, or omission of the other.