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What is HDBaseT? But I just bought HDMI?!?!?!

HDBaseT 1.0 is a newly-announced hardware standard for connecting audio/visual devices like televisions, stereo receivers, Blu-ray players, computers, etc…. Similar to an HDMI cable, it is able to transmit fully uncompressed digital HD video and audio, but it does so over traditional cat5/6 ethernet cables with the usual RJ-45 connectors.  It will not, however, allow you to use standard ethernet switching equipment as this functionality will be replaced with new A/V receivers.  Sounds fine thus far, right? No more expensive, proprietary HDMI hubs to split signals. No more expensive cables that I’ll have to replace in a few years time. Good ol’ ethernet will carry the signals just fine.

The snag is that many consumers have just finished converting their system to HDMI cables and may be unwilling to replace their hardware for the sake of a new connection standard. And while the majority of consumers will have no need for HDBaseT, I’m sure that won’t be the line from the industry over the coming years. Alongside the recent push for HDMI v1.4 and 3D technologies, I worry that consumers may not understand this fact and will see an industry hell-bent on proprietary standards and forcing consumers to upgrade. We just finished up with Blu-ray v. HD-DVD, can these guys just take a break? Its clear the industry has realized that establishing proprietary standards is their best hope for continuously increasing profits up. I hope this post can counter some of that sentiment on consumers’ behalf. Though, let me make it clear I remain skeptical and annoyed by the whole 3D push in general.

The simple fact is, those who stand to benefit the most from HDBaseT are commercial installers of networked or “smart” homes (as well as the homeowners) and commercial applications of networked A/V systems.

For the home:
What is exceptional about HDBaseT is that is can run over existing cat5/6 ethernet wiring. Any home with a pre-installed ethernet network is immediately wired to distribute HD audio and video throughout the house. Furthermore, for those doing the installation work, all cabling can be done on-site and to their specific needs. Before, if my installation needed an odd length of cable, HDMI cables would need to be created offsite and then brought to the worksite. Additionally, HDMI has never performed well over runs of 50 ft.+. This is why some custom systems do already run HD audio and video via ethernet on proprietary (and expensive) networks. This standard is a needed so that multiple companies can ensure their gear will communicate with that from other companies. All of this will add up to huge cost-savings.  As an additional benefit, the cables are built to carry electricity, HD video, audio (some details like which HD audio formats are currently foggy), AND 100Mbps internet connectivity.

But, aren’t all standards eventually about increased costs for consumers?
Yes. But, a price premium exists in all A/V hardware that is intended for use by custom installers for networked homes and control systems, and this standard may turn out to be no different. However, what gives promise that HDBaseT will not be an installer-specific standard (someday) is the ability to daisy-chain devices together. With this, I could connect my internet radio with one cable into my Blu-ray player, and then run a single cable from the Blu-ray Player to the A/V receiver. Tidy cabling is something consumers got a taste of with HDMI, and a clean daisy-chain takes this one step further.

For commercial installations:
Ease of connectivity and the increased cable length also apply to commercial implementations, and may payoff even more so for them. Additionally, commercial uses will benefit from the ability for devices to communicate commands to one another via the cable. Imagine running a wall of TVs by issuing commands from one remote or laptop. In contrast to HDMI and DisplayPort, HDBaseT also allows for up to 100W of power to be passed. TVs hung in remote locations would now need only one cable to provide the source signal, the power to run the device and an internet/network connection.

So, I do feel that as a standard this makes a lot of sense. But again, my greatest concern is consumer annoyance/alienation at the flurry of standards wars in recent years. I can just imagine the guys in Best Buy and other big box stores touting the many benefits of HDBaseT, when, depending on needs and the amount to which their home is networked, the older technology may work just fine for them at lower cost. When considering A/V equipment purchases, it is important to consider your own needs and length of ownership and not the feature-driven needs of the manufacturer.