HDBaseT Over IP: Courting Disaster

The HDBaseT Alliance used InfoComm to officially debut the first set of products using their new HDBaseT over IP infrastructure — designed to compete against the SDVoE Alliance standard, more commonly known as the AptoVision BlueRiver NT+ AV-over-IP system.

This is a disaster waiting to happen. Why?

Well, I love HDBaseT. The transport platform that was originally launched by — and is still controlled by — Valens debuted in 2008 and, simply put, designed the content of 5Play. 5Play refers to the five types of signals that are sent via the HDBaseT chipset (also made and controlled by one company: Valens) down CATx cable: video, audio, Ethernet, USB and power. So the idea was to have a standard way that everyone would use (and nearly every signal distribution company in the world has an HDBaseT product line) to send those five signals via CATx wire.

Genius, right? Well, could have been.

The real-world problem that Valens, the since founded so-called HDBaseT Alliance and the manufacturers themselves have caused is that there’s nearly no interoperability. In most cases, you can’t connect Brand A’s HDBaseT product to Brand B’s. And, in some cases, connecting Brand A’s to Brand B’s will cause harm to one or the other. In a few cases, projectors have even been destroyed.

Why? Well, HDBaseT, probably one of the best ideas ever in the ProAV market, has been undermined by the company that started it in the first place, Valens. Valens has taken a hands-off approach to compatibility and interoperability. In essence, the HDBaseT product community has become the wild west of technology. No one known whose HDBaseT stuff works with whose until you connect it up. By then, it’s too late — the damage (to the product, to the dealer’s reputation or to the systems designer) has already been done.

Valens, and the so-called HDBaseT Alliance, are totally and completely to blame. They can solve this with one simple thing — branding and labeling standards.

Here’s a typical scenario. You specify and buy Brand A’s HDBaseT transmitters and Brand B’s matrix. Both are labeled as HDBaseT products. But, alas, Brand B decided NOT to use 5Play HDBaseT. They’ve decided to only switch, via their metric, video and audio — leaving off Ethernet, USB and power. No biggie as most ProAV systems only use mostly video and audio anyway. But, Customer X wants USB routed too. Systems Designer Sally specified HDBaseT for the entire system — well done. And, Brand A does in fact pass 5Play. But, nowhere in the specs does Brand B say it only routes 2Play — in fact, 2Play doesn’t exist anywhere in the HDBaseT “standard” or on the Valens or HDBaseT Alliance websites. It’s non-existent. So, products specificied, purchased and now installed don’t work together. And, you find it out on install day — 64 days after the system was designed.

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One might argue that systems designer Sally should have known this. But, alas, the HDBaseT Alliance doesn’t say that, “Oh, by the way, there’s 2Play, 3Play, 4Play and 5Play.” Nope. They only talk 5Play. The Alliance’s response is predictable: “Hey, Gary, we have a comprehensive list of products and what they do on our website — if the manufacturer tells us.”

Can you imagine, every time you buy a router, having to see if it’s downward-compatible with every device in your home? Of course not. There’s an assumption that since they are all 802.11x standard, they are interoperable. And, IEEE was smart enough to stipulate that the aforementioned 802.11x changes or adoption of the different 802.11x standards required a new letter. For example, the first was 802.11a. Then there was 802.11b. Then 802.11c and so forth. The fact that 802.11a and 802.11c have different labels (and protocols) means they are, well, different.

So, why isn’t the HDBaseT Alliance enforcing that? Why not just require manufacturers to label their products 2Play, 3Play, 4Play, 5Play, etc.? It’s a SIMPLE solution.

So now can you imagine the disaster-waiting-to-happen that is HDBaseT-over-IP?

Go SDVoE Alliance. Kick their ass.


Gary Kayye

About Gary Kayye

Gary Kayye, founder of rAVe Publications, is one of the most prominent personalities in the audiovisual industry. He has been a contributor to WIRED magazine and a technical advisor and columnist for Sound & Communications magazine as well as an opinionated columnist for rAVe [Publications] since 2003. In addition to his writing and market analysis, Gary has been a product, marketing and business operations consultant to dozens of AV companies in the U.S. and overseas. Clients have included companies such as Sony, Sharp, Epson, Lutron, InFocus, Sanyo, Mitsubishi, NEC and Philips.   Gary, who has been involved with the audiovisual market for over 20 years, was the recipient of the InfoComm 2003 Educator of the Year Award and the 2007 NSCA Instructor of the Year Award. Over the years, he has donated much of his time as an active volunteer in the AV industry’s trade association and served as chairman of InfoComm’s Professional Education & Training Committee (PETC), chairman of the ICIA Design School Committee and chairman of InfoComm’s Installation School Committee. In addition, he has served on the InfoComm board of governors. He also helped grow the InfoComm Projection Shoot-Out as the premiere AV industry trade show special event serving on the committee from 1991 through 1997, and was instrumental in launching the Shoot-Out in the European market at the Photokina Expo in 1994 and 1996 as well as the Asian market at the 1995 and 1997 INFOCOMM Asia shows.   Prior to founding his own company, Gary was vice president of sales and marketing for AMX Corporation (www.amx.com), a manufacturer specializing in professional AV and residential AV control systems. Prior to AMX, Gary spent nine years at Extron Electronics (www.extron.com), rising to the position of vice president of sales and marketing. Gary earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism in 1987 from the University of North Carolina and is currently Adjunct Faculty at UNC in the School of Journalism teaching a class on how future technologies will affect the future of advertising, PR and marketing.   He is also the founder of Swim for Smiles, a non-profit that raises money for the N.C. Children’s Hospital through swimming and other fitness-related events for kids. You can contact him at gary@ravepubs.com..

  • Jack Caughey

    Unfortunately SDVoE may not be the solution to this issue. Since it is just a shared software API, it can be implemented however a manufacturer desires. This includes introducing non-standard features and/or locking out compatibility with other products.

    From the SDVoE website: “As with any application platform, some application developers may target specific hardware with specialty capabilities and choose to “lock” their application to a particular subset of SDVoE devices. This practice is neither endorsed nor prevented by the alliance.”