An Interview With Gabi Shriki, Co-Founder of the HDBaseT Alliance



This is an interview with Gabi Shriki, Co-Founder of the HDBaseT Alliance, as written by Steph Beckett. It has been edited for clarity. 

Shriki is the vice president of the Audio-Video Business Unit at Valens and oversees the Valens’ audio and video business development. He also works with customers and partners around the world to advance and promote HDBaseT.

Let’s start with an easy one. Tell me about the HDBaseT Alliance and how you’re involved with it.

The HDBaseT Alliance was founded in 2010 to promote and advance the HDBaseT technology, a distribution technology tailored for the AV market. Valens is one of the co-founders with LG Electronics, Samsung and Sony Pictures. Since its establishment, the Alliance has grown considerably, with more than 200 members today. I personally represent Valens at the Alliance’s AV Work Group, which is responsible for advancing the technology, new developments, and other activities such as the newly announced Spec 3.0.

How have the Alliance’s goals changed throughout the past few years with the different trends in technology?

The Alliance’s goals have not changed — our mission is to provide the most optimized solution for long-distance AV and data distribution for the AV market. Having said that, we constantly monitor the trends in the market to provide the best answer to the needs of installers and integrators. For example, HDBaseT provides additional support for USB extension, multiple audio interfaces (e.g., S/PDIF, I2S, and others) to address the evolving needs of the market. Recently the HDBaseT Alliance also advanced uncompressed HDMI 2.0 (including HDR/ Dolby Vision) distribution under the recently released Spec 3.0. The Alliance constantly monitors and addresses market requirements. Last, the Alliance continues to push for increased certification of HDBaseT products to facilitate interoperability. The Alliance is always looking for better channels to disseminate this information and is constantly educating the market. For example, in 2019, the Alliance ran an HDBaseT Plugfest, where 14 member companies participated in the successful event, with over 4,000 tests and 99%+ interop rate among products. The Alliance is also constantly upgrading relevant collaterals for installers and integrators, including a revamp of the interoperability table with a QR code that enables installers and integrators to easily identify which features are supported by each product.

Valens recently released its Stello Family of chipsets — and the Alliance released Spec 3.0 to coincide. What other big plans does the Alliance have for 2020 and beyond?

Our main goal for 2020 is to advance Spec 3.0 and highlight the benefits it brings to the market. The Stello family is extremely rich in features important to the AV market. For start, it can extend, with no compression whatsoever, HDMI2.0 4K@60Hz (4:4:4) content. In fact, it is the only solution in the market today that is able to distribute long-distance uncompressed HDMI2.0 4K@60Hz (4:4:4.)

The Stello chipsets integrate on-chip HDMI input and HDMI output ports that can work concurrently and can support HDCP content. The same HDBaseT port can now support either transmitter or receiver functionality, allowing our customers to build a single product that can serve as a transmitter or receiver box, or alternatively build very flexible matrix products.

Why is it that only HDBaseT Alliance members are allowed to have copies of the specs?

The HDBaseT specs detail intellectual property (IP) and expound on the development of HDBaseT devices. To regulate and protect the IP, the Alliance demands that members sign an NDA and accept the licensing terms, so the Alliance can regulate and protect the HDBaseT IP. This is a customary procedure in most standardization organizations.

Can you explain the Golden Unit for those who might be wondering how HDBaseT measures success in the products it considers to be the standard for comparison/reference?

The Golden Unit is a device utilized by the HDBaseT Alliance Certification Lab (CTS) as a spec-compliant reference product to be used for testing members’ HDBaseT products during certification tests. The Golden Unit supports all features of HDBaseT and can simulate several different HDBaseT scenarios. All HDBaseT devices are tested against the Golden Unit for the features they claim to support.

Interoperability is a very hot topic these days — on your website, you explain that even if a product is HDBaseT-certified, there still may be controls within that product that aren’t certified. How does this affect interoperability between it and other certified products?

Interoperability is a very important issue and not a simple one. I believe the HDBaseT Alliance took a courageous approach to standardize all aspects of the distribution solution. Not only the Audio/Video part but also including controls and even the power delivery mechanism. I am not aware of any other standard body trying to do it in such an inclusive way. It is important to highlight that an HDBaseT device does not necessarily support all the capabilities and interfaces defined in the HDBaseT specifications: audio/video, Ethernet, USB, controls & power. Manufacturers define what their product features will be, what interfaces it will support. The HDBaseT Alliance established the certification process to make sure installers and integrators have easy access to this information. During the Certification process, the manufacturer defines the list of features to be tested for compliance, and it is their responsibility to ensure that proper labeling and documentation are attached to the product. The Alliance encourages end-users to pay attention to product specifications and to search the alliance certified products portal to better understand the product capabilities to avoid potential interoperability issues.

Another important topic regarding interoperability refers to HDBaseT’s interop features across the different Specs. That means that two devices that are based on different specs will still be interoperable according to the highest common denominator, guaranteeing transmission.

Following up on that, how do you see this interoperability trend continuing to affect the Alliance and its list of certified products?

As we explained above, interoperability is one of our main goals for the year, and we continue to push our members to certify all of their products while encouraging installers and integrators to check our List of Certified Products and the Certification table. We expect our continuous efforts (QR code, revamped Certification table, simplified online CTS process, etc.) as well as our education programs to help educate the market and make installers and integrators are aware of the different options in the market. Our education programs are both in-person (such as the Installer Expert Program) and online (courses, webinars, collaterals, etc.).

On forums, social media, etc., many people seem to question how HDBaseT can possibly coexist with AV-over-IP solutions. How do you see these technologies working together in the future? Will they work together? Promote healthy competition? Or is there only room for one?

First, it is important to educate the market and distinguish between the different types of AV-over-IP solution. AV-over-IP solutions differ first by its transport bandwidth (100Mbps, 1Gbps and 10Gbps). Each solution requires a different level of compression in order to distribute 4K@60Hz (4:4:4) (H.264/5/ JPEG2000/ light-compression). Compression not only adds latency and degrades signal integrity, but also creates interoperability issues (as each uses different type of compression) between the different products implementing AV-over-IP products.

As a high-level statement, I can say: “We view AV-over-IP as a complementary solution to HDBaseT, rather than a competing technology!” AV-over-IP solutions can address very large-scale distribution networks, such as campus level, while HDBaseT is a better solution for small scale, in-room distribution network.

We strongly believe that there is no single technology that solves ALL the AV market problems and requirements. We believe that HDBaseT products are better for in-room/small-scale networks as they provide superior performance (no compression is required), and are more cost-effective (a single chip integrates both HDMI and the transport PHY) than an AV-over-IP solution (requires compression and external transport Ethernet PHY). On the other hand, HDBaseT is not the best solution for very large-scale networks, as it requires special switching fabric.

We believe that a combination of HDBaseT technology (in-room) with AV-over-IP gateway products, which will bridge content in and out of the rooms, is the best way to serve our market. Hence the technologies are more complementing than competing. In fact, several Alliance members clearly understand this and are announcing hybrid solutions combining HDMI, HDBaseT and AV-over-IP.

What do you think AV technology over the network will be like in the next five, 10 or even 20 years?

Let me expand this question to include the future of AV technologies in general and not only AV over network (aka AV-over-IP).

Let’s first address the AV over network/AV-over-IP. We expect AV-over-IP solutions based on 1Gbps networks to have the larger share of the AV-over-IP market (if we have to guess, 80% for 1Gbps, and 20% for 10Gbps network). However, we believe AV-over-IP will continue to be fragmented, as there is no unified standard ensuring interoperability between the different AV-over-IP technologies. In addition, we expect to see more companies combining AV-over-IP technology and HDBaseT solutions, to create the best performing, cost-effective solutions, taking advantage of each technology to overcome the inherent limitation of the other.

In 10 years, we will see an increasing demand for HDMI2.1 (with 8K displays taking the lead), which will pose even more complexity on AV distribution solutions. In the next 20 years, I expect AV-over-IP technologies for AV distribution over the WAN (Wide Area Network) using deep compression solutions (e.g., a future version of H.265) will improve to the point that it will reduce the need for specialized AV-over-IP solution (like the ones we see today) … luckily the in-room low-cost and high-performing AV distribution (e.g., HDBaseT technology) will continue to be in demand.

Having said that, we also foresee increasing demand for extending USB3.1 (already in demand today) and soon USB4.0 in the ProAV sector. We believe some use cases, such as conference rooms, will continue to evolve as the collaboration platforms become more capable and sophisticated, leading to many more “sensors” (e.g., cameras, proximity sensors and even radars) in a single room … this will open the door to additional technologies coming from the consumer/mobile world into the ProAV world.