Friday Musings: Are Video Extenders Like Cell Phones?

extenders-and-phones-0513Alright, so I’m sure I will shock very few when I say that I read a lot of AV news and product press releases.  Every time I start with the gleam of optimism.  Many times end up slightly disappointed.  Other times I find something truly exciting.  This week, I didn’t find disappointment or excitement, but I found some clarity, which in many cases, can be much more valuable.

I wanted to share my some of my learning, but given that I’m not an engineer, I felt I’d leave the technical whitepaper approach to those more qualified.  Instead, I offer the following analogy, likening developments in the video extension world overtime to the evolution of the cell phone ecosystem.

In the beginning. . .

It was fairly easy to extend video long distances. Everything was analog, infrastructure was pretty simple, and bandwidth requirements pretty low. Running some clunky “Land Lines” of five-wire RG59 was all you needed, and everything usually worked out just fine.  But we wanted more resolution and the digital wave propagation was happening, so things started changing.

Analog /Digital Roaming

I think we all remember when our cell phones started to go digital. Signals got clearer and things were awesome, until you hit an analog cell and the word “Roaming” popped up.  This meant trouble and money.

Early on almost every job we encountered with digital crossed over into some analog cells. The new Cat5-based extenders for digital transmission were somewhat all over the map.  Features ranged widely, as did distances and tolerances. Converting analog to digital and back wasn’t always smooth and added some cost into the job, let alone some “switching” issues when crossing those analog and digital cell areas.

Digital Takes Off

With the introduction of smart phones, text and Internet data became the new normal, and digital took over. Sure, are still some flip phone holdouts, but they are the exception.  Similarly, with the introduction of DVI, HDMI and DisplayPort and the looming analog sunset, the writing was on the wall. Companies started introducing switchers and extension devices that bring all those analog holdouts into the digital spectrum for distribution.


The first generation of these devices was still a little all over the map. They were the 3G network, based on infrastructure that was a little slower and a network of cell towers not yet all in sync. These extenders transmitted signals well, but at varying quality over distance.

Manufacturers of this generation have to provide charts that relate a matrix of data. We’ve all seen them. They do 800×600 at 330 feet over Cat5e all the way up to 1920×1200 at 150 feett over Cat6 or 100 feet over Cat5e. You have to plan for distribution based on the resolution and frequency of the signal, and if you miss, you may end up with no video.


The new generation of extenders is more dialed-in. As standards-based technologies started to emerge, definite camps were created. The new standards spurred investment in better chips, and these chips eliminate the need for confusing matrices and allow for a more straightforward specification of resolutions over distance on category cables. The promise of better video extension over copper has been almost fully realized through HDBaseT, Video-over-IP and AVB standards.

Operating Systems

I liken the emerging standards to an Operating System.


Some companies are making extenders that strictly conform to the standards. They are cross compatible in this respect across brands, as they all use the same protocols and standards.  These companies are like Android developers. They are creating a product that uses a method of communication that is open source, not proprietary, and compatible across hardware platforms.


Other companies are taking the advantages of these new chip-sets and maximizing their value, while supporting other features as well in the extenders. These devices are not cross-compatible, as they alter they speak their own dialect even though the physical transmission is very similar. They are compatible only with their name brand counterparts.

There are pros and cons to this strategy, including a typical increase in cost due to not achieving the same economies of scale. However, they will attract loyal fans that will live and die by their hardware. I liken this to the iOS/Apple camp.

Brave New World

Now it is up to integrators to embrace the switch form their old 3G network and move into the new standards based, 4G world. The advantage is that you will be leaving your matrices behind it seems, and no longer have to dive into page 9 of the manual to find that 1280×768 is only supported at 75 Hz on the device in your hand.

You will however have to make a decision.  Do you need and like like the proprietary features in the iOS camp and are willing to live in that environment, sacrificing some cross compatibility?  Do you prefer the standards based camp and can forego the extra unique features?

Poor Coverage and Interference

The other reality is that just like with cell reception, an extender will only be as good as the environment allows. If your extenders encounter Electro-Magnetic and RF interference, they may be saying “Can you hear me now?” EMI and RF can create the equivalent to a remote forest and distances over 330 feet mean your display lives in the middle of the ocean out of reach. Copper based signals just aren’t going to make it. They will be lost in the abyss.

Then it is time to break out some fiber extenders, the satellite phones if you will, that live outside the EMI/RF environment and beam your signals to their locations, interference-free. The only drawback will be the cost.

Did I miss anything?  Tell me I’m right or pick a fight, (you won’t win :)) by adding your comments below.