InfoComm 2013 HDMI Extender Shoot Out Results

hdmi-extenderAnyone who followed my last couple posts about my scAVenger hunt on the floor may be curious to know how things turned out. Well we invited quite a few folks to come and try out their Cat5 based extenders on the show floor.

Who we invited and what they said:

Atlona — Wanted to come, but were afraid the floor units may be prototypes so they decided no too.

Kramer — Wanted to come, but all their extenders were tied down, and they weren’t sure they had power supplies, didn’t come.

Crestron — They said they would come out, but didn’t show up.

AMX — Weren’t interested, it seemed.

Hall Research — AJ said they may come but didn’t know if they had power supplies, didn’t see them.

Altinex — Wanted to come, but only had their Muse Cat6 extenders on the floor that distribute video and enough power for a display.

Key Digital — Didn’t have a product they wanted to test, were showing their extenders on their own cable.

FSR — Wanted to come, but don’t have an extender that they market as 300 feet over Cat5e, instead they have a 325 foot HDMI ribbon cable that terminates directly on the fiber (no need for boxes or power supplies).

SVSI — I asked but they didn’t think they had power supplies either.

Monoprice — all in, no hesitation, said yes.

Wyrestorm — Martha’s answer was “Bad Ass! Let’s do it” (She is way cool, I remember her from her Monster Cable days).

Just Add Power — Heard about it on Twitter and jumped right in, said yes.

Who showed up?

Originally two showed up, Monoprice and Wyrestorm. Part way through the test, prompted by some much appreciated Twitter activity on the part of Women in AV’s Jennifer Willard, Just Add Power threw their hat in the ring as well.

Here was the setup.

My laptop was connected via HDMI to the transmitter side of the video extender, which was connected to my “triple t” (tagged, toned and terminated) 299 feet of Cat5e. It was run around the large “U”  above the main entry on the third floor. On the other end was a 29″ NEC monitor, connected via HDMI to the receiver side of the extender, which was plugged into the other end of the Cat5e cable.

Here is what happened:

Nothing. At least initially.

Monoprice went first. We connected their HDBaseT extenders, the link light came on, the laptop responded as if it were about to send a signal, and then nothing. The screen was blank and the HDCP light just blinked in a mocking manner at us all. We tried connecting, reconnecting, power cycles, and even retested both HDMI cables by direct connection from the laptop to the display.

Wyrestorm came next. We added Wyrestorm’s HDBaseT extenders (with PoE to power the receiver side which ROCKS) and again nothing. The display again cycled, changed resolution, indicating EDID was being received, and the screen stayed black. It would then release, and reconnect, again with no video to be seen.

So now, at this point, we are at that point every integrator on the floor has experienced. The cables all test positive.  The source and monitor work fine in a direct connection. The connectors are seated properly, and everything has power, but the video just doesn’t make it through.

Head scratching ensued. Wyrestorm went back to the booth to get the non PoE version. Monoprice left to get their active wall plate form factor. I retested all the cables, again.

Upon return Wyrestorm hooked up their non-PoE HDBaseT version. Same result. Monoprice hooked up their alternative form factor HDBaseT wall plates, same result. And then! Something happened! Monoprice changed out the RedMere High Performance HDMI cables with a version that cost — get this — 93 cents!

Guess what happened? BOOOMMM! We had video. We then redid the test with all of the extenders that previously failed, and they all worked. Wyrestorm even had us crank up the resolution to push 2560×1080 at 60 Hz and their unit worked flawlessly at that resolution at 300 feet.

Jon Ogden, fueled by a Twitter taunt, ran over excitedly with his Just Add Power HD over IP unit, the only non-HDBaseT contender, and that product worked on the first try with the new corrected setup.

So congratulations all who participated as they passed.

What do I make of all this?

1) Wyrestorm, MonoPrice, and Just Add Power make units that they were confident could push signal over typical Cat5e at 300 feet, and it was proven that they could.

2) Wyrestorm and Monoprice have some great critical thinking, technical staff that can troubleshoot issues. They both have tech support to give integrators access to extra gray matter when an issue arises. They were also adamant about finding the issues and proving the signal would pass.

3) Windy City Wire makes Cat5e that pulls easy, is marked for easy measurement, AND, most importantly, will pass at least 2560×1080 video at 300 feet. This really shows that proprietary, specially-designed wire isn’t necessary, at least with the three we tested.

4) HDBaseT and HD over IP extenders mitigate the distance issues of the old guard.

5) HDMI still sucks. There is no other way to say it. The high end cables didn’t help, and in fact hurt, the transmission.  The revolving door of HDMI versions and unenforced set of ‘pick and chose’ standards is a nightmare that means every job will have the possibility of looking exactly like this test. Our RedMere issue in this test illustrated this perfectly.

One More Note: If this was an integrator on a jobsite, he most likely would NOT have had extra extenders and multiple HDMI cable types on hand. He would have had to return to home base to get parts. He may even need to order them, meaning the job is delayed for days at best. We spent an hour troubleshooting this one drop, before we figured out what was happening.

If we assume 50 percent of jobs have HDMI extenders, and then 50 percent of those don’t go off smoothly, we can estimate that HDMI extender issues cost the Top 50 integrators nearly $1.7 million dollars in unbillable labor.

If you want to mitigate these issues completely, then switch to fiber extenders. If there is no budget for fiber, make sure you bench test before you install, as you never know what you may find.