4K Content is Here! Has the Equipment Tech Caught Up?

I recently setup a native 4K UHD HDR-10 projector with Dolby 7.2 24 bit sound AND WOW! what a nightmare. I thought a few of you out there would be interested in what I learned, should you try this yourselves. Please Note: I am starting with the assumption that all of your devices will support ALL current A/V tech.

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Understanding the Tech Standards IS Important!

HDMI 2.0

  • Data Transmission Speed: 18 Gbps
  • Important Protocol Support: HDCP 2.2, CEC, 4K Video @ 60Hz, 4:2:0 Chroma, Simultaneous UHD Audio & Video

HDMI 2.0b

  • Data Transmission Speed: 18 Gbps
  • Important Protocol Support: HDCP 2.2, CEC, 4K Video @ 60Hz, 4:2:2 Chroma, Simultaneous UHD Audio & Video, HDR-10, HLG, eARC

HDMI 2.1

  • Data Transmission Speed: 48 Gbps
  • Important Protocol Support: HDCP 2.2, CEC, 4K Video @ 120Hz, 8K @ 60Hz, 4:4:4 Chroma, Simultaneous UHD Audio & Video, HDR-12, HLG, eARC, Metadata Support

Reference pieces explaining standards here: https://www.cnet.com/how-to/what-is-hdmi-2-0b/ and https://community.cedia.net/blogs/david-meyer/2018/05/16/hdmi-data-rates-for-4k-hdr

Tech Perspective

The fastest readily available Ethernet (IP Network) data standard only carries 1 Gbps. So, how do we even connect these devices? There are only two data cabling technologies available today that can support this at distances greater than 15 ft. (by my trial & error): HDBaseT (Ethernet with Baluns) up to HDMI 2.0b sort of, or Fiber-Optic up to HDMI 2.1 sort of… The HDMI 2.1 standard currently only requires support for up to 3 meters.

Neither of these technologies is the complete answer AND yes, be prepared for problems at distances greater than 15 ft. Theoretical data bandwidths are just that: theoretical. I struggled for 10 days to find a cost-effective solution to push the signal 40 ft, without too much loss. I will preface this discussion with one comment:

  • If your budget is unlimited, none of this is a problem. Just hire a qualified A/V Integrator (not Best Buy) and let them wrestle with the design… spend $3K on your data solution and another $2K for expert setup/calibration (install extra), on top of the A/V Receiver, Projector, Streaming Devices and Sound System.

One more item, before I start. The support for the additional protocols DOES MATTER. Data bandwidth only gets you so far… The devices will need two-way communication for device authentication and a handshake. Without it, you could have no signal at worst, lost functionality at best.

Now, to share what I discovered…

Optimal 4K UHD Video with Dolby 7.2 Sound at 40 ft?

As you get started, two things will blow your mind:

  • The data standards for 4K are still mostly bleeding-edge tech (painful).
  • The product claims made are mostly GIGO (garbage in-garbage out). In other words: BS.

Knowing what product info & specs to trust will be a huge hurdle to overcome. For example, I purchased several low-cost signal amplifiers, before I found one that works. Be prepared to purchase some signal transmission solutions more than once…

I chose a fiber-optic cable solution (8K@60Hz Video) OVER HDBaseT (up to 4K@60Hz Video). Not sure that was the best choice, but I was hoping to future-proof my installation for 8K video in the future. This was also supposed to eliminate the potential for electro-magentic (EMI), or radio frequency (RFI) interference. Regardless of the technology itself being immune to this interference, I tried wrapping all power and data cables with EMI/RFI shielding copper foil. It actually helped. Tells you how much interference is generated by all of this equipment. To give you an idea, I had to add a new 20A circuit to my electrical panel to support the current draw of all the home theater devices I deploy. This took hours to wrap the cables, but was worth it. Next, the signal amplifier. Forget the in-line devices, they are throw-aways, regardless of manufacturers’ claims, or Projector/TV recommendations. After trying several, I purchased a hard-powered version and it DID make a difference. Certainly not to the extent the manufacturer claimed, but it did help. Be careful to buy a model that supports at least HDMI 2.0b. Finally, the cable. Fiber-optic cables are not ready for 4K@60 Hz HDR-10 UHD at 40′ plus. Mine does not handshake well with my other devices. There is a new standard coming for cables that have a fiber-optic core surrounded by a copper wire sheath. This type of cable segregates the data for video and audio (using the fiber-optic tech) from the two-way conventional analog data (via the copper). This will be required for complete UHD system compatibility/inter-operability, until all UHD A/V equipment is standardized around fiber tech. If you wait another 6-12 months, I am sure these cables will become more commonplace.

Settings

This would seem like a no-brainer, but none of these devices will automatically detect the signal type AND your final video/audio solution will only be as good as the weakest link in all connected devices. I had to modify settings on EVERY device to support the spec of my weakest device: 4K@60Hz, 8 bit HDR, HLG, 4:2:2 Chroma with 7.2 channel sound. I also had to make sure my streaming devices were setup for Wake-Up-On-LAN (WOL). Basically, a sleep with wake-up setting. Always-on data settings flat did not work. Once the signal dropped you had to cycle power to bring it back with this setting. My projector only had one HDMI port that supported HDCP 2.2 and it was port #2. Make sure you check your port capabilities – it is an easy thing to overlook. Finally, check to see if your A/V Receiver and Projector/TV is capable of up-scaling 480/720/1080 signals. I would suggest turning this off on your A/V receiver and let your Projector/TV handle all signal mod. The signal loss from the A/V receiver to perform the signal upgrade was too large for my system and I would lose the picture when it was turned on.

Conclusion

In the end, it was well worth it. The difference from my HDMI 1.4 1080P@60Hz system was so dramatic, it was shocking. It was a real challenge though and for several days, we had no picture, until I could work all this out. I was able to connect all equipment at under $500 my cost. Upgrading the Projector, A/V Receiver and Streaming Devices did cost around $6K. Of course, there is a whole different discussion that could be had about Receiver and Projector features/tech vs. price. We can save that for another time…

About Doug Levin

Doug is a certified (PSP, AHC, LEED AP), experienced business development professional with a focus on the physical security industry. With a diverse background that includes delivering products & services through multiple channels (manufacturing, distribution, specialty & general contracting), he brings a broad industry perspective that adds greater value for his clients. Having decades of experience with sales engineering and design-build of low-voltage automated systems, he also offers a strong emphasis on technical knowledge and consulting services. His career has included responsibility for: profit & loss, operations and sales management with front-line experience in estimating, sales/marketing, project management and developing security design documents & spec writing.
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