Video Distribution In A Smart Home
Distributing audio visual content into and around the home has a long and varied history, from broadcast radio and terrestrial TV, through satellite and cable TV, and now direct app-based services. But if you are designing a smart home, what is the best way to offer the content you want whilst giving flexibility and potential for future upgrade?
In the past the predominant method of delivering AV content to TV’s around the home was direct to TV via the aerial. If your viewing needs were fairly minimal this worked well, and modulation into the RF (aerial) system could be used if there were some local sources and cost was more important than quality. For higher quality applications an entirely separate system would be needed to distribute local sources, this is where digital matrix switching came in.
The arrival of HDMI heralded a new era, whilst it made it possible to offer a much improved audio visual experience, it was no longer a simple case of sending the video signal down the cable.
HDMI carries HDCP (High Bandwidth Content Protection), meaning source devices need to authorise sync (display) devices before playback can begin, and devices need to ‘hand shake’ to exchange settings. This tends to be a very simple process if HDMI is being used as originally intended, with a source plugged directly into a local TV. However things can quickly become complicated when distributing multiple sources around the home to multiple displays.
App based direct to TV streaming has seen an explosion in growth through recent years, offering a vast array of content on demand. Globally IP video traffic is set to account for 82% of consumer internet traffic by 2022. Most mainstream content providers offer app based services, and Sky is on its way becoming solely a network service having already launched network based ‘no dish’ solutions in Italy and Australia, and are currently working on a product for wider roll out.
There is however still demand for distribution of local video sources within the home.
The TV market is an extremely competitive place. This leads to a battle between manufacturers to cram in headline features at the lowest price possible. 4K, UHD, 8K, 3D, curved screen, smooth motion, but very little in terms of excess processing power and forward compatibility. Modern TV’s tend to be built to provide web based services as they stand at the point of manufacture, but often as apps are updated over time, support can be pulled or sets become sluggish and struggle to run them effectively. This makes the viewing experience highly frustrating and renders an otherwise fully functional TV obsolete.
In addition, we find that many clients like to have areas within the home that offer a higher quality viewing experience, making use of media servers such as Kaliedescape. These provide lossless video with high bitrate multichannel audio and represent a clear step up in quality over direct to TV apps and other mainstream products. In addition to this there are a large number of people that have simply built up a catalogue of content over time and would like to include a means of viewing or would like the option of quickly accessing CCTV video around the home. For these applications we require a method of distributing the central video sources.
Essentially we can now combine the scalability and flexibility of RF modulation, with the quality of matrix switching.
Whereas the matrix switchers of yesterday offered a fairly rigid platform to work from, IP solutions allow for a system that can evolve over time. Historically a fairly expensive matrix switcher would be purchased, providing a fixed number of inputs and outputs with prices rising rapidly as more were added. This meant either purchasing a larger unit than was required at extra cost or being confident that no additional TV’s or sources would be added at a later date. This can be restrictive as systems are often designed at the build or renovation stage of a project, and homeowners may not have a full understanding of how the space will be used.
An IP solution can provide a cost-effective alternative, as well as scalability, due to its modular nature. Often all that is required is a network controller, an input module can then be installed per piece of source equipment, and an output module per display. These can be added at any point allowing scalability over time. This is hugely helpful both if you are looking to keep initial costs to a minimum, as can often be the case with a build project, or if space usage changes.
It is important to understand what is needed from a video distribution system. Uncompressed video can mean massive bandwidth requirements so compression is often a must. The compromises for video distribution systems are between cost, quality, latency and longevity. This not only refers to equipment but also covers cabling infrastructure. In order to make more bandwidth available, improving potential quality and longevity, better infrastructure must be installed, this is demonstrated below.
As with all smart home systems, the key to success is a considered design of infrastructure, careful equipment selection and professional integration. If each stage is carried out properly, the result will be years of trouble-free viewing pleasure, and an experience level that wows. For more information on how we can assist with your project contact us.
We are audio visual specialists who have been delivering luxury technology solutions for residential spaces in the UK since 2010.