DSTV has been around for some time now and many decoders have issues as they get older, or you might just need to move to a new home. You will need to realign your DSTV dish and get the system installed properly for the best viewing experience, especially is you are going HD.
I do not want to bore with the technical. There are many different HDMI versions of HDMI. They are: 1.1, 1.2, 1.2a, 1.3a, 1.3b, 1.3c and now 1.4. Just remember that South Africa is a late-comer to the high definition party. So what does that mean? Basically, when HD Blu Ray and HD DSTV were launched in SA the HDMI Version was 1.3b. Thus make sure all your equipment is 1.3b, 1.3c or 1.4. HDMI is backwards compatible with older versions of HDMI.
Version 1.4 is the latest version and supports 3D TV.
HDMI cables are becoming one of the most common cables found in a household today. As HD is a fairly new technology in South Africa there have been some misunderstandings that occurred with the South African Consumers. Firstly, there are many different wire gauges and different internal compositions. Don’t worry about the compositions. Good quality copper cable will do the trick.
The important thing to remember is that an HDMI Cable does not cost R 1000. The South African consumer has been mislead into thinking that a R 1000 cable is better than a R 85 cable. This is not true, as the important thing to remember is longer HDMI cables should use thicker wire. I personally recommend and purchase gold platted 28 AWG HDMI cables.
I have never had one that has failed and returned to me. The funny thing is that they look identical to the Monster HDMI cables.
Almost all Blu Ray and set top box manufacturers (DSTV HD PVR) include HDMI cables with the item and these are not suitable. These cables are of a lower grade and are fine for connecting directly to HD TVs if they are really short (less than 1 meter). I have had to replace many of them in the past.
The only issue is that when it comes to distributing the signals to remote locations connection issues do occur. So when purchasing a new Blu-ray just upgrade your HDMI cable, but don’t go overboard on what you pay for the HDMI Cable. Distributing HDMI signals with HDMI Cables to multiple locations, like bedrooms and patios, is an issue as the HDMI Connector is large and getting it though conduit is almost impossible. The second issue is that extending past a 10 meter length may cause performance issues due to signal attenuation. This is why there are so many different technologies offered to distribute to remote points.
There are many different types of HDMI splitters and they come from various different parts of the world. HDMI Splitters split the signals in multiples of two. For example 1×2, 1×4, 1×8 and 1×16. This means that the splitter takes one HD input and will split that input signal to 2, 4, 8 or 16 outputs. Households rarely use 1×8 and 1×16 splitters. These are the most common splitters that you will find.
New technologies have allowed for switches to be included in the splitters. Examples are: 5×2, 3×4 and 3×8 splitters. Note that these splitters are not HDMI matrixes. They are just switch distribution amps. Meaning that you can only view one HD input on one or multiple displays at any one time.
HDMI Extenders are the backbone of distributing to multiple locations. There are so many different types and ranges it is almost impossible to distinguish between them. The most common you will find are the dual CAT5e extenders. These extenders work perfectly, but there are many issues that attribute to the performance of these extenders. One is the installation of these systems. I have been called out to many installation sites where the quality of the installation is the main reason for poor system performance, where a close second is the quality of the UTP (CAT) cable used. There are two types of dual CAT extenders, standard extenders which distribute signals to 25 meters and super extenders up to 50 meters.
The benefit of using these types of extenders is that in the future one of the existing CAT cables (good quality) can be used to run the HDMI signal and the other for IPTV and Home Video Networks.
Other extender options include extending signals over one CAT cable (catone technology), expensive at present, where the HD signal is distributed over one UTP (CAT) Cable. Everyday new HD extender technology is released. Some of the new technologies on offer are fibre optic and coaxial extenders. These HD extenders, in my opinion, are the technologies to use and watch out for.
One of the most recent distribution techniques is distributing HD over Ethernet (IP) systems, I am not going to comment much on this technology as I personally have not used or tested it, but I thought that I would mention it. This is going to change the distribution of HD forever as I feel that all the video and audio technologies are moving towards IP based systems.
HDMI Matrixes are the ultimate in current HDMI Technology. The flexibility of these systems is awesome. The most common of HDMI matrixes are 4×4. This allows you to watch any full HD source on any display in the system. Thus this unit manages which input is displayed at any one time. Newer HDMI Matrixes have CAT6 boosted outputs and have extenders included in one complete package. These matrixes tend to be more expensive as there is more processing involved. But for me, it is worth every penny spent. HDMI Matrixes are more future proof than standard splitters as when you need to add HD sources at a later stage you can without additional costs.
This also minimises the need for additional items, such as HDMI Switches, to add the HD source into the distribution system.
Alternative to HDMI:
Some installers are staying clear of HDMI distribution systems as they may have had technical issues with these systems. Thus they opt for the distribution on component video (analogue HD). Component video is fantastic, but the only real drawback is the cabling. Once you start distributing to more than one remote point it becomes a nightmare. This is because you need to have 5 cables (3 video 2 audio) at each point. It may be cheaper in some regards, but when you need to amplify the component video or put it into a matrix it tends to be pricy.
Choices Not Offered:
Now that we know what’s out there, why is the consumer not offered the best solution? These technologies are not offered to the South African consumer. This allows the seller/installer to have carte blanch on the system without discussing it first with the client. This poses a bit of a problem for the South African Consumer as they are not getting the right product for their requirements. This is a huge problem as this is not considering the future needs and will lead, in my opinion, to bad customer service.
I have seen it so often where a system is thrown together and later the client needs to change his/her system just to handle a new TV or HD Source. This leads to more costs involved. Thus the installers love it as this means more sales and more call outs but this, for me, just tarnishes the industry.
A fair warning is that there are some installers who charge by what car you drive and not your needs. So my advice is that you research and call around before accepting any quotations. Get a feel for what you need and you will save money in the future. A little research into HDMI distribution is not a huge effort. There are millions of forums and consumer write-ups on all the equipment that is available. I am sure that HD Football can wait a week. Be patient.
HDMI Price Factors:
HDMI Equipment varies in price dramatically. Thus it’s important to know why. Main Factors that influence prices are: place of manufacture, video processor chips, and build quality. Place of manufacture is important as this will dictate how much service is available to you.
For example, service turnaround times on repairs and post purchase service.
Most HDMI equipment distributors import their goods from China. It is important to remember that if something goes wrong with the equipment, this may in fact cost a lot more than you realise. The shortfall with buying this equipment is that repair services are nonexistent, which is illegal in South Africa. This is why we have repair facilities at FONET.
One other problem is build quality. I have found a few Chinese manufactures that build great HDMI products and others that do not and are rubbish.
A good point to remember is when you are shopping and are on a tight budget, ask where it is made. A good general rule is that Taiwan manufacture is great. The equipment and build quality is excellent. HDMI Equipment built in the USA, is very expensive but the build quality is good. One other factor to keep in mind is shipping from the USA is extremely expensive and this drives the equipment cost up.
If the equipment is assembled in China under licence, the quality control is fantastic.
Beware, I had an incident with an American company a few months back. Their service was shocking. I was looking at one of their systems and wanted to know if I could buy some extra spares for backup service here in South Africa. The reply was “buy 2 systems, if something goes wrong then replace it with the spare”. Keep in mind that I was sourcing equipment for one big installation. I only required one unit. The unit cost 6000 US, buying two was not an option for “if something went wrong” and secondly I would make no money on the deal if I had bought two. Bad business sense if you ask me.
As far as I am aware, and we do keep a close eye, there are three main manufacturers of the video chips. These are namely, Explore Electronics (Taiwan), Maxim (USA) and Sony (Japan). Try and find out what chips are being used, for service reasons, as some are easier to get hold of than others. These chips range in price from 80 rand (10 USD) to about 150 rand (21 USD). Maxim chips are the easiest chips to get hold of as they have representation in South Africa. Explore chips have to be imported and we personally have not found a supply of Sony chips in South Africa or around the world.
This is one of the most important items to know about when you are thinking about distributing HD to remote points. The system margin of error free performance depends on it. I only recommend CAT6 Cable. For the extra 1 or 2 rand per meter it’s worth every cent. There are many grades of UTP cables. My brand preference is Lambda and Le Grand. UTP CAT6 Solid should range about R 4 to R 7 per meter.
This is where so many installers and distributors of HDMI Equipment come short. They use CAT5e which for HDMI is not great. It works but the system margin is bad, picture drop outs and pink screens. Most of your problems can be solved with just using CAT6 cable (good quality). Installing extra CAT6 Cables is a great idea for future upgrades. It is even better to use Shielded CAT6 (FTP) to avoid mains interference and if you are laying CAT6 cables outside.
A word of caution, this cable is very expensive. Expect to pay anything from 15 – 35 rand per meter, depending on greed.
Best way to distribute HD signals:
The best way to distribute HD is “requirement based”, offering varied solutions for the client’s needs to ensure that all requirements are met and future upgrade paths are available. All systems eventually will be replaced but you can proof yourself for between 5-10 years. It’s just better to get what you want now and avoid the fiddle later.
Short falls of HDMI:
Sometimes I do not like HDMI technology as there are a few design issues. The first one is HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection). This is there to stop recording on external recording devices. This causes handshake issues and can make life difficult. I have never had issues with Blu ray players, but with the DSTV HD PVR I have had many. I don’t think that the PVR manufacturers stick to the HDMI design Standards. The second issue is having power on the HDMI. This makes it very susceptible to lightning.
The great thing is with fibre optic cable and coax cable the power element cannot be passed through, reducing lightning issues.
Lightning protection is imperative to have in any HDMI system. There are two areas where the lightning can leak into the system is the mains (AC) and on the CAT6 Cable. The best practice for protection on the AC mains it to use surge and lightning protection units. The entire system needs to be protected. Thus all components such as TV, DSTV decoder, HDMI splitters and extenders must have protection.
The brands that I recommend are Clearline and APC. The only protection on CAT6 Cables is using shielded cat6 cable. LAN lightning protection does not work. The margin for errors is large as there are huge speed differences between LAN and HDMI.
1. Do some research, make some calls, speak to lots of different people, get an idea of what budget to set on what you require.
2. I really think that paying a little extra will save you in the long run.
3. Proof yourself for the future as best you can.
4. ALWAYS use CAT6 cable!
5. There are so many resources at your disposal use them and you will be laughing.
6. If you are unsure of installation quality, ask someone!!!
7. Always ensure that you are protected against lightning.
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