One of the worst enemies of the home theatre industry is itself. On one hand it seems to have learned from the PC industry that standards are a good thing, on the other hand it always seems to be searching for the next great solution to problems that largely don't exist.
The latest example of this comes in the form of a new cabling technology called HDBaseT. This is being spearheaded by a group in the US called the HDBaseT Alliance, which has been founded by LG, Samsung, Sony Picutres and a chip company called Valens Semiconductor. What it aims to do is replace the myriad cabling that currently plagues home theatre setups with a single cable that does everything.
One cable for video, audio, networking and power
What is most intriguing is that this single cable is actually the humble Cat5e/Cat6 ethernet cabling that is so ubiquitous in the PC networking world. Rather than just use the cable for data transfer, HDBaseT adopts what the alliance calls 5Play convergence. This refers to HDBaseT supporting digital video, audio, 100BaseT Ethernet, power (up to 100W) and 'control signals'.
Cramming all this into an Ethernet cable seems pretty impressive, and is achieved by special transmitting and receiving chips designed by Valens Semiconductor. This is necessary because the technology is asymmetric. While the Ethernet and control signal part of the technology is omnidirectional, the video, audio and power signals take the form of one way traffic, sent from transmitting to receiving chips.
Getting beyond Ethernet's bandwidth limitations
This allows HDbaseT to get around the inherent bandwidth limitations of Ethernet. To put it in perspective, current gigabit Ethernet technology tops out at around 2Gbps when running on a PCI-Express enabled PC. In contrast an uncompressed HDMI 1.3 signal is capable of 10.2 Gbps in order to deliver images with technologies like Deep Colour enabled.
What about HDMI?
HDBaseT does sound like a highly impressive technology, and one that addresses some pretty important issues like cable clutter and limited lengths of HDMI cabling (HDBaseT supports cable lengths up to 100m). But we do wonder whether it is too late. HDMI has now firmly established itself as the dominant means of connecting HD video devices, while Intel's Wireless Display (WiDi) is also now ready for primetime. Don't forget Displayport, which is also gaining traction among PC manufacturers thanks to its royalty-free nature and increased flexibility over HDMI.
No matter how impressive HDBaseT is, it really is going to be pushing against the stream. We are coming off a pretty significant phase of home entertainment upgrading in the wake of the analog to digital transition. So it seems unlikely that anyone will want to replace their entire setup in order to get the advantages of a single cabling type, no matter how compelling the advantages are.