Practical HDMI Video Distribution Available
HDMI has been with us for a few years, but as a video connection standard it is only just becoming practical for use in distributed video systems. It has been possible for a while, but the complexity and limitations in HDCP (Hollywood-imposed copy protection) have made it impractical in a home solution.
A video matrix router is a device that allows several different source devices (cable box, satellite receiver, DVD player) to be distributed to one or more displays. We have used matrix routers in the analog world for years to provide the benefits of distributed video, but a practical digital video matrix router has not been available until now.
Crestron has just begun shipping their DigitalMedia solution which is, in essence, a digital video and audio matrix router. They have gone to extreme lengths to abide by HDCP requirements while still providing a practical solution. There are also a number of other challenges involved in sending HDMI over long distances (say, more than 40 feet), but Crestron has solutions to these problems as well.
One method for addressing the distance issue is to use fiber optics. So if you are building a new home, this is a compelling reason to consider installing fiber cable (or conduit for future fiber cable). The Crestron solution will work via category 5 cable, but only up to 100 feet.
The compelling driver behind digital (HDMI) video distribution is access to true 1080p video. Due to Hollywood restrictions, content is not available beyond 1080i via analog means, and the days of 1080i may be numbered. Although they have not done so yet, the content owners have the option of restricting analog output to 480p at any time. The perceived quality improvement of digital 1080p over analog 1080i is probably incremental, but protection from likely future resolution games is something to consider.
The DigitalMedia system is capable of handling 16 displays to 1080p and 16 high-definition sources of any kind. The only major stumbling block in this solution (besides cost) is the usual lousy equipment provided by the cable TV companies. Nearly all the currently available cable boxes that support HDMI are restricted to a single display at a time. The technical explanation is complex, but the box manufacturers have been uninterested in remedying this problem. Fortunately most satellite TV receivers, Blu-ray players, and other devices have more reasonable restrictions (typically 16 displays at a time).
Because we tend to overkill the cabling in our projects, most of our installations to date should be upgradeable to the DigitalMedia solution.