A Guide To HDMI Distribution Equipment - What Should I Buy?
If you want to send a HDMI signal around your home from one TV to another, or if you want to have your AV equipment to multiple TV positions you may be wondering, what equipment do I need? In this blog, we discuss some of the main types of HDMI equipment that will allow you to send full HD/4K throughout your property. Let us begin.
It sounds obvious, but it’s all built on the HDMI cable and the simplest way to send HDMI signals over a relatively short distance is with a direct cable. These vary in types and quality and if you want to send your HD signal over distances of 5-10m you will need a good one. I don’t recommend buying the “gold-plated” HDMI cables which are sold with your TV because of the very expensive prices, often at claimed “discounted” prices it’s important to get a good quality one and know the difference between leads.
I have already written a previous blog on ‘What HDMI Cable Should I Buy?’ so I recommend that you read that for a more detailed answer, but an important thing to look out for is the HDMI standard of the cable itself. If you want to deliver 4K/ UHD signals you will need a better cable that can carry a greater velocity of data. At the time of writing this the latest standard is HDMI 2.1.
HDMI Repeater Amplifier
If you’re using very long HDMI cables between your AV equipment and your TV (Your source and your sink) you may find that you get pixilation on your TV picture or that your TV fails to display the highest resolution that it should. You may need a HDMI repeater amplifier. This is installed at the end of the HDMI cable that connects at the TV end, the amplifier will boost the signal to help overcome signal attenuation and voltage drop which occurs across the cable length and “re-clock” the signal. There are a couple different types, passive HDMI amplifiers which do not require a separate power supply and active amplifiers which do. Of the two I would go for the active versions which will offer a more reliable connection. Repeater amplifiers can also be used to daisy-chain HDMI cables allowing for an overall cable length.
HDMI Distribution Amplifier/ Signal Splitter
A HDMI distribution amplifier takes an input from a single device and re-transmits it to multiple device, examples would be 1 device to 2 screens (2 way amp) or one device to four screens. It’s important to note that on each TV will display the same signal, so if you were using this to send a Sky box to more than one TV you would only be able to view the same channel on both TV’s.
HDMI over CAT5/6 Baluns
When you wish to send HDMI over distance, using a HDMI cable it not the best way of doing things. The better option would be to convert the HDMI signal so that it can be carried on a twisted-pair data cable like a Category 5e or Category 6 cable. These video baluns come as a pair, a transmitter and a receiver, the transmitter connects to your HDMI device (Sky box, game console, Bluray etc,.) with a cable and the receiver connects to your TV with a second HDMI cable with an interconnecting data cable (or two) in between.
HDMI Video Balun Types
There are various makes and types of video baluns on the market, some compatible with HD resolutions like 4K and others not. It’s important to get the right type for what you want. Some video baluns require two interconnecting cables between transmitter and receiver whereas others work with a single data cable.
When it comes to the powering of the video baluns themselves, some can be powered but the 5V HDMI DC connection and some can’t. I recommend getting ones that do require a separate power supply as the power from the HDMI cable isn’t always reliable. Most types on the market will allow you to power the transmitter/ receiver baluns with a single power supply that can be connected either on the receiver or transmitter end, which can be handy if you have your TV mounted on the wall and no spare electrical sockets behind your TV.
Infra-Red Commands – Controlling The Equipment
Obviously, just getting the AV signal between your device and your TV is only half the battle, as you will need to be able to control it! A lot of modern home entertainment equipment now uses Bluetooth which works over radio frequency and can work between walls over short distances, but if your device relies on infra-red commands from a remote control you will need a mechanism to get these between your TV and your device. You can install a separate system for this but many HD over Ethernet cabling systems allow for this by way of an infra-red eye which is not dissimilar to magic eyes used for old Sky boxes and connects to the HDMI balun receiver and an IR emitter which is positioned in front on the device that you wish to control and connects to the HDMI balun transmitter. You need take care when placing the infra-red emitter in front of the AV equipment so that it is placed directly in front or near the infra-red sensor on the AV equipment, if you fail to position this correct the remote control handset will not work. For more information I recommend reading our previous article, 'How to hide AV equipment'
HDMI + USB
I’m including the HDMI video extenders plus USB here as they can be very helpful for CCTV systems where the DVR/ NVR and the monitor are in separate locations and you still wish to control the equipment. At the transmitter end a USB can be connected which connects into a port on the DVR/NVR where you would normally connect a mouse to control the unit and at the receiver end beside the TV a USB mouse can be connected which would allow you to control the CCTV equipment as you would normally do but in a separate location.
HDMI Video Balun + HDMI Loop
If you have your HDMI device sited in a position where you also have a TV, like your lounge but you also want to view this on a second TV. You have the obvious problem where if you were to use HDMI over Cat5/6 extenders you would need to connect the HDMI lead that should feed your first TV into the transmitter-extender itself leaving the TV with no connection. A couple of ways around this, you could install a distribution amplifier before the extender and have one HDMI cable feeding the TV/ Screen/ Monitor and the other the feeding the extender or you could buy an extender kit that has a “HDMI Loop” connection which would allow the signal to be looped back up to your main TV and extended to your second TV all with the same kit.
HDBaseT / HDBaseT Lite
If you going to purchase any type of HDMI over Cat5/6solution I recommend getting the ones marketed as HDBaseT or HDBaseT Lite for shorter distances. HDbaseT can send HDMI signals over a single twisted pair cable up to 100m. I recommend this website for learning more.
HDMI Selector Box
If you have more HDMI devices that HDMI ports on your TV, you may already be familiar with having the unplug one piece of equipment to plug in another. Which you may be happy doing but it’s not good for the connection itself to keep being unplugged/ re-plugged, you could damage your cable or the TV itself. A more suitable solution for this problem would be to install a HDMI selector box, what this does is take multiple inputs from different pieces of AV equipment and send them down one HDMI cable to the TV. You can then between different inputs on the selector box to what display what you want to see on the TV. For some of the cheaper models this is done with a manual button that you have to press on the unit itself and some others come with their own handset or other control system. Selector boxes can also come in very handy not for when you have exceeded the amount of connections on your TV but if you have a cable buried in the wall feeding your TV and it is not easy to pull another to be able to use this to connect extra HDMI devices.
HDMI Matrix Switch
A HDMI matrix switch is a step on from a HDMI amplifier, in the sense that it can be used to connect multiple devices to multiple zones (TV screens), so it’s sort of like a distribution amplifier and a selector box in one. For example, if you had a Sky Q box, Bluray Player, Xbox One and Playstation 4(or 5 soon) to four TV’s, a 4x4 Matrix could be used to achieve this. There are many different types that can feed more (or less) devices to more (or less) TV zones. The more devices and zones that you wish to feed the more expensive the matrix switch will be, like a 8x8 or 16x16 matrix switch for example.
Matrix Switch Over Cat5/6 Data Cable
You have a couple of options for sending multiple HDMI signals around your house/ property, you could install a standard matrix switch with HDMI cables feeding your near TV’s and HDMI extenders for some of your TV’s that are a bit of a longer distance away. Whilst this may work fine and even a little bit less expensive, a more common and less messy way of doing this would be to install a HDMI over data cable matrix switch. These work by connecting your HDMI devices into the unit via standard cables and then the outputs which would feed each TV screen would be done via a twisted-pair data cable (Cat5e/ Cat6/ Cat6a/ Cat7), at the TV end you would install a HDMI receiver balun which would convert the data cable back to a HDMI connector. This matrix switch itself would replace the separate HDMI-Cat5 transmitter. All of the same aforementioned in the balun section of this article applies here so I will not repeat it. Some of the higher end models will give you the option of connecting your TV’s with either a HDMI cable or a data cable.
HDMI Over Coax
This is very similar to the HDMI over Cat5 or 6 section, with the main difference being that instead of using a data cable to connect in between your transmitter and receiver, a coax cable is used instead. This is a perfect solution where you cannot easily install data cabling but have coaxial cable that you can use or if you’re confident installing coax cabling but not network cabling. Or the two solutions I would nearly always choose the data cabling option as it’s most common and the coax equipment usually costs a bit more. Most HDMI over coax kits will send 1080p over a 100m but you should check distance and resolution compatibility on the device itself.
Wireless HDMI Senders
For the best performance and reliability, I would always choose to run a cable and connect the equipment to the TV using this, but this isn’t always possible. If you only need to send your HDMI signal over a short distance you could consider installing a HDMI wireless sender. Like the other solutions above you have a transmitter which would connect to your AV equipment and a receiver which would connect to your TV with the two devices communicating over radio-frequency. These units will almost always allow for infra-red communication with an infra-red eye and emitter also which will allow you to control your equipment. The reason that wireless extenders are not more commonly installed is because most things wireless, the further you go or the more obstacles like walls that the signal needs to pass through the more likely the equipment will fail to perform as expected. The better models are also quite expensive for what they are.
HDMI Over IP
Although HDMI over IP kits and HDMI over Cat5/6 solutions utilise the same physical cable between the transmitter and receiver, they are distinctly different. HDMI over IP would convert the signal to IP and would become part of your wired Local Area Network (Ethernet) whereas HDMI over Cat5/6 does not integrate with your LAN if you have one. The HDMI over IP solution would allow your AV signal to be broadcast to TV positions through things like network switches to positions which have network RJ45 sockets, from here you could install a receiver unit and connect your TV. One of the downsides of doing it this way is that HDMI is generally quite bandwidth intensive, especially at the higher HD resolutions meaning that you network must be able to support this. If you have a busy network using a 100Mbps connection, it might be a bad idea to introduce HDMI signals onto it as it can slow the whole thing down but if you’re running a 1Gbps or higher speed connection you should have no issues.
HDMI Powerline Adapters
These are not the most commonly installed devices but they do exist. You may already be familiar with powerline networking equipment which is used to send Ethernet signals over your existing mains electrical wiring which can be used to improve your internet and WIFI connection. These work as a pair in a similar manner with the difference being that instead of connecting a wired internet connection into your powerline adapters you would connect HDMI cables which would connect to your AV equipment and TV at either end.
Why would I would to downscale my HD picture resolution? I hear you ask. The answer lies in the way that the TV/ AV equipment identify to optimum TV resolution. This is done via the EDID (Extended Display Identification Data) communication between the source and the sink. Problems arise when you want to attach multiple TV screens to one piece of AV equipment which are capable of display different HD resolutions. For instance, you may have a 4K compatible TV in your lounge but only a Full-HD 1080p compatible TV in your bedroom which both TV's sharing a single device like a Sky Q box. Unless you have very sophisticated distribution equipment, If you was to just split the HDMI signal to the two TV's you would have an issue where you could be forced to limit your lounge TV to 1080p instead of 4K as this is maximum HD resolution the TV in your bedroom could display, or you would split the HDMI signal at 4K and then with a down scaler drop the bedroom TV to 1080p. This would ensure the maximum resolution on both TV's.
Installing a HDMI Upscaler won't necessarily take your HD picture and give you crystal clear 4K images as there is a lot more to it than that, rather an "upscaler" is most commonly used to convert a SCART/ Component or Composite Video Signal to a HDMI one so that it can be connected to a TV with HD inputs. You could of course upgrade your non-HD AV equipment but you may want to keep something like an old DVD/ VCR or camcorder for various reasons in would an upscaler would allow you to connect these to your HD TV.
HDMI Audio Embedder/ De-embedder
This device allows you to either embed or extract the audio signals up to 7.1 sound. This unit is perfect for when you want to break-out the audio so that this can feed your surround sound system/ AV receiver (which may not be compatible with HDMI) and continue the HDMI signals to go on to feed the TV.
HDMI ARC Extractor
The ARC connection which stands for Audio Return Channel, this allows you to use the HDMI connection as a sound output to feed a soundbar or external audio system like an AV amplifier or surround sound unit. For this to work both the TV and the audio unit need to both be compatible with HDMI ARC, it’s usually a specific output on the TV. If your TV is compatible but your sound system isn’t and you have no other way off connecting the kit, what can be done is you can install a ARC extractor which would allow the sound system to be connected to the TV usually via an optical or coaxial audio connection. The HDMI lead from the ARC output of the TV would feed into the ARC extractor and then from there it would connect to your sound system.
HDMI Adapters & Connectors
The following equipment can assist you in successfully installing a HDMI distribution system at your property or overcome problems you may have.
This is a female to female coupler that is used to join two HDMI cables together. This can be used to extend your HDMI cables if they are not long enough or join two cables together to make a longer cable.
Right Angled HDMI Adapter
A right-angled adapter has a female connection on one end and a male connector on the other coming off at a right angle. These are most commonly installed when you have a wall mounted TV and not much room to insert the connector behind the TV, by installing a right-angled adapter this allows you get the TV close to the wall and stops you having to squash the cables behind. The female end accepts the cable itself and the male connects into the HDMI input of your TV. You can purchase cables with a right-angled adapter on one end for this purpose that they are not very common. Some right-angled adapters will be flexible allowing you to rotate the angled that this comes away from the TV, which can be helpful.
HDMI Wall-plate Module
This can be a nice way to terminate your HDMI connection, it is basically a HDMI coupler/ join within a wall-plate. This is perfect for devices which you may only plug in every now and then, which can remove the need for you to have to fiddle behind your TV to get connected, which can be more difficult than it sounds.
If you’re looking for good, reliable manufacturers of HD Video Distribution systems I recommend the following as being good, reliable and reputable manufactures of distribution systems, please be aware that you may need to have a trade account or be in the trade in order to purchase some of their items:
HDMI Equipment Questions - In Blog Comments Section Only Please
I hoped that you liked this blog, as always if you have any questions/ comments please feel free to POST THEM IN THE BLOG COMMENTS SECTION ONLY PLEASE, this can be found directly beneath this blog. If you post your question here and are patient for a response I will get back to you ASAP. Please do not post links that are irrelevant or containing link-anchor text as these will be deleted.
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That being said, I will try and help out where I can. Until next time.
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