My quick and dirty CE Labs CAT5RX/TX review - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 87 Old 09-07-2006, 08:55 PM - Thread Starter
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A question I see come up a lot here (naturally enough) is "how do I get HD video and audio from my device(s) in room A to rooms B and C in my house?" There are many different answers - Fiber-optic HDMI (extremely expensive and requires a matrix switch), multiple runs of RG-6 coax cable, and Cat5e cable with Component baluns at each end to convert the signals are the most common for longer/inter-floor runs. There are also two products (that I am aware of) that make the process of running HD-quality component video, digital and analog audio, and even IR remote pathways over CAT5e cable infinitely easier:

The Audio Authority 9870 (usually sold in a kit with one "transmitter" that feeds two "receivers").

The CE Labs CAT5TX and CAT5RX (usually sold by the piece).

My setup is this: I have my HD sources upstairs in a media room/dedicated theater - Dish HD622DVR, XBox 360, Oppo DVD - hooked up to my Optoma HD78DC3 projector that puts a very nice 720p image on a 110' Da-Lite screen. This is the room where I focus most of my effort on making things look and sound as good as possible - HDMI cable runs to the projector, calibrated video/audio, etc. It's the movie room where I get to be a giant home theater nerd like everyone else here. And, like most everyone else, I dislike having to buy/rent/lease two or three different Satellite receivers, etc for each TV, and deal with DVR issues such as the always popular "honey, we can't watch this here, we have to go upstairs to where it was recorded" situation.

Elsewhere in my house I have two recently purchased LCD TV's - Vizio brand (Costco) one a 32' and one a 37'. Not the most spectacular TV's in the world, but they display a very nice HD image, sound good, and are cheap (and thanks to Costco have a lifetime warranty). Spending thousands of dollars on fiber-optic HDMI cable just to get HD from the same source(s) to them wasn't an option - that would have cost more than the TV's! Dragging multiple thick, expensive RG-6 cables wasn't something I relished doing either, and would have required additional gear to get the IR distribution working in any case (and the IR over Coax solutions I found weren't cheap). CAT-5e cable, on the other hand, is cheap (in my case, free, as I have thousands of feet left over from a previous store build out) and easy to run compared to Coax, especially when you're sweating your life away in an attic and trying to drill a big enough hole through some wooden studs to run the stuff. I previously hadn't considered it because I've never read many good things about the Component-CAT-5 "baluns" but then I found the two products I mention above.

Both feature the following:

Amplified RGB component video, stereo analog audio, and digital (coax) audio over two CAT5e cables.

Passive IR remote pathways that work with the most common IR distribution systems, such as those from Xantech or Channel Vision.

Receivers that feed up to two displays, and offer "loop" ports to either directly hook up a third local display device or daisy chain additional receivers to drive even more remote displays.

Adjustable amplifiers that allow you to fine tune the signal strength to the length of cable run.

One year manufacturer warranties.

Differences:

Audio Authority claims the 9870 has higher bandwidth (120mhz) vs. the CAT5TX (50mhz although I haven't seen that stated anywhere by CE Labs). I can't personally test this but I have no reason to disbelieve them. This mostly, from what I can tell, translates in to increased range - 1,000ft for HD via the 9870 vs. 300ft for the CAT5TX. That said in my 3,000sq ft house none of my cables approached even 150ft even after being run through the attic/walls so take that as you will.

The 9870 uses a dual-gang in wall design with a stainless steel faceplate; the network cables connect in the back, out of sight, and power is provided over the cables themselves - no need for a power adapter at the remote source. It appears to be by far the "cleaner" install of the two.

The CAT5TX/RX's are small rectangular boxes (about the size of two decks of cards) that surface mount to the wall, they also require external 12v power, the adapters for which are provided.

How important looks are to you depend on your install, of course; if you're like me and you just hide this stuff behind the TV with all the other cables anyway then what either of them look like probably doesn't matter in the end.

The 9870 is made in the USA while the CAT5TX/RX do not appear to be (CE Labs does have an office in Texas who dealt with me).

Support wise both companies were very responsive to my questions; I usually got a response back within a day or so via email/PM from both and the answers provided were informative and detailed.

The last detail that separates the two is, of course, price. I've been on AVSForum a long time, long enough to know how sensitive some folks get over price discussions/vendors/etc so I'll just say that the cheapest I found the CAT5TX/RX "package" (one TX, two RX) was from Beach Audio, and the cheapest I found the AA 9870 was from Digital Connection (the kit with one transmitter and two receivers) and the total cost for the CAT5TX/RX package was over $200 less than for the AA 9870.

Since the increased distance/bandwidth didn't concern me for my setup, I could care less about looks, and both companies answered my questions quickly and have similar warranties, I ended up choosing the CE Labs product. That doesn't mean I think less of Audio Authority, in fact I have another project coming up (I own several LAN gaming centers) where I'll need to do long component video runs from XBox 360's to remote projectors and the 9870 looks like it will be a better fit for that. For my house, however, I have modest needs, and a (cough) modest budget, and so the CAT5TX/RX carried the day.

I'll skip the fun part, namely the running of two CAT-5e cables each from my upstairs media room to my downstairs living room and bedroom, other than to say that if you don't have experience doing retrofit installs or have the right tools (including the ever-valuable 6 foot flexible drill bit, which allowed me to get through a tough top stud near the roofline from the inside without having to tear up the walls) then you may well want to hire your local low-voltage cable installer to do it for you. Most large/medium size electrical companies contract those guys out and believe me, you will save yourself a lot of trouble in the end. Heck, after sweating out about 15 pounds in my attic I wished I had even though I know perfectly well how to do it.

Once the cables were installed, terminated, and tested, installation of the CAT5TX and RX units was extremely simple - pick place to mount, mount to wall, plug in power, plug in IR (more on this in a bit) plug in CAT-5e cables, plug in sources and displays, done. That part took all of 20 minutes, most of that spent mounting the things.

For IR I used Channel Vision, because they are far cheaper than Xantech and work just as well. I used the following pieces:

IR-2105 Receivers (2): This is a small stick type receiver, it has active feedback (blinks when you send a command to it) which can be later turned off and a plasma shield that basically acts as a focus to block out backscatter and unwanted IR signals- it can be removed if you don't need it. Works perfectly well for me attached to the top corner of each TV.

IR-3002 Dual Flasher Emitters (2) - these are the ones you stick on the components themselves, they also flash when receiving commands (you can buy non-flashing versions) and are pass-through, so you can still use your regular remote(s) locally.

P1205 IR Distribution Hub - I forgot this initially; basically in this setup it's just used to provide power to the receivers as the CAT5TX/RX handles the distribution. I didn't realize at first that neither the CAT5TX nor the 9870 provide power to the IR pathway - when they say passive, they mean it . Once I added one P1205 at the TX end I was set.

The IR distribution works perfectly and commands are processed just like I was sitting in front of the components. I was and am very pleased with how this worked out, and for cheap too - less than $150 total from Accessories4less.com (who are a fantastic vendor btw, shipped everything promptly and cheaply).

BUT, you must now be asking, how does it look and sound?

To sum that up: Just as good as if it were local.

I am currently using my Onkyo receiver as a Component video/digital audio switch with the CAT5TX, that way I can have 3 sources feeding all the TV's at a whim. To test, I hauled my 32' Vizio (thank God for LCD) upstairs and hooked it up locally using a 10' component cable and calibrated it with Video Essentials/Avia as I do with all my displays. To my untrained and probably biased eye the picture looks exactly the same whether it is locally hooked up or transmitted over the CAT5TX/RX - there's no snow, artifacts, softness, distortion, or anything else effecting the video or audio on either set. My bedroom set is using regular stereo audio and my living room is hooked up to a 5.1 system - the only trouble I had with the latter was finding an optical to coaxial converter as my Onkyo receiver only outputs digital audio over optical and the CAT5TX/RX (and the 9870) only accept coax (I found the POF-830 at Triangle Cables.com for $30 which works fine). Once that was done DD and DTS 5.1 sound was transmitted perfectly to my living room receiver.

All in all I am pleased as punch with this setup; for under $500 total - including IR receivers/emitters/power, the CAT5TX/RX units, and the converter for optical to coaxial digital audio - I got a setup that just a couple years ago would have been either 10 times as expensive or impossible to get. Of course, I am leaving out the cabling itself - I did it, and had help and my own materials, but I imagine for most folks that part will end up costing more than the rest put together, and even if you do do it yourself it's still a PITA. Whatever the case, I'm done now, and have a single set of HD devices viewable on any TV in the house. For kicks, I ran a 50' RGB cable to an older TV in yet another room (upstairs, so attic access made it easier) and use that with the Dish 622's own distribution/TV2 output.

Here's some pics of the whole thing:

This is the receiver end; ignore my messy cables (my short RGB cables from Monoprice haven't arrived yet).



Here's the transmitter before I mounted it; behind it is the P1205 IR Distribution hub. Again, ignore the cable mess, this was before I tied everything up.



Here's what the bedroom TV looks like with everything set up - I love the no cables look, and my wife loves me more because of it :-). I moved the power plugs up the wall last weekend - much easier than running CAT-5e I can tell you!



Hope this was helpful to some of you!
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post #2 of 87 Old 09-07-2006, 09:41 PM
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Very nice review
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post #3 of 87 Old 09-08-2006, 01:15 AM
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Great review, fascinating reading. Thanks so much for taking the time to write this up.
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post #4 of 87 Old 09-11-2006, 02:15 PM
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Thanks for taking the initiative. It's impossible to find objective reviews for long HD runs.
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post #5 of 87 Old 09-21-2006, 04:04 PM
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I just found about about the CATTX/RX.. this review was fantastic! Thanks so much... BTW.. should any of you have a Worthington account, these are $88/ea there.

-Steven
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post #6 of 87 Old 09-21-2006, 04:52 PM
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Ix, thanks for the detailed review. I ordered a CAT5RX and TX last week and they arrive today. I'm pumped to test them out with my HD-A1 player to see if I can distribute my HD-DVDs between the projector in my theater downstairs and my living room plasma.

I'll post my impressions in here in a day or two.

Visit the Red-Meadow Theater!
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post #7 of 87 Old 09-22-2006, 03:30 PM
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I have a stupid question, but I'm just starting to investigate this technology. I'm running my TiVo units over coax cable right now distributed to other tvs in the house, but I'd love to get component quality and be ready to upgrade to HDTV signal when series 3 TIVO is out.

Does it take 2 cat5 runs per set to work? I see two cables coming out of your wall.

thank you.

Good, cheap, easy - pick any two.
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post #8 of 87 Old 09-26-2006, 09:35 AM
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Just thought I'd comment on my experience with my HD-A1 HD DVD player running over this setup. It looks great! I'm very pleased with the quality over 50 ft Cat 5E. I'm going to try to set up the loop output as well so that I can broadcast my HD DVDs to my projector in the theater as well as the plasma upstairs at the same time. Very cool stuff.

Now I have to order the IR blocks so I don't have to keep running downstairs to toggle settings.


PAP, to answer your question, yes it takes 2 Cat5 runs per receiver. The basic CAT5TX will broadcast to 2 rooms via 4 Cat5 cables. Each CAT5RX then receives the 2 cables.

Visit the Red-Meadow Theater!
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post #9 of 87 Old 09-27-2006, 05:17 PM
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Does anyone know if there is an IP based solution? I have cat5 already installed throughout the house and would rather use my network to do this instead of running a point to point Cat5. IP would work much better in this case.

Thanks!
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post #10 of 87 Old 09-27-2006, 07:13 PM
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Great review.

Thanks
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post #11 of 87 Old 09-29-2006, 05:38 PM
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Hey Ix,

I sent you a PM regarding some of your IR setup. I have a few questions on connecting the P1205 hub to the CAT5TX. Thanks!

Visit the Red-Meadow Theater!
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post #12 of 87 Old 09-30-2006, 11:17 PM
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Great review and excellent information. Thanks for telling us about your experience with video over Cat5. I am building a house and was dreading the cost and hassle of running 5 coax cables to every room with a display. I will now go with cat5 runs instead, probably the Audio Authority route though since the installation is much cleaner.

Anyway, the sharing of this information is what helps everyone in this hobby get to a higher level which in turn drives future innovation.

I am still amazed that simple cat5 can carry the video signals that it does.
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post #13 of 87 Old 10-19-2006, 08:44 PM
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Just got my CE Labs CAT5TX and CAT5RX devices today. I'm having a problem with the video. I first tested the devices with two short 3' cat5 patch cables just to make sure that it would work before testing it with my longer run cat5e cables. The picture looked fantastic with the short patch cables, but with my longer cat5e DIY cables I'm only getting sound and no picture. I crimped the cat5e cable ends myself, but unfortunately I don't have a cable tester. The video cable continuity lights (on the CAT5RX) are all on so I would assume that the cables are crimped properly. Like I said, I get no picture at all, but the sound (analog) is clear as day.

Do the two cat5e cables need to be the exact same length? In my case one cable might be slightly longer than the other. I wouldn't think this would be the cause.

Anybody have any suggestions? I will try to borrow a cable tester from work, but I would like to get this working ASAP.
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post #14 of 87 Old 10-20-2006, 05:10 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steely View Post

Just got my CE Labs CAT5TX and CAT5RX devices today. I'm having a problem with the video. I first tested the devices with two short 3' cat5 patch cables just to make sure that it would work before testing it with my longer run cat5e cables. The picture looked fantastic with the short patch cables, but with my longer cat5e DIY cables I'm only getting sound and no picture. I crimped the cat5e cable ends myself, but unfortunately I don't have a cable tester. The video cable continuity lights (on the CAT5RX) are all on so I would assume that the cables are crimped properly. Like I said, I get no picture at all, but the sound (analog) is clear as day.

Do the two cat5e cables need to be the exact same length? In my case one cable might be slightly longer than the other. I wouldn't think this would be the cause.

Anybody have any suggestions? I will try to borrow a cable tester from work, but I would like to get this working ASAP.

I would assume you tried swapping the cat5e cables (since they take two) to see if that made a difference. I would double check my crimps, making sure you adhered to the color code order necessary, making sure all the ends are pushed to the end of the RJ45 plugs and making sure you didn't knick any of the insulation on the individual conductors when you stripped the outer jacket. Good Luck.
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post #15 of 87 Old 10-20-2006, 07:02 AM
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I didn't even think to try swapping the cables. I just now tried this and the audio is still working, but the video is still not. I still think it's got to be a cable issue because it worked with the 3' patch cables. Maybe I'll go buy a 25' patch cable for the video (A) side. Not sure if I'll be able to snake this through the conduit without cutting the end off.

Thanks for the suggestions.

UPDATE: After struggling with my setup for quite a while tonight I finally got things working. I re-crimped my CAT5E cables, swapped the TX and RX units around, swapped component cables around, called CE Labs tech support, but it ended up being my remote TV (Toshiba 40H80) only supports 1080i. I happened to look at the front of my Scientific Atlanta 8300HD DVR and noticed the 720P indicator. I then changed the menu setting of the DVR to also output 1080i and bam, I'm getting a great picture on both my TV's. I hope this will help someone else that might have this problem.

I am very excited to get these working and am very happy with the picture (and audio) quality.

Dan
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post #16 of 87 Old 10-23-2006, 09:16 PM
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OK, after watching TV for a couple of days on my remote Samsung DLP, I'm seeing a slight green tint in peoples skin tone. Would this most likely be caused by one of my component cables or possibly my cat5e cable? I'm willing to swap out some cables but I'm not sure what to try first. Would there be any benefit from buying a shielded Cat5E cable?
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post #17 of 87 Old 10-23-2006, 09:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steely View Post

Would there be any benefit from buying a shielded Cat5E cable?

Yes, if the video problem is being caused by interference from a power line running parallel to the cat5.

I would double check the picture settings with a calibration DVD before pulling any new wires just in case.
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post #18 of 87 Old 10-25-2006, 08:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dpd146 View Post

I would double check the picture settings with a calibration DVD before pulling any new wires just in case.

The reason I suspect the cables instead of the the TV settings is because the picture looks great when the DVR is hooked up directly.

Most of the shielded cat5e cables seem to be stranded instead of solid. Would that be a problem for a video signal? I'm willing to spend ~$40 for a 50 ft STP patch cable if it will help.

Thanks for the input.
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post #19 of 87 Old 10-26-2006, 12:41 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steely View Post

Most of the shielded cat5e cables seem to be stranded instead of solid. Would that be a problem for a video signal? I'm willing to spend ~$40 for a 50 ft STP patch cable if it will help.

I've never dealt with shielded cat 5 but the fact that is stranded won't matter.

Before you buy the shielded you could pull the wires you are using now out of the wall and run them loose in the house and check the picture quality. If the picture improves then you know the problem is being caused by EMI and it would defintely be worth buying the shielded stuff.

You initially said the picture was good and then you noticed the green tint. Do you think the green tint was there the whole time and you didn't notice or did it develop after a few days? If it developed after having a good picture then it may be worth a call to CE Labs for replacement units.
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post #20 of 87 Old 10-26-2006, 06:44 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dpd146 View Post

Before you buy the shielded you could pull the wires you are using now out of the wall and run them loose in the house and check the picture quality. If the picture improves then you know the problem is being caused by EMI and it would defintely be worth buying the shielded stuff.

You initially said the picture was good and then you noticed the green tint. Do you think the green tint was there the whole time and you didn't notice or did it develop after a few days? If it developed after having a good picture then it may be worth a call to CE Labs for replacement units.

When I first tested it I was using 3 ft patch cables, but I might not have noticed the green tint then. I was probably so excited that I was getting a HD picture at all that I didn't pay close enough attention. I think I will go back and test the short cables again to see if I see the green. If I don't I will probably try a longer cable next (not snaked through the wall). If that also looks good, I will probably get the shielded cat5e cable. I don't want my DIY crimped cables to be the weakest link.

When I originally called CE Labs tech support about my "no picture" issue, I asked them if differences in cable length (between the A and B cables) made a difference and they said no. I was told that video and IR are on the "A" cable and that audio (analog and digital) is on the "B". So I should be able to just replace my "A" cable with a STP 50ft patch cable.

Thanks for the help. This forum is great!!!

Dan
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post #21 of 87 Old 10-26-2006, 07:47 AM
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Where are you guys finding the CE Labs equipment on the internet? Beach Audio is the only place I have been able to find.

Thanks
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post #22 of 87 Old 10-26-2006, 10:58 AM
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Where are you guys finding the CE Labs equipment on the internet?

Buy.com carries them. I was able to sign up for a dealer account at Worthington Distribution. They are definately less at Worthington, but they were also back-ordered so I had to wait for them.
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post #23 of 87 Old 10-29-2006, 01:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Steely View Post

Buy.com carries them. I was able to sign up for a dealer account at Worthington Distribution. They are definately less at Worthington, but they were also back-ordered so I had to wait for them.

How are they listed at worthington? Couldn't find them.
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post #24 of 87 Old 10-29-2006, 01:43 PM
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How are they listed at worthington? Couldn't find them.

They are actually in their volume II catalog. I had to call them to order.
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post #25 of 87 Old 11-18-2006, 06:37 PM
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Anyone north of the border, find someone selling the CE product (in the Toronto area)

thanks
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post #26 of 87 Old 11-29-2006, 10:28 AM
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post #27 of 87 Old 11-29-2006, 07:00 PM
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Thanks to R_Willis for bumping this thread! I had not seen it before and it has been very helpful!

Chris
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post #28 of 87 Old 12-30-2006, 07:38 PM
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Thanks for the review.

I see that 2 cat-5 cables are needed for these. Is that a requirement for any configuration? For instance, I just want to run component video and digital audio. Can this be done with just one cat-5 cable or are both always needed? Does anyone have a link to the installation instructions and/or the pinout?

Thanks.

Mark
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post #29 of 87 Old 12-30-2006, 08:34 PM
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Both are needed. I was told by CE Labs tech support that video and IR are on the "A" cable and that audio (analog and digital) is on the "B".
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post #30 of 87 Old 01-14-2007, 04:48 PM
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I read this thread in its entirety because I will definitely be buying this product for a home I am working on right now. I was wondering why additional IR hardware was needed by the original poster, when there is an IR interface built in to the CAT5TX? Thanks in advance for an answer.
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