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Whole Home Audio and Video Switching Using HDMI
Is HDMI ready for real whole home applications?

Ask an electronics systems designer about using HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) for an integrated residential application and you are likely to get a range of discouraging responses.

They'll tell you that HDMI is fine to connect a cable box and DVD player to a TV, but not ready for more complicated applications like whole house integration. They'll mention that major control systems vendors do not yet support HDMI, or they only support it at the edges of their systems.

Most designers today still consider it to be on the bleeding edge. In fact one of our competitors turned this project down and said it could not be done with today's technology. However, HDMI technology and products have improved dramatically in the past year.

Could it be that we have reached a tipping point where the technology may be an excellent choice for broader applications, and that HDMI is ready for real whole home applications?

In this story, I will describe a complex system relying heavily on HDMI switching and delivery. This project was designed and implemented in the summer of 2007 and, while some aspects of the design might seem cumbersome, recall that many of the products on the market today did not exist at the time.

Leveraging recent technology makes implementation of solutions like this one far easier today than a few short months ago, and might change the way we all think about HDMI.

The customer for this application wanted a state of the art system throughout his house to provide entertainment (music, HDTV, movies, etc.), access Internet-based media, screen HD videos that he produces, and monitor security cameras around the house.

The high level system requirements were to make all sources (audio, video, digital, and analog) available at all destinations. To provide the highest quality, all transmissions must support at least the resolution of the source and all digital signals must remain digital and in full resolution all the way to the processing destination.

As much equipment as possible would be located in the racks at the head end and not in the destination rooms.

To meet these requirements we had to use a completely digital transmission and switching protocol for the core of the application, and in the early stages of system design, we considered HDMI and IP (Internet Protocol) based systems.

While IP could have been easier to distribute and switch, all of our digital sources and displays used HDMI as their native connection. Therefore, it did not make sense go to the effort and expense to convert from HDMI to IP and back to HDMI.

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