But I just had cabling installed for Hi Def TV—why won’t it work?

Tried to buy a TV that is not 4K UHD resolution? It is almost impossible now. The transition in TV and video displays to 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) is almost complete. And now the wiring in your home is no longer compatible. Here is why:

Those expensive HDMI cables have always been limited to (depending on the resolution) under 12 feet of cable length. Sure, you could push 720p and 1080i resolutions through a 50 foot HDMI and it would usually work. But 1080p (Blu Ray) is a different story. Depending on the quality of the cable, you might get up to 20 feet. But the new 4K TV format is 12 feet or less. That forces you to put the equipment close to the TV, and that usually never looks good.

If you recently had CAT6 cable installed, you were probably thinking of using an “extender” to allow you to feed a TV up to 300 feet away. Again, resolution is the deciding factor, since higher resolutions have higher “bitrates” meaning more data is required to produce the image. CAT6 data cable, most noted for its use in computer networks, can carry up to 10 Gbps (1000 million bits per second) up to 150 feet, which is fine for most 1080p Blu Ray video sources, but not for the new 4K video unless you shorten the distance to, say, 80 feet or less. Then extenders work if they are of high enough quality and are compatible with HDCP 2.2 copy protection, and all the terminations and connections are perfect.

In most cases, if your home has CAT6 cabling installed, you would believe that it can handle 4K TV, but note a couple of rules:
First, the CAT6 cable must be “shielded” not the most common “unshielded”. Second, this applies for “compressed” 4k video, where the amount of data is reduced to allow it to work over weaker cabling arrangements, by sacrificing a bit of the resolution . In other words, your 4K is not authentic 4K, if it is coming from a cable receiver.

Upgrading to CAT6A shielded cabling is about as good as you can get for up to 300 feet using copper wire technology. The new CAT7 cable will handle 40 Gbps, but only to about 80 feet. But again, if you think about what you want to watch, the limitations show up. 4K UHD with HDR (high dynamic range) and uncompressed (no sacrifice of video quality) uses 18 Gbps of data—well past what any CAT6A or below copper wire can handle. UHD or as some brands call it “SUHD”, can’t be used unless the player is within about 7—10 feet of the TV using an HDMI cable.

And now the industry is introducing 8K and 10K video, which means that anything above plain 4K UHD needs to be run on fiber optic cabling, which depending on the fiber type can run for an insane (for residential use) 10 kilometers.

So if you are planning on building or renovating a home and want to have the equipment hidden away, coax and CAT6 won’t cut it. Call us for help!

Hanging By A Prayer…

There is a surprising amount of gear suspended overhead in commercial environments, especially churches. Speakers, projectors, lights, displays and other gear compete for space on the ceiling. But hanging anything from a ceiling over people is a tricky business due to variables like static load, shock load, support capacity, hardware, safety backups among others.
Recently we replaced a poorly designed set of home made speakers from the ceiling of a church and noticed the following deficiencies. First, in the top-right corner of the photo, a simple piece of steel is held to beams using inadequate wood screws. While this might be sufficient for the weight if the speaker was hanging directly below, but the chain is on an angle, which encourages the screws to pull out.

Next, the hardware store grade chain links are connected to steel cable without the proper shields to keep from wearing through the cable. The cable is secured with bolt on clamps. Speakers are meant to vibrate, and bolts are not immune to loosening from vibration—bad combination.

But the weak link is that the steel cable runs through holes drilled in the speaker cabinets, so the whole extent of the weight is supported by about an inch of plywood. Meanwhile, the projector is suspended with a heavy iron pipe that is screwed into the ceiling beam using small wood screws through a flange that is not approved for overhead suspension since it has no locking method to prevent the pipe from unthreading from the flange.

Of course, there are no backup safety restraints in case the rigging fails. Liability insurance is not a solution! If you are not sure about the gear in your environment, you really need to call us!

Should you avoid Samsung TVs with Bell and Rogers?

We have encountered many reports both online, and with customers who have had difficulty with Samsung TV’s when using Bell Fibe or Rogers Cable.

Rogers’ Issue:

In Rogers’ case, the screen goes black and delivers the message “This is a 4K UHD channel that requires a HDCP 2.2 compatible 4K TV for display.”  This occurred shortly after the Olympics ended when apparently Rogers pushed a firmware update to all its customers, breaking 4K.  Some users simply had to buy a higher grade HDMI cable to solve the problem.  But if you have a video distribution system like a matrix device, even if it can handle 4K UHD HDCP 2.2, the length and quality of cable comes into play.

Using EDID management in a 4K video matrix to tell the Rogers box that “I am a 4K UHD HDCP 2.2 TV display” did not encourage the Rogers box to deliver 4K content.  Outboard EDID compensators also did not remedy the problem.  The only solution seemed to be to locate the Rogers cable receiver within the 7 foot limit of the HDMI cable length so a direct HDMI to HDMI connection could be made.  For many homes IF there was a cable feed to all the rooms, this is clumsy but workable.  But for restaurants and bars that have multiple TV’s sharing the same Rogers box, 4K was going to be a significant problem.  Calls to Rogers’ technical support put the problem on Samsung.

Bell Fibe’s Issue:

We set up a test system using a new Samsung and a new Panasonic TV, with Bell Fibe 4K PVR (Arris VIP5662)  and Rogers 4K connected to both.  The latest firmware was present. In this test, the connections were direct HDMI to HDMI, under 7 feet of cable length. Rogers was stable (we will add our findings from using a twisted pair ling range extender) but after about a week, Bell began to deliver the H1001 error code.  Rebooting or following any of Bell’s solutions would not work. On occasions where we were able to get it to behave, we tested Bell’s 4K content and found it to have no bandwidth issues, so it is not an “insufficient HDMI cable”, or too long a cable length.

To isolate the problem, we swapped inputs on the TV, so the Bell used the input that Rogers was successfully using.  The problem occurred on the new input.  Effectively, we have ruled out the TV and HDMI cable as possible failure points, leaving the Bell receiver as the culprit.  Bell is sending a new 4K box.

But it gets interesting:

We removed the functioning wireless Bell TV Anywhere receiver from the Panasonic TV and connected it to the Samsung TV.  It failed to work.  We now have isolated the problem to two devices—the Samsung TV and the Bell Fibe receivers (both 4K and 1080p devices).  Connect back to the Panasonic and it works perfectly.  Others have the same issue with the Rogers/Samsung pairing.

Here is where we have a serious choice: is it Rogers’ and Bell’s problem or Samsung’s?  The choice gets pretty simple.  You have the options of either Rogers or Bell as providers, but you can purchase any one of dozens of different TVs.  You can press your luck and use whichever provider with a Samsung TV, but if it becomes problematic later, you have only one other provider, and likely no way to get things to work. While this was once a problem that affected large multi-room systems, now it can infect anyone with a single TV.

Calling tech support is pointless, since each company will blame the other.  To Rogers/Bell, the issue only affects one brand of TV out of many, so they consider it not their fault, using their success with all the other TV brands as proof.  Similarly, Samsung may have no problems with any cable company in the world except a couple in the barren, inconsequential population of Canada.

Unfortunately, the best solution is to avoid Samsung TVs, since there are infinitely more TVs than providers in the Canadian market.  Samsungs are some of the lowest priced TVs on the market, but not worth the aggravation that can appear well after the warranty expires.   While we design systems that are as cost effective as possible, we have always known that some products are inexpensive for a reason. We do not spec Samsung TVs when a Rogers or Bell service is involved, but will still use them on other video sources if they perform.

Here is a link with further details on dealing with he problems affecting Samsung TVs:  http://www.wyrestorm.com/news/wyrestorm-handles-samsung-firmware-update-incompatibility-with-hdbaset

Churches: a dumping ground for orphaned equipment?

Often, when I get called in to advise a church on what they can do to upgrade or repair problems with a sound or video system, I encounter a variety of equipment.  It can be the cheap products sold by the local music store, intended for “garage bands”, or over the top gear best suited for mission critical broadcast venues.  In both situations, I can usually envision the logic that led to the installation.  However, this was the first time I could not figure out the ideas used at first glance.

It started with the main speakers. They appeared to be hand built, high power speakers intended for live concerts or nightclubs, hanging from the ceiling of a church that holds under 500 people.  I then looked at the equipment rack, and could not find a mixing console.  Upon closer inspection, I noticed an Ashley multi-room contractor’s mix processor.  This is what you would find in a restaurant to automatically allow the staff to adjust the volume and source for different areas of a facility.  For example, the ball game playing in the bar, energetic music in the lounge, and dining music in the dining room—different sources and different volume levels.

To mix a church service, the sound person would connect a laptop via a technician’s programming cable and adjust the programming of the level presets using the laptop, which is a very unstable way to try to mix.  To add to the problems, this processor was set for “ducking”, so whichever microphone was dominant, it would be featured and other mics would be suppressed.  This is ideal for announcing “Jones party of 7, your table is ready”, but for a church, it is a disaster.  Whenever someone would cough, or shuffle papers too close to another mic, the pastor’s microphone would be suppressed until the preset delay time expired.

So, this system had no mixing console, rock & roll loudspeakers, no subwoofers, and little to no ability to integrate with various sound sources like laptops and iPods.  To me, it looked like a dumping ground for someone’s equipment leftovers from other jobs.  We are now working on a proper design that will alleviate all the problems and still be easy to operate.  Stay tuned!

Another Church Heading For The Cliff…

We were recently called by a church that had contracted us to install a new digital audio console, room processor and speaker array.  Unfortunately, it worked too well because it was a couple of years of trouble free operation that led the ministry staff to forget about us. We could have pestered them a bit, but that’s not our way.

Recently, the church approved the renovation of additional space they secured in the same building complex.  Renovations were well under way when someone on the board of elders asked the new worship pastor about what was needed to outfit the new space.  We got the call not a moment too soon.

The stage and projection screen location was planned for one corner of the room—right next to a very large south facing window!  They immediately realized that they would need blackout window coverings or the projector would be useless at least 12 hours of every day.  We were able to guide them during construction to remember important items like electrical power where equipment would be located.  Not an insignificant miss!

As is quite common, the architect planned for a few pot lights to cover the stage, not considering that the poor light control of pot and track lighting will wash out the screen when the sun goes down, and not recognizing that stage lighting is an important part of a worship and teaching service.

Acoustics will be another concern, with the stage in on corner and the sound booth in the opposing corner, in a nearly cubic room with all drywall surfaces.  Architects design beautiful buildings, but they cannot succeed without an A/V specialist to guide the design for live sound acoustics, video and projection, and lighting integration.  We would probably all agree that most of the churches we have experienced suffer from poor intelligibility, feedback, echo, harsh sound, hard to see video screens, and washed out stage environments.

But we can fix it even if we don’t get in during the design stage. Call us for help.

And Then There Was Light (sometimes)…

A recent new construction project we came across had a lighting system installed by unqualified individuals, in a way that was sure to cause problems.  In fact, the problems occurred from the moment power was turned on, well before the project was completed.  These individuals had committed the first sin of lighting control—they installed all of the dimmers in the basement and attic, and just installed a single multi-button keypad in each room.

The goal was clearly to prevent “wall acne” where rooms have several unsightly light switches or dimmers in long rows or sprouting randomly on the wall surfaces.  Sure, the single keypad is a clean look, but won’t work in this design.  Immediately, the various rooms were unresponsive. Signal repeaters were installed to attempt to correct the problem, but the individuals did not know that that would not solve the problem either.

Now there is a bigger problem—there was no wiring installed to allow dimmers to be installed in the rooms, so a centralized lighting system is required in the basement and attic. Really, that was the proper way to proceed from the start. The homeowner will be paying twice.

A systems integrator would have been the better choice to design an automated lighting system that was reliable and economical.
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Home, Sour Home…

We were called in to finish the network wiring in a construction project involving a beautiful house perched majestically overlooking a Toronto ravine.  The last contractor and electricians had been fired, and drywall was complete.  We could only hope that the raw data cabling was sufficient.  In a new home, the slower Category 5e data cable was the wrong choice, and did not even meet the slower speed qualifications.  This new construction project should have been minimum Category 6 to handle future needs.

But someone must have been thinking futuristically, since they thought that there was no need for coax cable to be installed.  The day the owners moved in, they found they could not get Bell DSL internet service, so they had to resort to cable internet, but without any coax cable in the house, there was no way to get cable to the  TV in the media room.  It required a signal conversion system that cost as much as installing coax cable thoughout the house to solve the problem without cutting the newly finished drywall.

Low voltage data and A/V cabling is a specialty well beyond the capability of electricians, just as we do not mess with high voltage electrical. But it is essential to involve or consult an A/V integrator before construction begins, if only to be sure you are not going to run into staggering limitations.

The Church Addition That Lacked Vision

A growing church added a new addition for classrooms, youth rooms and a second worship space.  The original thought was that the small sanctuary would typically just be used for teaching, so a very simple audio system with a projector was planned.  Within one month after completion, the plan changed to include a full service with worship band.  The A/V system was rendered obsolete in 30 days.

Just add more equipment and the problem is solved, right?  Not so fast—the room was designed with nearly cubic dimension, so with a bigger audio system, the sound would be unintelligible and painful.  The highly reflective wall surfaces added “standing waves” that cause some sounds to cancel and others to self amplify.  Two of the corners were curved, causing a couple of locations in the room to be punishing for listeners.

A giant skylight ensured that the projection system would not be usable from dawn to dusk.  The uncovered windows facing south also chipped in to ruin the experience.

The entire audio and video systems were replaced, and several room modifications were needed to accommodate cabling and control systems to allow outside groups to use the technology without assistance. This was a costly lesson in stewardship that could have easily been avoided.

How does this happen?  How could the church committee not anticipate the problems that would occur?  Architects and building designers rarely understand the types of technology used and the impact the room design has on technical systems.  The only way to be sure that you are not painting yourself into a corner is to have a systems integrator involved at the start to help you avoid the pitfalls.