You face dozens of decisions when setting up an AV system. It’s tempting to focus on the most visible components: screens, cameras, etc. Those technologies are obviously important. But behind-the-scenes components matter, too. If you’re not paying attention to AV distribution, you’re probably wasting both money and time.
AV distribution carries a signal from camera to screen. It can be as simple as a single cable. But for most AV applications, distribution is much more complex. Multi-source, multi-screen systems require a network of cables, switches, controllers and codecs. Depending on the type of system you’re developing, there are four main distribution methods:
(There are other options like MOST, but the four above cover most use cases.)
Choosing a distribution method for a complex system means weighing the costs and benefits of each option. For example, SDI, HDMI and HDBaseT convey uncompressed video with no latency. On the other hand, IP data is compressed and may have slight latency. But IP may still be appealing because it is often cheaper to install and more flexible to reconfigure.
Ultimately, there are four main considerations when it comes to AV distribution:
It’s easy to compare and prioritize using a chart like this:
Obviously there is a direct cost associated with increased cabling, and systems may have specific latency/mobile requirements. It’s worth mentioning switching, which is often overlooked but can be an important cost factor. For small systems (few sources/screens), switching costs roughly the same for each technology. But for larger systems, switching costs increase dramatically unless you’re using IP.
Historically, SDI and HDMI were preferred for the sake of uncompressed quality. We think that IP is moving into prominence, and we expect it to be front-and-center in most AV applications soon. The lower bandwidth and cheaper install is appealing, especially when systems need to be reconfigurable (or have weight/size restrictions).
Given your application and priorities, make sure to consider distribution as an essential part of your AV plan.