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What is Distributed Video?

August 2, 2012 | Comments

What is distributed video?If you have more than two televisions in your home, then you are a candidate for a distributed video system. And if you have more than two televisions in your home that can simultaneously display different material, congratulations: you already have a form of distributed video in your home!

While the concept of a distributed audio system - a central point of music that can be played (distributed) to multiple points in the home - is fairly commonplace, distributed video systems can be a bit more tricky. At its essence, however, a distributed video system has quite a bit in common with a distributed, multi-room audio system.

Let's begin with the simplest, most common form of distributed video: cable television. Every TV in your home has a run of coaxial (coax) cable - most commonly RG6 - that runs back to a central location. This location can be in a structured wiring panel, out in the garage, or outside on the side of the home. This location is called the "home run," as all wiring originates from here. The main cable wire from the street that carries the cable TV signal also comes to the home run, and it connects to all of the other wiring via a splitter. Thus, the cable signal is distributed throughout your home, and every TV can enjoy its own selection of content.

Many modern systems have more connected than just cable television. With Blu-ray, cable and satellite set-top boxes, and streaming devices like Apple TV, a home can be filled with source components. With a properly designed and installed distributed video system, you could enjoy all of these sources without having to see them, and be able to route any source to any room on demand. Pretty slick!

Here are the key components involved:

Wiring: The wiring used will vary depending on the video source and the length of the run. HDMI cabling is the most technologically current, but it has definite distance limitations. Many systems use Category rated (Cat5/6) wiring or coax cable to send video up to hundreds of feet around a home.

The Control: With the components hidden away, you'll need a way to control them remotely. For this, there are two popular solutions:

  • Infra-red (IR): An IR repeating system uses a small target that receives the commands from the remote and then relays the those signals back to the electronics. IR repeating systems are widely available and work with virtually any brand of components.
  • Radio Frequency (RF): An RF remote transmits signals using radio waves. These signals can travel quite far including through walls/floors. A receiver then picks up these commands and turns them into IR or serial (RS-232) commands that the components can understand. RF remotes are generally more reliable because they aren't prone to interference and don't require pointing at a target like IR.
  • Internet Protocol (IP): Many new components offer control using IP. This allows you to control your system via a web browser or through a dedicated app on your iPad/Phone or Android device.

Audio: Just as important as routing the video to the TV is routing the audio as well. Will audio be heard through the television's speakers or through in-wall or in-ceiling speakers that are part of a distributed audio system?

Routing: With the sources located at the home run, you need a way to route the signal to the appropriate room/TV. The most powerful way to do this is by using a video matrix switch. This device takes in multiple inputs - typically 4 or 8 - and routes them to multiple outputs. For instance, input 1 to output 4, input 2 to output 5, etc. Any output (room) can view any input (source), and multiple sources can be viewed simultaneously.

To learn more about having a whole-house distributed video system designed and installed in your home, search for a local qualified CEDIA member home technology professional near you.