Sept. 23, 2020 - I need to begin this month's product spotlight by first saying that I hope everyone reading this, their loved ones, and their homes are safe and well. Even if you haven't been directly affected by the numerous fires, you have almost certainly been affected by the crazy amount of smoke in the air (I live in the Sierra foothills, so crazy is an understatement). Please stay safe, and a big shout out to the firefighters who are out there doing their best.
This month I want to focus on a new product as well as a technology that, while not new, is getting more attention these days - ARC. I fully admit that as an integrator, I was that guy who told my customers that using their TV as a source was simply not an option. It can create challenges with programming and signal management, interfering with a seamless customer experience. However, we are at the point where there are indeed some unique capabilities in smart displays that are important to the customer (think Sony Master Series and Netflix calibrated mode). Since the customer is the one with the checkbook, it is often incumbent upon the integrator to find a way to deliver the experience the customer wants.
Additionally, there is a trend in some markets to simply place some or all of the sources at the display. While this may simplify video distribution, it also often creates a need to send the audio signal back to a centralized location. This growing demand is what led AVPro to release the new AC-EX70-UHD-ARC. We took our most popular extender, the AC-EX70-UHD, and gave it some significant enhancements. On top of audio return, we added EDID management, one of the most important tools you can have to manage signal stability. We also moved all of the connections to one side of the chassis, making for a cleaner installation.
I fully realize that ARC can be categorized as a dirty word in our channel and for good reason. Enabling ARC typically also involves enabling CEC (or whatever the specific manufacturer calls it), a control scheme that always works some of the time. For a simple installation, it certainly can work well. It's also part of the control protocol for the Sonos amp, a common application of ARC. With more complex systems, it can be a real problem. The AC-EX70-UHD-ARC lets you avoid all of this by providing a path for either analog or mini-Toslink audio inputs, allowing you to send audio back to the head-end without enabling ARC on the display. This can also be valuable since some displays can only output 2 channel audio via ARC but will send 5.1 over optical.
I also need to mention eARC, the updated audio return method that is part of HDMI 2.1. It offers many advantages over ARC. We are starting to see products with it, although to date, there are no products available to send it over HDBaseT. I'll spend more time addressing this in the future; however, even when eARC is widely available, there will be many installations where it's just not an option. In those cases, the EX70-UHD-ARC is a very cost-effective solution with the performance and reliability integrators have come to expect from AVPro.
I would be remiss if I didn't at least mention the other AVPro products that address the subject of audio return;
AC-EX40-444 PLUS-KIT - A full 18gbps 4K 40m extender set that includes all of the features of the AC-EX40-444-PLUS-KIT and adds bi-directional USB, built-in scaling, and ICT signal compression.
AC-EX100-444-KIT-GEN2 - Our "everything's included" 100m extender set that offers full 18gbps 4K capability, scaling, ICT compression, built-in ethernet switch, and bi-directional USB. A Toslink input for audio return is also included.
AC-EXO-444-KIT - A fiber optic extender kit offering 18Gbps 4K with ICT and audio return via either HDMI or Toslink. This set also offers the unique capability of working over distances of up to 2000m with single-mode fiber.
AC-EXO-UNC-KIT - A fully uncompressed 18Gbps extender set with ARC over either HDMI or Toslink as well as a built-in ethernet switch. Works up to 300m with either single or multi-mode fiber.
AC-AUDEX-DIGI - A digital audio over category wire extender. Up to 150m with both coax and Toslink digital inputs. Very cost-effective and very popular. It's the simplest way to get the audio signal where you need it.