No Hands for 4K

Last week I was in Hollywood at the SMPTE yearly shindig. I gave my ultimate paper (so far) on 4K Video over Coax. With 500 people in the room, it occurred to me as I began that I had the perfect group to find out some things. So I began by asking my audience a question. “If I could make a single coax that would run 4K video as far as you want, how many people would put that in?” I waited for a couple of seconds. Nothing happened. No hands went up. None! An article in the TV Technology website by Deborah McAdams the next day said there were hands that were ‘tentatively’ going up, but I couldn’t see them.

Tentative-Hand-Raising

I pointed out to my audience that I could save Belden a lot of money right here, and not bring out any 4K single-link coax, and save us a bundle in connectors as well. I suppose I broke a cardinal rule about public speaking, “Never ask the audience a question to which you do not already know the answer.” Well, clearly there was something I didn’t know. It was left up to me to interpret my audience’s answer. What did it mean?

So I gave my presentation, which was definitely the most detailed picture of where Belden is with single-link, dual-link, and quad-link cables, running HD, 3G, 4K/6GHz and 4K 12GHz. This white paper, and the PowerPoint that went with it, are now posted on the SMPTE website. If you’re interested, the white paper covers every detail of the design, manufacturing and implementation of 4K coax I have ever written. The notes section at the end is almost as long as the paper itself. I was determined to leave nothing out, to put in, describe and tie a bow on every possible detail of such a cable. (If you think I left something out, or glossed over something else, I would LOVE to hear from you. Fill in the box below or send me an email directly at steve.lampen@belden.com).

I’m now at WABE, the Western Association of Broadcast Engineers in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I’m presenting a paper on Ethernet AVB and TSN. Yup, Ethernet for audio and video. And I talk about 4K and 8K video in this format, which only goes to prove that nobody, including me or Belden, knows “which way to go”. You have five basic ways, at this point:

Way #1: Do nothing

I think there were a lot of folks, even in the high-tech SMPTE audience, who don’t know which way to go. They are watching everyone else and seeing what they are going to do. I guess, on the most basic level, we are all sheep. When the first two or three sheep go through the open gate, well maybe it’s OK for us too! And I think this applies to putting up your hand and ‘voting’ for something. You look around to see what others are doing. If nobody puts their hand up, you’re not going to put your hand up. People will talk! Maybe it’s a mistake! And I am sure there were a bunch of people thinking, “I’m going to wait for 4K to come to ME!” That’s akin to the unemployed guy “waiting for a management position” (name the movie).

Way #2: Vote for everything

You realize I’m sure, that this is also the same answer as #1. Don’t make a commitment, at least not a REALLY BIG commitment. “Don’t put your eggs in one basket,” as the saying goes. Of course, you will eventually have to put your eggs in one basket. This drives people like us manufacturers crazy. You wait until the 11th hour (if not 11:59PM) to decide which way you are going and then you expect us to have a million feet, of six different sizes, in ten different colors, just waiting for you. “Now wait a minute, Mr. /Ms. Customer! You didn’t put your hand up at the SMPTE show, so we didn’t make any! Sorry!” Not only that, we cancelled the project. Never did buy those fancy new machines. And that would mean we’re AT LEAST six months away from making any, so it’s even worse than you think.

Way #3: Vote quietly

The rest of that day, after my presentation, people would come up to me to thank me for my presentation. And many of them said “By the way, one vote for coax.” One major truck/OB van guy put his card in my hand and said “One vote for coax.” I guess I’m not used to broadcast engineers or Hollywood types being timid! But clearly, they are ‘technologically timid’.

Way #4: Vote for fiber optic cable

Even put in dark fiber. It’s cheaper to put it in now than after the building is finished, right? I think a lot of people are putting in fiber because “you can’t go wrong with fiber”. Sure, the fiber itself is cheap. Probably a wash compared to coax. It’s the conversion at the ends that will cost you. And nobody knows what a 4K driver or receiver will cost. (And running 4x3G will be a lot more expensive.) Those thousands of dollars could buy a whole lot of coax. But even our biggest coax will only do 350 ft. (safe distance) at 4K. As I mentioned, I could make even bigger coax that could go perhaps 500 ft. And that would mean the cliff is probably at 1,000 ft. So, eventually, you’re into fiber anyway.

Way #5: Vote for a networking solution

There were a pile of papers at SMPTE on Video and Audio over IP and related themes. Some of them even proposed ways of using regular old Ethernet. This would definitely be a cost-effective way, since there are a thousand data centers for every broadcast or production facility and the economy of scale would make this the cheap way to go. Then you’re just another kind of data center, one where the payload is audio and video (along with assorted other bit streams.)

So which crowd are you in? So do you go now? You could put in dark fiber as you’re building that new wing on your building. Probably a good bet. Hey, while you’re at it, put in some Category 6a (10gig) networking cable. That will go 100 metres (328 feet). Or maybe you want to wait for Category 8 (40gig). Oh, and if we’re making single link 4K coax, put some of that in too.

But you forgot to put your hand up!

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