Capturing new video signals

GCN Lab Review: Accell UltraAV 4x8 HDMI 1.3 Switch and Distribution Amplifier

GCN

Accell

[IMGCAP(1)]It's not often that we receive something in the lab that surprises us. However, during a recent LCD monitor roundup, we noticed that some of the large-format screens were shipping with a brand-new input port. The interface looks a bit like a USB port but with the bottom two corners bent upward. And because it is apparently starting to become a standard, we turned our attention to it.

The interface might not be anything new to those with high-end home theaters because we are talking about a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) port. However, we doubt that many computer users have come across them. Given how things tend to filter down in the market, if you start to see something on high-end LCDs, eventually all of them will have it.

IMAGE: Accell's UltraAV 4x8 HDMI 1.3 Switch and Distribution Amplifier



HDMI is the first ' and currently only ' industry-supported, uncompressed, all-digital audio/video interface. You know those multiple colored cables you used to connect your DVD player? They can be replaced with a single HDMI cable. HDMI can provide an interface between any audio/video source, such as a set-top box, DVD player, A/V receiver or audio and/or video monitor, including digital TVs or the aforementioned high-end LCDs.

HDMI supports standard, enhanced and high-definition video, plus multichannel digital audio, on a single cable; all high-definition TV standards established by the Advanced Television Systems Committee; and eight-channel, 192 KHz, uncompressed digital audio and all currently available compressed formats, such as Dolby Digital and Digital Theater System. HDMI 1.3 cables add additional support for new lossless digital audio formats, such as Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio, with bandwidth to spare to accommodate future enhancements and requirements. Not to get too technical on you, but it's safe to say that the days of the standard Digital Visual Interface ports might be numbered, even though the even older analog VGA connections are still around as an extra port on most LCDs today.

If you need to support multiple monitors with the highest-quality video signal available, you might need to invest in a switch. To that end, we brought Accell's UltraAV 4x8 HDMI 1.3 Switch and Distribution Amplifier into the lab to try to capture and manage all the new signals.

The amplifier is a small box that measures nine inches by five inches and only two inches thick. It's about half the size of our older DVI switches ' a feat it can achieve because the ports along the back are much smaller.

The HDMI switch has four inputs and eight outputs, which again is impressive given how tiny the box is. We hooked up four HDMI input signals and used six of the output channels at the same time. Setup was a breeze because all you need to do is plug in the cables and you're good to go.

The device has a somewhat complex-looking front panel that you can use to control the inputs and outputs. Any of the four inputs can be selected for display on all the active outputs. It would be perfect for a trade show booth because you could have multiple signals driving multiple monitors.

To help make things easier and because you might not be able to easily access the switch depending on how and where you set it up, there is a credit card-sized remote-control device. From the remote, you can easily select what input signal you want displayed on your monitors. And if there is only one signal, the UltraAV will automatically select that one. The folks at Accell seem to have thought of everything in terms of features because even if you are not in line of sight with the switch, you can use the remote with an included infrared extender to snake the target sensor for the remote away from the box to a location you can see.

And the UltraAV is also an amplifier. That means that you are not tethered to the switch. In fact, you can attach an output signal up to 82 feet away from the unit and it should still look crystal clear. We only had a 50-foot HDMI cable in the lab, but using it worked fine even when we snaked it around other electronic devices in an attempt to cause interference. The UltraAV kept us from recording any signal deterioration.

And it's worth mentioning that if you have not experienced HDMI cables, you should. Video looks great even when running on multiple monitors. With HDMI transfer rates of up to 6.75 gigabytes/sec, I don't think it's possible to overload the ports or the cables. We couldn't do it even when using the UltraAV switch at close to its maximum capacity.

The Accell UltraAV performed great in our testing environment and was able to handle even our worst-case scenarios without blinking. If you are just beginning to experiment with the world of HDMI, the UltraAV switch would make an effective hub for your video operations. And if you are an advanced user, UltraAV switches can be chained together to support even more output signals.

The $309 price tag might seem a bit high, but it's to be expected given that this is a relatively new technology, at least for most government users. With the performance and extra features loaded onto the UltraAV, it's more than worth what you will pay for one.

Accell Cables, 510-438-9288, www.accellcables.com

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About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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