I’m amazed by how inexpensive everything HDMI has become – as long as you shy away from expensive Monster cables and Best Buy. I’ve just realized a long-time dream in building the perfect HD household – and it cost about 10% of what it would have a few years ago.
Here’s the problem – I have a DirecTV HD DVR in the family room, but I really wanted to push its signal all over the house. There are three here – but my wife has her own DVR (an older HD Tivo), while my son is content to graze on whatever has been recorded on either box – or via the Netflix-enabled Roku.
I’d already sent output from the component signal down to the mancave, via a set of component video baluns, where it is split up and serves both the Panasonic 42” plasma, and the 24” monitor in the garage (you can read more about that experience here). The unit’s HDMI output serves the 52” Westinghouse LCD in the family room. But I wanted more. I needed another display in the kitchen.
Now I could have split up the component cable yet again, and run another set of baluns back up to the kitchen. But that would probably have cost more than $100, because I’d need to swap my 1:2 component switcher to a 1:4, and then get a pair of component baluns.
Even worse, the set I was trying to use had HDMI input only, no component in. So it was HDMI or nothing.
The good news: I’d run at least two segments of wire to each drop in my kitchen and elsewhere in the house . That proved prescient, as extending HDMI via unshielded twisted pair (aka UTP, Cat5e or Cat6) typically requires two sets of cables.
The bad news – or so I thought – it would cost nearly a thousand dollars for the baluns and an HDMI splitter. And yes, I could have easily spent that much. Gefen’s dual-cable HDMI extender costs $599 at their website, while their 1:2 splitter would set me back $289.
There’s no way I could afford that. But while searching for something else online, I discovered what looked to be the perfect product at an amazing price. The Arkview HDMI Gat-5E extender (no, that’s not a typo, the box really does say “Gat-5E”) promised to do everything that the more expensive Gefen version did – but for just $54. Wow. But I was still a bit stymied by the need to split my HDMI signal. I wasn’t about to use one of those unpowered solutions – sure they cost just a few bucks, but they would most likely degrade my signal, and cause big problems.
Monoprice to the Rescue: But then I stopped by one of my favorite sites, Monoprice, to see whether they could help. And amazingly, they had a powered 1×2 HDMI Splitter in stock for just $22!
So I took a closer look at both. Each claimed to fully support HDCP version 1.2, which meant I’d be able to split and transmit protected content. And each claimed to support HDMI 1.3. The Arkview also said it would push a 1080p signal up to 100 feet over Cat5e, and even longer for 1080i or 720p – and up to 200 feet for a 480p signal. High grade Cat6 cable could go even longer.
So I took the plunge. I ordered each one, and eagerly watched the front porch for their arrival. Speaking of which, special props for Monoprice. I ordered on a Saturday, and the overnight shipping was actually cheapest – $4.73 – and it arrived at my house on Monday afternoon. WOW. It even came in a cool Monoprice cardboard box, but that’s another story.
The Arkview showed up a few days later, and it took me all of about 10 minutes to set up. I was a bit concerned, because my cable plant doesn’t use a single type of cable. Cat 6 runs from the family room to the structured wiring rack in the garage, while older Cat5e connects the kitchen to the rack. I used a fairly old set of patch cables to bridge between the two runs – and to connect the splitters to the wall jacks. I’m assuming they were some type of Cat5, but I had no idea what. I figured that if I ran into problems I could always crimp up six short Cat6 cables.
Overall, according to my Fluke cable tester, my run was 113 feet from input balun to output balun. Those 113 feet traversed five separate cables – three jumpers, and two long runs, along with four jacks. But apparently the tolerances were good, and my crimping skills strong, because everything worked just fine the first time. The splitter split, the baluns balanced and unbalanced, and the TV received a 1080i signal just fine. I was pleasantly surprised.
Sure, you can spend $800 on expensive gear, but you can spend less than $80 and get similar results – at least according to my tests. That’s bad news for Gefen, but the company does keep innovating. They just released a single-cable HDMI extender that also transmits Infrared, which lets you use your TV or DVR remote at the destination site as well. That’s not an issue for me, as the DirecTV DVR includes an RF remote that works fine all around the house, but IR might be important to you. If so, there’s an X10 version that works great – and costs just $40.
Too bad for Gefen – as its high priced solutions are no longer needed. But great news for us. Because you can now move HDMI around the house cheaply and easily!