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Residential AV and the shift to IP

Audiovisual (AV) setups in the home certainly have come a long way over the years. In the ‘old days’, your average home entertainment system was simply a free-to-air antenna connected to a TV using coax cabling. If you were looking for a higher end experience, you may have connected your TV through a stereo HiFi system, giving you sound through both a left AND a right speaker – imagine that!

Fast forward to today and we now have houses with dedicated home theatre rooms containing immersive surround sound systems, with speakers placed across the walls and ceiling (such as the 11.1.8 Dolby Atmos speaker system) ‘home cinema’ sized flat panel displays and Ultra High Definition projectors. Free to air antennas are still with us, but are now complemented by a multitude of streaming services for both voice and video content.

As AV content can be efficiently distributed over IP (internet protocol) networks in the home, we can easily send on-demand content to any room in the house when the mood strikes. In fact, we have now reached a point where if you can dream it (and you have the budget) then you can probably do it. The trend is pointing towards an increasing stream of cabling work with jobs only limited by the imagination!

Over the past decade or so, you would have noticed the rapid change in how people consume their audio-visual content. Gone are the days of purchasing a CD or visiting the local video store to rent the latest film release on Blu-ray. While we still have radio and free-to-air (FTA) TV in our homes, there has been a huge rise in the use of streaming services like Netflix, Prime, Stan, Kayo and more. The content is readily available, and people are consuming it on more screens in the house, all while demanding the highest quality experience possible.

As most houses now have two or more televisions, the best streaming experience is achieved by using IP (internet protocol) connections over a cabled network in the house, allowing users to watch or listen to content from any of their devices on any screen in the house. It is the next logical step for most people who have more than one television and are wanting to improve their home entertainment setup.

Figure 1: traditional AV setup

Figure 1 shows a traditional AV setup in a home, with FTA TV provided by an antenna. This is connected to a splitter to allow the signal to be distributed to various rooms. In this example there are two viewing areas.

TV1 is the main viewing area as it has a STB/PVR (set top box and personal video recorder). This allows the end user to view FTA TV, as well as record and pause live TV. You will also notice that there’s a Blu-ray player, DVD player and a couple of boxes that provide access to streaming services. All these devices are connected to TV1 only, so it’s not possible to access any of the content from these devices on TV2.

Contrast the traditional AV setup above, with the “AV over IP” setup shown below:

Figure 2: AV distributed over IP

In this example, all AV devices in the house are connected to an encoder. It allows the content from any device to be sent over ethernet cable to any screen in the house. The encoder will have inputs for the AV devices, usually for HDMI, as well as infra-red (IR) to support the remote control function.

While Figure 2 shows two main displays, similar to Figure 1, it would be very simple to add many further display units anywhere in the house where there is access to the home network. This expanded setup is shown in Figure 3. Note the need for additional cabling and the installation of an extra ethernet switch.

Figure 3: AV distributed to many display units
Figure 4: Surround sound is included

An “AV over IP” solution does not hinder the ability to deliver the content to a home theatre system. However, it will only work properly when the correct cabling is in place, preferably Cat6 cabling. While audio devices can be connected via WiFi, cabling is always the most reliable approach. Also keep in mind it’s much easier to maintain and manage a system that is well planned out by a registered cabler, with the encoders and decoders all powered using PoE (power over ethernet).

Figure 5: Dolby Atmos 11.1.8 home theatre setup with mounted/overhead speakers

This IP approach to AV is becoming more mainstream with a wide range of helpful residential applications, including video, intercom and multi-room sound systems for the whole home. This popularity of this trend is opening up all kinds of work opportunities for registered cablers as it offers up almost endless possibilities for expansion.

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