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Are you ready to enjoy some 4K content for your precious 4K TV/projector?

Some 4K content is starting to be made available to consumers, such as streaming sources like Netflix, received by the UHDTV directly using the included TV app (if you have the app, and if your Internet connection is faster than 15Mbps).

Sony and Nuvola 4K players have been also around for quite some time to download or stream 4K content and movies. The difference between streaming from these players with streaming directly from the UHDTV is: the players connect to the UHDTV with a high-speed HDMI cable, the HDMI cable connects directly to the TV’s HDMI HDCP 2.2 protected input, or indirectly thru an Audio Video Receiver (AVR) or an HDMI switcher, and that HDMI connectivity is a factor that has the potential to complicate your 4K entertainment.

UHD Blu-ray players are expected to be available in a few months, they require a high-speed HDMI cable connection, and the connection from player to UHDTV has to be HDCP 2.2 compliant for you to been able to view appealing 4K protected content distributed by Hollywood (if the studio requires it, such as the 4K movies I have been downloading with my Sony 4K player to view on my Sony 4K projector).

Regardless if your 4K home theater is simply an UHDTV in the family room or is a dedicated room with equipment racks and theater seating, and with a variety of content that may come from multiple sources such as cable/satellite box, Roku/Apple TV, disc player, etc., you may encounter that some of that 4K content may be protected with HDCP 2.2 and the devices that are typically connected with HDMI to the display, such as an AVR or an HDMI switcher that centralizes the connectivity, may not be HDCP 2.2 compliant and the content may not be able to be displayed at their original quality, or may not be displayed at all (showing a blank screen for example).

Some AVR manufacturers have been releasing new models that handle 4K, HDMI 2.0, and HDCP 2.2 and in some cases even offered upgrades to earlier models. One typical alternative for the basic functionality of switching sources is using an HDMI switcher that complies with the technical requirements of sources/display/content, and has two parallel HDMI outputs, one output for the multichannel audio to be sent to the AVR, and the other output for the 4K video to the be sent to the 4K display, the problem is: with a couple of exceptions, those capable (and price reasonable) HDMI switchers do not exist yet, and consumers may be forced to replace a perfectly functional AVR just to handle the switching of sources even when only one of them requires 4K/HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 compliance.

At the recent Infocomm 2015 I attended I could not find one manufacturer of HDMI switchers that offers a “consumer” unit capable to handle 4K with HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2. A handful of units were introduced that would be available by the end of 2015, but they a) are oriented toward whole house HDMI distribution, and b) cost much more than a typical AVR consumers buy.

The market offered 4K TVs for the past 3 years and 4K players for at least a year but the industry did not react quickly enough regarding 4K HDMI switchers that can comply with their requirements, some say that the reason is due to the higher cost of the HDMI 2.0 chip set, but there are AVRs that are HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 compliant that have these chips installed that are selling for a few hundred dollars, offering much more than just HDMI switching capabilities.

While there are many HDMI switchers from various manufacturers claiming 4K capabilities, they will fail to perform when the content is protected with HDCP 2.2 per studio requirement, and many will not be able to handle HDMI 2.0 60fps 4K unless they have installed an HDMI 2.0 chip, and the problem is that they are publicized in a way that, unless you know the 4K subject well, can make you believe they will perform as expected with 4K protected content.

While it is always easy to connect a direct HDMI cable from the 4K player to the 4K display to comply with the HDCP 2.2 protection (a constant hand shake that has to be maintained between player/display), 4K displays usually have only one input capable of 4K HDMI 2.0 with HDCP 2.2, and soon there will be more 4K sources to connect to the display, so the need for capable AVRs and HDMI switchers to consolidate those connections will grow soon.

Additionally, depending on how the audio return connection is made between the audio output of the UHDTV and the AVR, the original higher quality of the movie soundtrack (i.e. DTS-Master lossless Audio) may be downgraded to compressed lossy audio DTS-core (or stereo) if the return cable from the TV to the AVR is not capable to do so (for example, a Toslink connection cannot handle lossless multichannel audio).

At Infocomm 2015 I met several manufacturers of HDMI switchers, most if not all of them exhibited a lack of completeness and clarity on their specifications, which prompted me to constantly ask questions, which almost always required the availability of the only expert at the booth, which in almost all cases confirmed the non-HDCP 2.2-compliance of the advertised 4K product.

It is up to be buyer to interpret if the lack of manufacturer clarity was either by ignorance or intentional when they advertise their HDMI switchers to unsuspected consumers under the general umbrella names of 4K and HDCP.

Most manufacturers if not all do not specify if the HDCP version supported is 2.2 (or is just the legacy HDCP 1.0 used on Blu-ray, if they specify HDCP at all), neither they indicate if the installed 4K HDMI 2.0 chip is actually capable of the full 18 Gbps of the HDMI specification and is capable to support 4K content for:

A) 60 fps 4K with 4:2:2 chroma sub-sampling and 8/10/12 bits of color depth (which requires 17.82 Gbps of bandwidth on HDMI chip and cable, see table below), or

B) 60fps 4K with 4:2:0 chroma sub-sampling and 10-bit color depth as expected by the soon to be available UHD Blu-ray, and also HDR (High Dynamic Range), a new technology for an improved 4K image quality, which requires 11.14 Gbps (of HDMI chip and cable bandwidth), or

C) Just 60fps of the basic 4K with 4:2:0 and 8-bit color depth that only requires 8.91 Gbps (and existing HDMI Hi-speed cables can support, implemented by HDMI version 2.0).

HDMI versions 1.4b and 2.0 specifications – source HDMI LLC

Regarding HDMI cables HDMI LLC made the following comment: “HDMI High Speed Cables are limited to 10.2Gbps with HDMI 1.4b signally. With the changes in signal method in HDMI 2.0, existing High Speed Cables can support up to 18Gbps. HDMI 2.0 based devices will always use HDMI 2.0 based signal method for anything above 10.2Gbps to 18Gbps and use 1.4b signal method for 10.2Gbps and below.

Below are some of the HDMI Switcher manufacturers I exchanged my concerns with:

Crestron

The company has a couple of units that are specified as being capable to handle HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2; one is the HD-MD8x1 8-HDMI-in and 1-HDMI-out on the $2,000 range,

Crestron HD-MD8x1 HDMI Switcher

Another unit is the configurable DM8x8 in the $10,000 range (pictured below, $4,000 for the base unit plus $800 for each HDMI input card, for a configuration of 5 HDMI inputs and 2 outputs). The HDMI switchers are oriented toward whole house distribution.

Consumers looking for a simple HDMI connectivity solution for 4K most probably would prefer to invest that amount in replacing the AVR rather than buying an HDMI switcher that cost more than most AVRs.

Crestron DM 8x8 HDMI Switcher

Key Digital

Key Digital mentioned that their consumer HDMI 4K switchers will be HDCP 2.2 compliant by the end of the year, however, the “future” in regard to 4K/HDMI 2.0/HDCP 2.2 for many consumers is now. The company also has a couple of HDMI switchers that are in the range of $2000/$4000.

Key Digital KD-HDFIX22 Phantom Series 4K HDMI Extender

The company offered one surprising alternative to the HDCP 2.2 compliance requirement: the one-in-one-out HDMI KD-HDFIX22 Phantom Series 4K HDMI Extender (a model name [FIX22] that might have been cleverly chosen?)

As Key Digital described, the unit receives a 4K HDCP 2.2 protected source and outputs it as HDCP legacy so an AVR/HDMI switcher connected to its output may still have an effective HDCP handshake and the protected 4K content go thru. I would like to test the unit to verify such capability considering that “it appears” to defeat the intended purpose of the more complex and sturdier HDCP 2.2 content protection.

Atlona

The company indicated:

The MSRP of the AT-UHD-PRO3-66M is $4,999.99. This Matrix series is capable of 4k and HDCP v. 2.2. We do not have any direct connection Matrix switchers which can currently provide 4k w/ HDCP v. 2.2.

The closest line we would have under these requirements would be our H2H line of Matrix units. This current line does have a max resolution of 1080p. We are expecting our new line of 4K UHD/HDCP 2.2 version more towards the end of the year.

Here is more information about our current H2H models, which the company said are shipping since July 1st, 2015:

AT-H2H-44M MSRP $1,499.99

AT-H2H-88M MSRP $3,599.99”

Aurora

The company has this 4x1 HDMI ASP-14H-4K switcher that claims 4K capabilities, but no specification about HDMI version or if it is HDCP 2.2 compliant, or what type of 4K is supported (24/30/60 fps?):


Specifications

Video Output
  • Bandwidth: Single-link 340MHz [10.2Gbps]
  • Resolution: Up to 4K2K
  • Connectors: HDMI Type A [19-pin female]
  • HDCP Compliant: Yes
  • HDMI Output Distance: 720p 12bit up to 20m, 1080i 12bit up to 20m, 1080p 12bit up to 15m, 4K up to 7.5m (Note: Cable quality may impact distance)
Power
  • Power Supply: 5V DC
  • Power Consumption: 10 Watts [max]
Physical
  • Dimensions: 154 x 83 x 25mm [6.06" x 3.26" x .984"]
  • Weight: 583g [20.5 oz]

Kanexpro

The company has this unit which obviously supports 4K within the HDMI 1.4a limitations and no mention of HDCP 2.2:


Signal Input/Outputs

  • Input DDC Signal: 5 Volts p-p (TTL)
  • Input & Output Signal: High Speed HDMI 1.4a Spec
  • Output Audio Signal: Toslink & 3.5 mm Stereo
  • Operating Frequency: Vertical Frequency Range: 50/60Hz
  • Video Amplifier Bandwidth: 2.97 Gbps per Channel
Resolutions:
  • (HDTV) Interlaced (50&60Hz): 480i, 576i, 1080i
  • Progressive (50&60Hz): 480p, 576p, 720p, 1080p & 4K@30Hz
HDMI Audio Output:
  • PCM 2/5.1/7.1 CH, Dolby 5.1 dts 5.1, D-TrueHD, DTS-HD
Power Requirements:
  • Power Consumption: 3W
  • External Power Supply: 5V DC @ 1A (US/EU Standard)
  • Power supply CE/FCC/UL Certified
Regulatory Approvals:
  • Switcher Unit: FCC, Ce, UL
  • Power Supply: UL, Ce, FCC
Environment Operating Temperature:
  • Operating Temperature: 0°C ~ 40°C / 32°F ~ 104°F
  • Storage Temperature: -20°C ~ 60°C / -4°F ~ 140°F
Dimensions: 6.4"D x 3.34" W x 0.98" H

Weight: 0.77 lbs (350 g)

Warranty: Limited 1-Year Parts & Labor

Package Contents:

  • HDMI 4x1 Switcher
  • 5V DC Power Supply
  • Remote control
  • Operation Manual

MCM Electronics

As with Amazon, the company offers several 4K capable HDMI switchers at reasonable prices, this 4K unit (Vanco (280710) sells for a consumer friendly price of $60, which is what a consumer may be interested to spend for a switcher relative to the prices of typical AVRs they normally buy, but the 4K unit is not HDMI 2.0, nor it is HDCP 2.2 compliant, so we are back to square one, for now:

  • High Speed Chip Set that Supports 3D, 4K x 2K
  • Full HD1080P/60HZ
  • HDCP Compliant
  • Supports Digital Audio Format, DTS-HD/Dolby-True HD/LPCM7.1/AC3/DTS/DSD
  • Unique Circuit Design Allows for Protection against High Voltage and Peak Currents
  • Tested for Compatibility with all leading HD Video brands
  • Tested with Dolby 7.1 Home Theater Systems
  • Smart switching technology

Monoprice

The company said:

At this time, our HDMI switches would only support up to 1080P/3D. We unfortunately do not offer a 4K compatible switch currently but I do recommend checking back periodically for new products. We do offer full 4K@60hz compatible HDMI cables which can be found here, http://www.monoprice.com/Category?c_id=102&cp_id=10255&cs_id=1025508

Panlong

On the other hand, one exception to high pricing while having correct 4K capabilities, can be found in Amazon, a 4K switcher for 4K with HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2 compliance with 5 ports for just under $60, and the company has several other models with similar capabilities. I did not have the chance to test these capabilities with my 4K equipment yet but one user review said it worked well for its purpose with a similar 4K projector I have.

Gefen

The company has the following product advertised like this:


Switch four Ultra Hi-Def sources to one Ultra HD display with 3DTV and 4K x 2K Ultra High-Definition support

With these published specs:

  • Supports resolutions up to Ultra HD 4K (3840 x 2160 @ 60Hz 4:2:0 or 30Hz 4:4:4), 4K Cinema (DCI) @ 24 or 30Hz 4:4:4), and 1080p Full HD
  • HDMI 2.0 compliant
  • HDCP 1.4 compliant

Unfortunately, although the $499 unit is HDMI 2.0 4K ready for 60fps, it is NOT HDCP 2.2 compliant and that means that all 4K content that is protected with the new HDCP 2.2 protocol will not be able to pass thru this unit and the TV may display a blank screen.

As a side note, the capability for HDCP 2.2 is embedded into the HDMI 2.0 chip and cannot be added with firmware upgrade.

Gefen also has the ToolBox 4x1 Switcher for HDMI 4k/2k:
GTB-HD4K2K-441-BLK
$ 449.00 MSRP (also not-HDCP 2.2 compliant).

Gefen also has this new unit for $2199, GTB-HD4K2K-848-BLK, and 8x8 HDMI switcher but with only HDCP 1.4 specs. The lack of HDCP 2.2 makes the unit useless for a TV system intended to show protected 4K movies.

Gefen’s representative at the booth told me at InfoComm 2015 that “although they are aware their switchers cannot handle HDCP 2.2 they feel no obligation to voluntarily indicate the unit’s limitations on their advertised specs” (I suggested a disclaimer footnote as: “this 4K capable unit is HDCP compliant, but not compliant with HDCP version 2.2, which may be implemented by some Studios to protect their 4K content”).

Gefen’s representative at the InfoComm booth added “we are in the business to sell and expect consumers to be smart enough to research the Internet and find out by themselves if what they are buying would work for their application, and we have a 30-day returning policy”.

The problem is:

The specifications of HDMI switchers are advertised inaccurate or incomplete or both, and consumers typically need help understanding technical matters, not to mention the confusion of HDMI and HDCP specifications, and, if you buy a 4K HDMI switcher today, it’s 30-days returning period may be over by the time the new UHD Blu-ray player is available for you to verify that the switcher performs as it should.

Therefore, I recommend consumers to postpone the purchase of ANY HDMI switching unit for 4K until having a 4K player and 4K content protected with HDCP 2.2 that would allow verification of the true capabilities, in the mean time a direct HDMI cable from the 4K player to the 4K display can be connected if your AVR is not 4K HDCP 2.2 compliant.

In summary, HDCP 2.2 is important to the future and protection of 4K content. Almost all HDMI 4K switcher units in the market are not fully capable with HDMI 2.0 and HDCP 2.2, and their specific 4K capabilities and HDCP 2.2 compliance are loosely advertised, if they are. Consumers deserve better.

Welcome to the world of 4K.

Posted by Rodolfo La Maestra, September 24, 2015 10:30 AM

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About Rodolfo La Maestra

Rodolfo La Maestra is the Senior Technical Director of UHDTV Magazine and HDTV Magazine and participated in the HDTV vision since the late 1980's. In the late 1990's, he began tracking and reviewing HDTV consumer equipment, and authored the annual HDTV Technology Review report, tutorials, and educative articles for HDTV Magazine, DVDetc and HDTVetc  magazines, Veritas et Visus Newsletter, Display Search, and served as technical consultant/editor for the "Reference Guide" and the "HDTV Glossary of Terms" for HDTVetc and HDTV Magazines.  In 2004, he began recording a weekly HDTV technology program for MD Cable television, which by 2006 reached the rating of second most viewed.

Rodolfo's background encompasses Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, and Audio and Video Electronics, with over 4,700 hours of professional training, a BS in Computer and Information Systems, and thirty+ professional and post-graduate certifications, some from MIT, American, and George Washington Universities.  Rodolfo was also Computer Science professor in five institutions between 1966-1973 in Argentina, regarding IBM, Burroughs, and Honeywell mainframe computers.  After 38 years of computer systems career, Rodolfo retired in 2003 as Chief of Systems Development from the Inter-American Development Bank directing sixty+ software-development computer professionals, supporting member countries in north/central/south America.

In parallel, from 1998 he helped the public with his other career of audio/video electronics, which started with hi-end audio in the early 60’s and merged with Home Theater video, multichannel audio
, HD, 3D and UHDTV. When HDTV started airing in November 1998, and later followed by 3DTV and 4K UHDTV, he realized that the technology as implemented would overwhelm consumers due to its complexity, and it certainly does even today, and launched his mission of educating and helping consumers understand the complexity, the challenge, and the beauty of the technology pursuing better sound and image, so the public learn to appreciate it not just as another television.