There's no denying the convenience that HDMI affords. The ability to send high-definition video, high-resolution audio, and control/data information over one small, relatively pliable cable has given us leaner, cleaner A/V backsides, but it comes with potential downsides. Handshake issues can be an endless source of frustration, and HDMI is not well suited for longer runs without some type of assistance. HDMI Licensing lists a cable length of about 10 meters (32 feet) to ensure signal reliability, but a number of methods exist to extend HDMI's reach--from active cables to repeaters to amplifiers. One method of HDMI extension that's growing in popularity is HDMI-over-CAT5/6, which can allow cable runs to 100 feet and beyond. This technology is available in a number of "one source to one display" solutions, and it's slowly starting to appear in HDMI splitters that allow you to send thhttps://hometheaterreview.com/high-definition-multimedia-interface-hdmi/e signal to multiple displays. These splitter solutions can be pricey, which is why NextGen's new 1x8 HDMI-over-CAT6 splitter caught my eye. This product carries an MSRP of just $299.95--although there is a catch. (Isn't there always?)
As the name suggests, this splitter (which is based on a SYVIO model from CMI Communications) has one HDMI 1.3 input and eight RJ-45 outputs. You can send one source--or the output from your A/V receiver--to eight display devices simultaneously. Just like a high-speed HDMI cable, the NextGen splitter supports a data transfer speed up to 10.2 Gbps, and it can transmit a full HD video signal up to 1080p/60 with 12-bit color. The distance varies depending on the type of cable you use. CAT-5, CAT-5E and CAT-6 cables will all work; however, to ensure reliability over the longest runs, you'll want to use CAT-6, which supports 1080p/60 with 12-bit color up to 30m, 1080p/60 up to 50m and 1080i up to 60m. (CAT-5E supports 1080p/60 to 40m and 1080i to 50m.) This splitter supports the HDCP 1.2 protocol, and it can also pass high-resolution audio signals, such as Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and 7.1-channel LPCM.
On the display end, the system requires an adapter that converts the signal back to HDMI for input into the display device. The HET004-RX receiver is a small box (it measures about 1.5 by 3 inches) that has an RJ-45 input on one end and an HDMI 1.3 output on the other. This receiver unit requires power and comes with a 5-volt DC power adapter. It also sports a tiny EQ button, accompanied by an LED that displays a number between one and eight. (The package lacks any literature that explains the EQ button and numbers; I first assumed that the number reflected the corresponding output port on the splitter, but that is not the case.) The "catch" I mentioned above is that the NextGen 1x8 splitter doesn't come with any receiver units; you must purchase each receiver unit separately at a cost of $49.95 apiece. Should you need to use all eight outputs on the HDMI splitter, you'll need to purchase eight receiver units, which will run you $399.60. On the plus side, you're not forced to pay for anything you don't need. You can purchase the exact number of receiver units that your system requires, with the option to add on when necessary.
I received the splitter and two receiver units for evaluation, which would carry a total price of $399.85 through NextGen's online store (www.nextgen.us). Setup was quick and easy; during my review process, I used a direct link between source and splitter, and I also routed signals through my A/V receiver. Both configurations worked well. I began my performance evaluation with resolution tests. First, I established a baseline standard for comparison: Using a 25-foot HDMI cable running from my Pioneer BDP-95FD Blu-ray player to an LG 47LE8500 TV, I checked out one of the resolution test patterns on the FPD Benchmark Software Blu-ray disc. This pattern shows resolution lines at VCR, TV, DVD, HD 720 and HD 1080 resolutions, first stationary and then in motion. The LG is a good reference TV because, with its TruMotion technology enabled, it serves up a crystal-clear HD 1080 pattern. When I switched from the physical cable to the NextGen splitter with a 14-foot CAT-5E cable, I saw no loss of detail. I then added a second display, the Panasonic TC-P50G25, sending the signal over a CAT-5E cable of the same length. Again, I saw no loss in resolution. I also wanted to test the resolution performance over a longer cable run: The only long cable I had in the house was a 75-foot CAT-5 cable, and again resolution appeared to hold up just fine when I ran this cable to the LG display.
Next, I tested the system's ability to preserve black detail in 1080p signals. My current HDMI splitter crushes blacks whenever I try to send a 1080p signal to multiple displays. (Admittedly, my splitter came out before Blu-ray made 1080p a common resolution format.) I used some of my favorite black-detail demo scenes from The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (chapter four), Flags of Our Fathers (chapters two and six) and Casino Royale (chapter five). All of the desired black detail remained intact, and the image quality was excellent on both TVs.
As solid as the NextGen's video performance was, I was less satisfied with its signal reliability--at least in the early-goings. The Panasonic TV always established a handshake and cued up the image properly, regardless of source or resolution. However, the LG TV often struggled to make or maintain the handshake; I had to turn the TV off and turn it back on to re-establish the link (it did not matter which receiver unit I used). I also tried adding an Epson Home Cinema 1080 projector; and, while it established a handshake without issue, it would not display a 1080p/60 resolution. When I tried to go back to the LG TV, I couldn't establish a handshake at all, no matter how many times I tried reconnecting and rebooting devices. At this point, I decided to see what would happen if I pressed the EQ button on the receiver units (the button is designed like a reset button--you need a thin-tipped object, like a paper clip, to reach it). Each button press scrolls through the numbers, one through eight. Simply changing each receiver unit to a new "channel" immediately fixed the problems. I experienced no further handshake issues, and all three displays showed a 1080p/60 resolution. It would be nice if NextGen actually included some literature with the receiver unit that explains the function of the EQ button.
I experienced one other odd issue with the NextGen system. When mated specifically with the Panasonic TV, the receiver units were able to function without the power cable. In fact, when I tried to plug in the power cable, I either lost the picture entirely or sometimes saw interference lines in the image. NextGen's theory is that the Panasonic TV has power output via HDMI, but the power must be different from the standard external power supply, which is causing a conflict that leads to signal interference when both are connected. Hey, if you've got a Panasonic TV that will power the receiver unit without the external power supply, it means one less cable to run...which is always a plus in my book.
Click to Page 2 for The High Points, The Low Points and The Conclusion.
• Learn about HDMI AV Preamps from this resource page.