availability of cheaper HDMI cables has been beneficial to consumers with
newer digital displays. The quality of some of these cables leave much
to be desired as prices from a competitive market are driven downwards. Even as cable prices seem to be dropping, the challenge of sending HDMI signals over longer distances remains, especially when using a projector
in your home theater system. Several companies make active cables to help
keep your HDMI signal integrity in check, while other companies take a slightly different approach.
A company called SnapAV has a product called the Binary™ Single Cat 5e/6 HDMI 1.4 Extender (B-200-1CAT-HDIR) that uses inexpensive Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable to send HDMI signals over
long distances. The system relies on a transmitter and receiver unit
located on each end of the CAT 5E/6 cable to move HDMI signals over the long distance. The
system is HDMI 1.4a (3D Video) compliant and supports full HD 1080p (up to 36-bit color depth) with
DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD uncompressed multi-channel audio
formats. The system also has the ability to transmit IR signals (20kHz
to 60kHz) in both directions using a SnapAV IR receiver and IR flasher devices. This last feature allows users to easily control the source and display over the same cable used for the video
The Binary™ Single Cat 5e/6 HDMI 1.4 Extender system includes the transmitter and receiver along
with two power adapters, each providing 5V at 4 amps. A manual, 8 rubber feet, and 4 mounting screws
are also provided. The units are small, making them convenient to hide behind
equipment. In addition, they run fairly cool to touch so overheating should not be a concern for those planning to keep them in cabinet. Both the transmitter and receiver are wall mountable for simplified
installation. Unfortunately, the system does not include IR receivers or flashers and must be purchased separately if users plan to use this feature. For this review, we did not use them.
Connecting the system is fairly simple. However, there are a few adjustments that need to be made to optimize video performance. An 8-position (distance) selector on the HDMI receiver needs to be adjusted based on the signal strength from the transmitting unit. Cable quality, cable length and the transmitting characteristics of the source HDMI device all play into the signal quality. Since each system configuration is slightly different, the hardware provides the ability to optimize performance. The instructions direct the user to set the level at the minimum setting and and move it towards maximum until a reliable picture appears. In our test case with a 100-foot CAT-5e cable, we had to set the level to 2 (7=min and 0=max) to get a perfectly reliable picture. Not setting it high enough may result in occasional pixelization or even dropouts in the video. We recommend setting it just above the stable setting to ensure a reliable picture. However, the documentation with the product does warn the user not to set it too high, otherwise over-driving the receiver may reduce reliability of the electronics over time. Both of the power supply connections have an outer locking ring that screws into place preventing the power plug from pulling out of the transmitter and receiver units. This is a great design that works very well and prevents accidental disconnects.
Cat 5e cable is inexpensive, especially if you buy a large spool and
are handy at terminating the ends with RJ45 plugs. Our 1000-foot spool
cost about $45 (shipped) on Ebay, which comes out to being less than five cents per foot. This will keep the cost relatively constant regardless of the cable length needed for different system configurations.
The transmitter also has an 8-position selector that is used to determine the video mode. The manual provides this table that defines each of the settings. For our testing, we used the default Learning Mode (setting 7) and it worked just fine. However, some users may want to force the device to always use a specific format. As you can see in the table, various 1080p formats are supported, including 36-bit color, 7.1 audio channels, and the latest 3D technology.
We tested the Binary™ Single Cat 5e/6 HDMI 1.4 Extender using an OPPO BDP-83SE Blu-ray player as the source and a Mitsubishi LT-52148 as the display. My biggest concern was how well this system would work over the course of a full length movie. Some systems have dropouts when they are operating with little margin, so we wanted to make sure this system was reliable. Our movie for this review was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix since my kids enjoy it and there are some excellent dark scenes that make artifacts easy to see. However, we were pleasantly surprised to see no artifacts once we dialed in the correct level setting described earlier. Video looked and sounded as good as a direct connection between the BD player and the display. This was a very impressive test case with 6+100+6 feet of cabling. The folks at SnapAV have a product that works and given that most installs will require much less cable between the transmitter and receiver, you can rest easy knowing you will have even more margin in the performance of your system.
While short cable runs can work with cheaper HDMI cables, longer runs
require higher performance. The Binary™ Single Cat 5e/6 HDMI 1.4 Extender ($299) offers a
simple solution using inexpensive CAT 5/6e cable between the source video
and the display with the added benefit of handling two-way IR commanding
between components. The system is HDMI® 1.4a compliant with full 3D
support and uses the latest technology available to deliver
high bandwidth (6.75 Gbps) HDMI over long distances. The increased bandwidth supports
7.1 channel surround sound, DTS-HD Master Audio and TrueHD high bit-rate
audio, plus 36-bit Deep Color in Full 1080p. If you have been considering
a long cable run, this could be your solution.