Introduction to the Accell UltraCat HD HDMI Cable Extender
During CEDIA 2011, one technology that caught my attention was HDBaseT. It provided a solution to the all too familiar cable clutter problem. Below is a picture that I took at their booth which shows a set of cables whose signals could all be transmitted over a single Cat5e/6 cable at distances up to 100m. Given that many homes have this pre-existing wiring, transmitting this assortment of signals could now be done both easily and reliably. I was eager to review a product with this technology, and when I received a press release from Accell about their UltraCat HD HDMI extender, I requested a review sample, which was promptly sent my way.
ACCELL ULTRACAT HD HDMI CABLE EXTENDER SPECIFICATIONS
UltraAV 1×4 HDMI Splitter
- Connectors: 1 Input, 4 Outputs
- Supported Resolutions: Up to 1080p
- Dimensions: 0.75″ H x 6.2″ W x 2.7″ D
- Maximum Supported Cable Length: 16ft (5m) Input, 33 ft (10m) Output
- Power: 100-240V, 50/60Hz
- MSRP: $149.99
- Supported Resolutions: All HD Resolutions Including 1080p@60Hz@48bits, 4kx2k, 3D
- Audio Formats: LPCM, Compressed Audio
- Output Video: HDMI v1.4 + HDCP v1.1 + CEC
- Distance: 328ft (100m) using Cat-5e
- Cat-5e/6 Termination (Signal and Ethernet): TIA/EIA-568B
- Power Consumption: 2.5W (Transmitter), 5W (Receiver)
- Dimensions: 4.1″ H x 6″ W x 1.2″ D
- Weight (Both Modules): 2 Pounds
- Power: 100-240V, 50/60Hz
- Mounting Ears: Included
- Ethernet Pass-through: 10/100Baset
- Serial Pass-through: RS-232C to 57600 bps (Full Duplex)
- IR Transmitter/Receiver on Each Module: 3.5 mm Connector
- MSRP: $499.99 USD
- SECRETS Tags: Accell, HDMI, Splitter
Accell’s UltraCat HD HDMI extenders are based on HDBaseT technology which enables simultaneous transfer of uncompressed audio/video, 10/100BaseT Ethernet, RS232 and IR control signals over a single Cat5e/6 cable. The UltraCat HD comes in two pieces, a transmitter and a receiver, which are connected to each other via a Cat5e/6 cable. The transmitter and receiver are near identical images of each other. Both are housed in a metal enclosure with mounting ears; they measure 5.98î (W) x 4.13î (H) x 1.22î (D), and they weigh a modest 1.98lbs.
The UltraCat HD is HDMI v1.4 compliant. For video, all HD resolutions including 1080p@60Hz@48-bits, 4k@30Hz@24-bits, and 3D are supported. For 1080p signals, the maximum cable run can be 100m, which should satisfy most installations. On the audio side, both compressed and uncompressed formats are supported.
Bi-directional IR control capability is also provided. There are two 3.5mm connectors on both the transmitter and the receiver to which the supplied IR receiver and IR emitter cables are connected. The IR receiver will typically get placed in a location where you are likely to aim your remote control. The IR emitter will likely be pasted on the IR receiver of the component that is to be controlled remotely; a double-sided adhesive tab is included with each emitter cable. The cables themselves are not labeled, however, the bags they come in are. To me, the picture in the manual suggested the opposite of the labeling on the bags. A quick email to Accell resulted in a prompt and clear explanation. The IR emitter was the ìbuttonî shaped unit with a mono 3.3mm plug, and the IR receiver was the ìrectangleî shaped unit with the stereo plug. The exact wording in the response would be a great addition to the manual. Additionally, color coding and/or labeling the cable themselves would remove any confusion.
The RS-232 port serves a dual-purpose. In its default configuration, it allows for RS-232 control signal transmission. It can, however, also be used to perform a firmware update. Doing so requires opening the case of both the transmitter and receiver, since the jumper cap needs to be relocated.
There are several LED status indicators on the front and back of both the transmitter and the receiver; there is also a red flashing LED inside the enclosure. They are useful during initial setup or when diagnosing a connection problem, however, during normal operation I would have liked the option to turn them off without resorting to covering them with a tape.
UltraAV Mini 1×4 HDMI Audio/Video Splitter
Accell offers a range of HDMI splitters and switches with varying levels of flexibility. For this review, Accell sent me their UltraAV Mini 1×4 HDMI 1.3 Audio/Video splitter. As the name implies, this device mirrors its HDMI input across its four HDMI outputs. The device is sleek and compact, measuring 8.6î (W) x 4.7î (L) x 1.8î (H) and weighing 2.2 lbs. The maximum supported resolution is 1080p, with support for 3D video. The maximum supported cable lengths for input and output are specified to be 5m and 10m respectively; amplified HDMI cables can be used for longer cable runs.
There are five red LED status indicators on the front: one for power, and one for each of the four outputs. The output indicator lights turn on once a successful handshake is established between the splitter and a powered output device. The LEDs are bright and they can be distracting in a darkened room. This is easy to remedy with some tape, however, I would have liked to have the option to turn them off.
Setup of the Accell UltraCat HD HDMI Cable Extender
My house has two viewing rooms: a dedicated theater room, serviced by a projector, and the living room, serviced by a flat-panel display. A 100ft CAT6 cable runs between the two rooms. I have a Dish DVR in the living room, whose output I wanted to share between the two rooms. The bi-directional IR capability provided by the UltraCat HD allowed for IR control of the DVR from the second room.
For the majority of the time, the UltraAV HDMI splitter and the UltraCat HD transmitter resided in the living room, with the UltraCat HD receiver residing in the theater room. The UltraAV HDMI splitter routed its input source to both the flat-panel display and the UltraCat HD transmitter. The DVR was the input source for the majority of the time; however, I switched it out for a PS3 for a short period of time to test 1080p24 and 1080p60 transmission, since the DVRís output was limited to 1080i60.
I placed the IR emitter on top of the DVRís IR receiver; the IR transmitter stayed on a table in the theater room. The UltraCat HD receiverís HDMI output was connected to my surround sound processor, which fed its output to my projector; the Ethernet output was connected to a network switch. I needed to change this setup to debug some issues. Changes included connecting the UltraCat HD receiver directly to the projector, moving the UltraCat HD receiver to the living room, and inserting Gefenís HDMI detective into the signal chain; more on this later.
I did not test the RS-232 functionality of the UltraCat HD eender.xt
The Accell UltraCat HD HDMI Cable Extender In Use
I started out by using the DVR as the input source and making the connections in the two rooms as described above. I powered on the display in the living room, and the red LED on the splitter corresponding to the HDMI port that the display was connected to came on. Then the content showed up on the display, as expected.
Next I moved over to the second room and powered on my Denon AVP-A1HDCI SSP followed by my Sony VPL-VW60 projector. I could hear the audio through the speakers, but once the projector came on, the audio and video failed to sync. The splitter had to be power cycled to re-establish a successful handshake. After this, both LEDs on the splitter, one for each output, were lit. Both audio and video signals were solid.
The problem with handshake was not just confined to powering on the equipment in the second room. It would occur sometimes if I switched to another input on the SSP for an extended period of time. The behavior was different when I replaced the DVR with the PS3; this issue would surface less often, but I could still get into this bad state at times. Power cycling the splitter resolved the issue in all cases. I tried two variations when I encountered this bad state: one was to bypass the SSP and connect the UltraCat HD receiverís HDMI output directly to the projector; the other was to bypass the splitter and connect its HDMI input directly to the UltraCat HD transmitterís HDMI input. The issue was immediately resolved by trying either variation without having to power cycle any component. I did not have another splitter or an HDMI based SSP at hand to see if the behavior would change by switching out these components.
What I did have on hand, however, was Gefenís HDMI Detective. I reviewed it sometime back and it had resolved an issue with my HTPC at that time, so I decided to introduce it into the signal chain (http://www.hometheaterhifi.com/switchers/switchers-reviews/gefen-hdmi-detective-plus.html). I placed it between the HDMI splitter and the UltraCat HD transmitter, and went through its setup process. I went through the same sequences that had produced the handshake issue before. During the short period of time that I tried this, I was not able to reproduce the problem.
To test the UltraCat HDís Ethernet pass through functionality, I connected a network switch to it. Once connected, the network switch successfully connected to the router, this indicated by the lighting up of a LED status indicator. I hooked up my laptop to the network switch; it was able to acquire an IP address and I was able to browse the internet. I was also able to browse the Netflix catalog and play movies in my instant queue through my Oppo player which was tethered to the network switch. This worked well for the most part, except there were some occasions where the Oppo would flash a message on the screen saying that an internet connection could not be established. When this happened I would power-cycle some of the components and access to the outside world would re-open. One day, I dug deeper into this and found that when the connection failed, the Oppo player displayed a bogus IP address. This time I rebooted all the components in the signal chain between the network switch and the router. The connection issue did not re-surface after I did this. It is quite possible that playing with the connections put something in an unstable state.
IR control through the UltraCat HD extenders worked without a hitch. The DVR responded to the IR commands from the second room making it a seamless virtual addition to this room. The same positive result was obtained when I pasted the IR emitter on a couple of other components.
Conclusions About the Accell UltraCat HD HDMI Cable Extender
Accell’s UltraAV Mini 1×4 HDMI splitter and UltraCat HD HDMI extender paired well and allowed me to share an HDMI source among two rooms. While I only used two output devices, the compact and sleek looking splitter is capable of mirroring an HDMI source across its four output ports. I would have liked for the handshake between it and my SSP to be more reliable, however, I was able to resolve this by inserting Gefenís HDMI detective into the signal chain or by bypassing my SSP. Not having another splitter or a SSP with HDMI capability on hand, I was not able to debug this further. I give it a guarded recommendation, as the handshake issue could be related to the other components in the signal chain.
The UltraCat HD packs a lot of functionality in its compact enclosure. Based on HDBaseT technology, it allows for the transmission of several signals, HDMI, IR, RS-232 and Ethernet, over a single Cat 5e/6 cable for distances up to 100m. It future proofs itself by adding support for 4kp30. I would like to see a lower price-point, which I hope will happen as the economies of scale come into play. The UltraCat HD is an excellent product and one that is easy to recommend.