HDMI over IP Vs. HDMI Matrix Switcher: A Close Inspection of HDMI Distribution Techniques

HDMI has become omnipresent in our daily lives. Whether you are connecting your TV or conference room display, you are sure to come across an HDMI connection. 

Transmitting high quality data from one system to another is quite undemanding these days. Thanks to the intermix of HDMI with Transmission Control Protocol(TCP)/Internet Protocol (IP), HDMI matrix switches and hubs with Cat6 cables, that high quality data can be obtained on the desired screen at any point. Although both the options are highlighted by the same objectives, yet there are glaring performance differences between them. Let’s explore these differences in detail. 

More than Normal 

HDMI over IP leverages an existing IP or Ethernet structure to allocate high definition video signals towards many screens. Normal IP networks like the Ethernet are marked by limitations in terms of distance coverage. To address the issue, a device that is commonly resorted to is called a hub. This hub recieves compressed cat6 data from one end and channelizes the same through cables present on the other side towards the screen. Instead, no such connecting Hub is required for HDMI over IP network.  

Though both the connections are bound together by a common thread of cat6 cables, there is also a difference in terms of data rate specifications. To enjoy HDMI in its true sense in HDMI over IP, you will first be required to set up an IP network that supports network speeds in Gigabits. 

As you know, HDMI needs a stable network to reach the destination display or output. We seldom think of this when connecting our game consoles with the TV. But the importance of transmission becomes critical when you are dealing with high-scale or commercial AV solutions. 

We have HDMI matrix switchers, extenders, and a host of devices to ensure your HDMI signal reaches its destination. Recently, another protocol used for internet, the TCP/IP, is being used to broadcast HDMI content to multiple sources. 

Known as HDMI over IP, the system can be a cost-effective alternative for HDMI matrixes. But can HDMI over IP stand up to the rigorous demands of HDMI?

Well, that is the topic of our comparison blog today! We will find out the differences between HDMI over IP and HDMI matrix over Cat 6, and show which works best for distribution. 

By the end of the article, you will have enough information to make the right choice for your HDMI application. 

What is HDMI Over IP

HDMI over IP builds upon the concept of AV over IP. The technique uses internet protocol or IP to distribute audiovisual signals across a local area network or LAN. Naturally, the setup involves several components like Cat 5 cables, IP switches, and more. 

HDMI over IP essentially uses a pre-built distribution infrastructure used for the exchange of data over a local network. 

HDMI over IP simplifies the distribution of HDMI content across several displays. You can even stream real-time content with low latencies, using compression technology like H.264.

The main implication of HDMI over IP is cost and labor savings, where a preexisting network serves your AV transmission needs. 

What is HDMI Matrix Switcher

An HDMI matrix switcher is a device for the distribution of HDMI signals across several displays. You can route signals from multiple HDMI sources like cameras and PCS to multiple output sources like TV and projectors. 

HDMI matrix switchers are ideal for professional command and control centers. They are customizable and provide a high-speed architecture for HDMI distribution.

Matrix switchers use Cat 6 or higher cables for cost-effective and flexible connections. Like HDMI over IP, other components like HDMI transmitters and receivers complete the system.

HDMI matrix switchers can support lossless signals over a long-range. You can eliminate any quality issues that occur when increasing distance in the case of HDMI cables. 

Both technologies can be useful based on your application. Next, we will explore the nuances of both formats to find out which works best. 

HDMI Over IP Vs. HDMI Matrix Switchers

Bandwidth

HDMI at 1080p with 12-bit Deep Color comes with a data rate of 6.69 Gbps. You will need a matching bandwidth to ensure your AV signals can pass without hindrance. 

However, the most common IP infrastructure in use supports data transfer rates of up to 100 Mbps. You do have the gigabit Ethernet, with support up to 1,000 Mbps or 1 Gbps. 

Surely, such bandwidths are not suitable for transmitting HDMI formats. You will need to go for the 10 gigabit Ethernet that provides up to 10 Gbps. 

Needless to say, 10 gigabit Ethernet is only used for very high data throughput requirements. You will not find it in most offices or homes. So, the very idea of using a pre-existing network goes for a toss in the case of HDMI over IP.

You will, most probably, need to change your whole IP setup along upgrading to Cat 6 cables. 

In the case of HDMI matrix switchers, they don't have bandwidth limitations. You can even get switchers that support bandwidths of 18 Gbps without any issues. 

Video Quality

As we already said, finding a prebuilt infrastructure to match HDMI bandwidth requirements is not common. As a result, most HDMI over IP setups depend on video compression to make up for the shortage. Additionally, you will also need a receiver to decompress the video before it hits the display.

Video compression can obviously take a toll on your video quality. On top of that, your compression ratio will keep getting higher as your bandwidth capability falls. 

For using a 100 Mbps architecture, your video will be compressed by 6 or 7-times to match the 1 Gbps bandwidth. Along with that, the efficiency of your compression hardware will also come into the equation. 

Low-priced compression hardware is not suitable for professional results, ever!

Network Sharing

HDMI matrix switchers support dedicated setups meant for HDMI distribution. You don't need to share the network resources with any other applications. 

However, the story can be quite different for HDMI over IP. If you use an existing network, chances are other devices will also use the architecture. For example, in a home or office, the Ethernet bandwidth will be shared by PCs, mobiles, printers, and more. 

Naturally, this will eat up the resources and leave less bandwidth for your HDMI transmission. Creating a dedicated IP network just for your HDMI, again, defeats the purpose of the concept. 

Scaling

Till now, our discussion mostly centered on using a single HDMI source in the case of HDMI over IP. But what happens when you hook up multiple sources to the network?

First of all, the total bandwidth of your HDMI over IP network will be shared by the number of sources you connect. That means the 1 Gbps data rate of a gigabit Ethernet will get distributed further. 

Also, don't forget the other devices sharing the network like PCs and printers. As a result, you are highly likely to experience transmission delays and glitches.

Moreover, each HDMI signal will be compressed by 7x, leading to an overall loss in quality. 

HDMI matrix switchers are free of such issues. You can scale without restrictions and as many sources or outputs as you wish. Obviously, the number of sources you can connect will depend on the nature of the switcher you have. 

You can always go for 8 x 8 or 16 x 16 switchers that support up to 8 sources without compromising quality. Apart from that, you don't need to invest in compression hardware of any sort. 

Hardware

Matrix switchers are designed for managing and distributing HDMI signals. As a result, the devices come with features to make the job easy and cost-effective.

For example, most switchers will not need an external transmitter; they have inbuilt ones. Along with that, you don't have to spend money on buying compression hardware. 

HDMI over IP will need transmitters for every source. You may also need to invest in compression and decompression devices if you don't have a 10 Gbps bandwidth. 

Also, as we have seen, most existing IP setups don't have the capability to support HDMI. You may need to overhaul or upgrade components to transmit HDMI without compromising quality. 

The cost can add up to more than what you would invest in HDMI matrix switchers. 

So far, we have seen HDMI over IP is not the right choice for most applications. Next, we will summarize the findings of our above analysis. 

HDMI Over IP May Not Support Bandwidth Requirements

Chances are, you won't find a suitable preexisting IP network to distribute HDMI signals. Only 10-gigabit infrastructures are suitable for HDMI over IP. However, such networks are not used in general home or business applications. 

So, you will need to take out all the cables, install new ones, and may even have to change your components. 

 Quality is Likely to be Compromised

The second issue with HDMI over IP is the need for compression. Your video will inevitably undergo a high compression ratio, resulting in loss of quality. Else, you need a 10 Gbps network, which is not very common. 

Additionally, you also need to invest in quality hardware to get the best results. That is surely going to cost more!

You May Need to Share Network Resources

Existing IP networks are already crowded by a range of devices sharing the resources. Adding HDMI duties will only burden the network and compromise performance for all devices. 

As a result, you will either need to-

  • Switch off or disconnect all other devices

  • Create a dedicated IP infrastructure only for HDMI distribution

HDMI Over IP Can Become More Expensive

As we have seen, HDMI over IP will need ancillary devices like compression and decompression tools. You will also have to buy a transmitter for each HDMI source. 

Along with that, you may even need to change the cables and components of the network.

The total cost to develop a capable HMDI over IP architecture can rise many times above the cost of matrix switchers. 

You Won't Get the Same Level of Reliability

HDMI over IP is suited for small-scale applications. You can use the technique to transmit HDMI signals at home to your TV or monitor. 

However, business or commercial applications won't benefit from HDMI over IP. They need dedicated solutions to ensure quality results, better switching, and efficiency. As a result, you won't be able to use the technique for airports, terminals, subways, and so on. 

You will need a robust solution that relies on dedicated hardware to provide lossless results. The need can be met only by professional HDMI distribution solutions like matrix switchers. 

Additionally, scaling your operations over IP is not a wise choice. Your HDMI sources will have to fight for resources from a meager 1 Gbps line, resulting in latencies and interruptions. 

Final Thoughts

We have analyzed the difference between HDMI over IP and HDMI matrix switchers at close quarters. As you can see, HDMI over IP is useful only when you don't mind losing some quality or performance. It's not made for supporting high-scale or commercial operations. 

HDMI matrix switchers are the best option for creating professional AV distribution systems. You can hook up as many sources as your switch supports without losing out on quality. Moreover, you also don't need to worry about bandwidth as your hardware is efficient enough. And best of all, you may be able to create a robust distribution system at less costs than HDMI over IP. 

HDMI matrix switches are your companion for high-grade HDMI applications. 

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