Coaxial, HDMI, or Cat5e/Cat6
Video Distribution for Bowling Alleys: Coaxial, HDMI, or Cat5e/Cat6?
If you are building a new bowling alley or upgrading an existing one, one of the first additions you will probably want to make is an HD video distribution system. Video distribution allows your bowling alley to provide enhancements to your customers' games, such as animation that displays when pins are struck, a score showing on the screen, and music videos that play in-between games. These enhancements allow your customers to have a great time and show that your bowling alley is truly state-of-the-art.
Unfortunately though, choosing which kind of video distribution system to use can be a difficult decision. So here's an explanation of three different kinds of HD video distribution: HDMI, coaxial, and Cat5e/Cat6.
The most obvious way to route multiple audio-video signals to multiple televisions is through an HDMI splitter. In order to use an HDMI splitter, you first connect each source to the splitter using HDMI cable. Then, you connect each television to the splitter using HDMI cable.
The advantage of this method is its simplicity: there's no need to convert one kind of signal into another one or to reconvert that same signal back once it gets to the TV.
However, there is also one very great disadvantage to this method: with an HDMI video distribution system, the televisions cannot be very far apart from the matrix without the high potential of signal loss. This problem arises because HDMI as a standard was not intended to be used for long distances, and it causes signal degradation to occur at distances greater than around 15 feet.
Since bowling alleys usually have televisions that are much farther apart than 15 feet, a simple HDMI system is usually not the best option.
A second option for video distribution in bowling alleys is to use coaxial cable to connect the various devices. Using this option requires you to buy an RF modulator for each source that you have, plus one combiner that all of the RF modulators connect to. The modulators take the HDMI signals from the various sources and turn them into "channels", similar to the way a digital cable system works. The combiner then combines each of these channels into one signal that can be sent through coaxial cable.
In order for this system to work, the televisions that you use for monitors must have ATSC or QAM tuners, depending on what kind of coaxial system you assemble. If your monitors do not actually have any kind of digital TV tuners, they will be unable to tune to the particular source you want the monitor to display. This particular disadvantage is unique to a coaxial system. It does not occur with either HDMI or Cat5e/Cat6 cables.
Even if all of your monitors have tuners, however, there is another problem with coaxial systems: control. Control signals from a remote control, laptop, smartphone or tablet cannot be sent through coaxial cable. This means that each source must be controlled either from a remote control that is near the source or else IR extension cables have to be strung throughout the bowling alley in order to allow staff to control the sources from the place where each television is. This can make the entire system cumbersome to deal with.
A third option, and the one that is usually the best for bowling alleys, is to use Cat5e or Cat6 cable to connect the various components. This is a new development in distributed video that has only recently become possible. In order to assemble a Cat5e or Cat6 system, you buy one HDBaseT matrix for the whole system, plus an HDBaseT receiver for each television.
Each of the sources connects to the HDBaseT matrix. The matrix, in turn, connects to the receivers. Each of the receivers also connects to its corresponding television. However, the receivers are connected to the matrix through Cat5e or Cat6 cable, not HDMI.
Because the HDBaseT devices are connected through Cat5e or Cat6 cable, the signal from each source can be sent up to 328ft. (100m) instead of the usual 15 feet offered by HDMI. In addition, since Cat5e or Cat6 is also capable of carrying control signals, this means that the sources can be controlled from wherever the televisions are located. This can be done either by connecting IR repeaters to the receivers or by simply using a Wi-Fi connection and a laptop, smartphone, or tablet.
For an example of a Cat 5e or Cat6 distributed video system, check out this set from BrightLink Cables.