UPDATED: October 4, 2017
If you’re unfamiliar with Video Distribution (sometimes called Media Distribution), I’ve written a short post for you here so we’re on the same page.
How We Do It
We prefer to prewe Video Distribution with (3) Cat6, and (1) RG6. At a minimum we want (2) Cat6 and (1) RG6.
You can substitute Cat5e for all or some of the Cat6, but it’s recommended to use Cat6 for 4k Video Content.
Clients are often surprised to hear we still pull Coax even if we’re going to use Video Distribution. It’s simply a best practice, but not required.
It’s surprising how often a customer decides to put a receiver behind the TV. It’s easier and cheaper to put the wire there in the beginning than a retro later.
Why do we recommend using 3 Cat6?
1. Controlling the TV. There are three methods for controlling the TV: IR; IP; and Serial. Whichever method you choose for your application, the Cat6 can be terminated and used for any one of these methods. So you’re covered.
2. Hardwiring the TV into the Network. We cover this in our Wireless Vs. Hardwired post, but you really should hardwire your TV into the network. If you are using a TV that supports IP, then this hardwired connection works for both the network and your IP control. So it saves you a wire.
3. Video Distribution – If you’re new to the space, it probably seems weird to send Video over Cat6, but Cat6 is a wonder wire. You can convert it into just about any wire you want it to be. In this case, we want it to be an HDMI cable, so we take the Cat6, and we put a small box on each end of the Cat6 called a HDMI balun. That balun converts the Cat6 into an HDMI, so you can send Video content over the Cat6 and out to the TV.
Terminating Cat6 for ‘4K over IP’ vs a ‘4K Matrix’
There are two types of Video Distribution. And we terminated the cable differently depending on the type of Video Distribution we plan to use.
4K Matrix – Is like a network switch, only it’s for all the HDMI from your Video Sources and TVs. Cat6 should not be terminated at the wall plate. It should run out of the wall and straight into the balun behind the TV.
4K over IP – Still uses Cat6 and baluns, but everything plugs into a Network switch rather than a Matrix. Because it’s Network based, it can be terminated at the wall plate behind the TV.
FAQs about Prewiring for Video Distribution
Why wouldn’t I just use an HDMI cable?
1. HDMI Cables are expensive, especially for long runs. So you aren’t saving yourself that much money.
2. HDMI Cables go bad over time. So if you have HDMI in your walls and the ends go bad, there’s no way to run a new HDMI cable out to the TV. HDMI Baluns take this problem out of the equation.
Should I use Cat6, and if so how often?
1. The recommendation for 4k Content is to use Cat6 cable.
2. You can use Cat5e for your control wires, and for your network (although I recommend Cat6) but use Cat6 for 4k.
3. It’s nice to have spare Cat6 at the TV in case a cable is damaged during construction.
What About Shielded Cat6?
1. Shielded Cat6 is a better solution, but it’s most needed in longer runs where distance becomes an issue.
2. Shielded Cat6 cable shields noise and interference, which is part of the reason it’s used in longer runs.
3. If you’re DIYing the prewire, Non-Shielded Cat6 will be simpler and adequate as Shielded Cat6 needs to be grounded.
What about Fiber?
1. Fiber is here, and it’s worth considering.
2. Companies like Savant now require Fiber for their higher end Video Distribution solution. So there’s a case to be made for prewiring with Fiber
3. If you’re going to prewire with Fiber, consider leaving the Fiber in the wall, and unterminated. Save the cost of terminating the Fiber until you’re actually ready to use it.
What about using Conduit?
1. This can work. Make sure it’s ‘flexible conduit’ and I would recommend 1.25″, 1″ conduit at a minimum.
2. Plan for space at the Media Rack. Each TV/Projector needs a Conduit. We regularly have Clients with 10 plus TVs. You need to plan space at the Media Rack to manage all that Conduit.
3. You want to make the runs as smooth as possible. A conduit can be fished or vacuumed, but the more turns and bends the more difficult it gets to pull a wire through later.
4. I know people in the industry who do this as a standard. I would still pull wire with my flex conduit because I’ve seen too many conduits damaged during construction to trust it by itself.
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One More Thing
Now there’s one other little trick I want you to know about Video Distribution. Usually your rack is going to be in the Basement, or at least in a room and location that’s a good distance away from where you watch your TV. You don’t want to have to walk all the way over there to load in your 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray that you just rented. Take your Master Bedroom for example. Rather than walking all the way to your Media rack, you hide a Blu-ray player in the Master Bedroom Closet. You run (2) Cat6 from your Blu-ray player to your Media Rack, and now it works on your system. You can enjoy your Blu-ray discs without having to walk all the way back to the house.
Everyone Loves Video Distribution
Most the time when we design a system for a client, they’re more excited about the Whole House Audio, or the home theater. But on a regular basis, when we fire up the system for the first time, it’s the Video Distribution that they’re most excited about. Be sure to plan for this in your prewire design.
Matt is the co-founder of Tym LLC. His smart home and audio/visual designs have won four “Home of the Year Awards” from Electronic House & CE Pro magazine, and three awards from the Consumer Technology Association, including "Home Theater of the Year", and "Custom Smart Home of the Year".
Matt is Golden State fan.
Catch Matt's how-to videos on YouTube