One of the biggest questions I see weekly on Facebook groups and forums centers around this idea. Pretty much every church (at some point), has the need to set up a remote audio or preferably video feed from their sanctuary to another space. And while everyone has a quick “comment opinion”, I want to use this space to explain the full details – how there are different ways to get this one, and which one YOU should choose.
When I inherited the tech direction at my current church, there was already a TV mounted in the lobby off of the sanctuary. I was then asked to add a feed for a new TV in the nursing mother’s room that shared the same content, coming from a BlackMagic Web Presenter via HDMI. So, I had the ability to choose exactly which method to use…
There are (2) main ways to get a video signal to travel a medium distance – here we’re talking within 300′ or so.
HDMI cables in themselves, while they are the “go-to” plug for a lot of consumer and prosumer cameras, don’t do well over long distance. You can buy special “directional” HDMI cables to get you up to around 50′ or so at the maximum. But these are expensive, and they don’t always work with every source.
So we’ve got to convert our HDMI. We can either run it over Cat5e/Cat6 cable, or we can covert it to SDI / HDSDI and run it over RG6 cable with BNC connectors.
I can tell you from experience, that SDI is definitely more bulletproof and works better over long distances, with a minimal signal loss. Plus, the cost is not a ton more than HDMI over Cat5e/Cat6.
For this reason, running your video over SDI is my #1 recommended way of doing things if practical.
As a bonus, if your layout allows for it, the SDI to HDMI converters usually allow you to “loop” out of one converter to another – making wiring really simple if it makes sense to go from your control room to TV1, then TV2, etc. And if you’re going to projectors, many pro-level models have an SDI input, so you don’t need a converter box at the projector!
Here’s how an SDI distribution scheme could look:
If you did need to originate in your control room, and then go 2 different directions, you could place an SDI DA (distribution amplifier) in the control room, which would split your signal, and you could then send separate SDI runs to each TV.
The biggest hurdle with this type of signal is making the cables. While you can buy pre-made cables in short lengths, running longer distances and thru walls, etc, requires you to make your own cables. Luckily, my friend Stephen Ballast has made a great video with links to everything you need here: http://www.ballastmedia.com/make-your-own-hd-sdi-video-cables.html
It’s not quite as easy as doing Cat5e/6, but he does a really good job explaining it, and with a little practice you can do it too!
While SDI is great, I personally had a few hurdles in my way. Hurdle #1 is that my church has 3 “buildings” that are all connected. The easiest way to explain this is that there was originally a traditional A-Frame sanctuary. Then a sanctagymatorium was built, but the 2 were not connected. Later, a third building was added to connect the 2 buildings and add more classrooms.
For me, this meant that if I were to run SDI from the control room to the lobby TV, I’d go through a block firewall, which is not my idea of fun. Plus, then I have to deal with the hassle of firestopping all of my cables. Out of the lobby TV, I’d then go through another solid block firewall to the Nursing mother’s room.
Also, the existing Lobby TV was hooked up with HDMI over Cat5e, using a balun similar to this. The one that is in place there takes 2 HDMI cables and can have power at both ends (which I have given it!).
So, I didn’t want to redo that work (remember, I am a volunteer tech director!), plus, there were extra Cat5e runs to the building where the Nursing Mothers room was going in. So, all I had to do was get some fresh cable (I used Cat6) from the utility closet in that building to the TV. So no going outside with cable and no running in conduit!
The main advantage to running HDMI over Cat5e/6 is that the cables are really easy to terminate (put connectors on), and if you have a network in your building and the original tech director was thoughtful, there may already be wire run for you! Plus, it’s cheaper, and the leadership is happy with the results, even if it’s not the “perfect” video image.
Here’s what my setup looks like:
I’m using an HDMI splitter like this in our control room to split the signal to (2) TV’s. While this is NOT the preferred method of doing things, for 2 TV’s it is fine. This is because HDMI has built-in “copy protection” called HDCP, which is a 2-way “handshake” that kills your signal if you’re being suspicious (so you don’t copy DVD’s of movies). If you split HDMI more than a couple of times, you can run into issues where it all stops working. (and it is MISERABLE to troubleshoot!)
So, if I was designing this from scratch and using HDMI, I’d use boxes like this: CableMatters HDMI over Cat5e.
Mine are made by the brand “Ocean Matrix”, but the concept is the same – you can bring in 1 HDMI, and then use a basic, unmanaged network switch to duplicate the signal to multiple TV’s. You run this as it’s own closed system – not on your computer network, not connected to the internet!
Not only is this more versatile as you expand and change things around in your building over time, but it gets rid of that pesky HDMI switch.
In addition, HDMI end boxes like these only need 1 Cat5e or Cat6 cable along with power (which should be there at each TV or control room anyways!).
To terminate the Cat5e or 6 cables, you can follow any number of guides online (future post here!). You do need to use “real” Cat5e or 6 cable that is rated for being run through walls (“CMR”, not “CCA”). Here’s one example, though it’s usually cheapest to pick up a box at your local home improvement store.
I would also highly recommend that you terminate your Cat5 or Cat6 cable to a wall-plate Keystone jack or Patch Panel (future post). These are SO much easier than the little plastic connectors, as you only have to line up 1 wire at a time, instead of all 8!
I really hope that this guide has helped you and your church, but please do let me know via the comments below! I’ll be bringing more tips and tricks here soon!
David has been involved with church AV and networks since around 2003. He's played a variety of roles in church tech, from Intern to Audio and Lighting Lead, and also is a Professional Lighting Designer and Lighting Teacher. But don't let those fancy terms scare you, he's really a nice guy, and wants to help you!