Hardware Steven Kippel on 28 Feb 2008

OWLink develops new interface technology

OWLink develops new interface technology

Working for an A/V custom integrator I’ve found the biggest trend in the custom home market in this area is not high-capacity media servers, it’s not fancy touchpanels or knock-your-socks-off dedicated theaters. No. The biggest trend is centrally located, distributed video. This makes the interior designer happy, and the clients like the flexibility to begin a show recorded on a DVR in one room and finish it in another. This is why I’m excited to see this new product from OWLink.

OWLink developed a new technology called DLI which some people call “optical HDMI.” As an installer, HDMI is the scariest product to enter the market in recent years. It’s great for locally grouped gear, but when you have gear over 150-feet away from the TV and you’re running the cable through the wall it gets sketchy. What happens if the cable is damaged by a drywall installer? HDMI isn’t easy to retro through walls considering it’s pre-terminated. In earlier versions of HDMI there was also dozens of compatibility issues that have turned off installers. We’ve also not had good experience with HDMI over Cat-5 baluns. But the number one reason HDMI is poor for this new centrally-located trend is there are no products that distribute several sources to several locations. There are ways to do this, and matrix switchers are now coming to the market, but these are also expensive, and long HDMI cables are also prohibitively expensive (to say nothing about reliability concerns).

OWLink DLIIn comes DLI, a small form factor connection on an optical wire for virtually limitless run lengths. It snaps into place like a Toslink cable does, but it is HDCP compatible and passes 1080p video, high-resolution multi-channel audio, IR codes, and data – all on a tiny, inexpensive optical cable. OWLink claims the fiber cables can be terminated easily as well, which is also very exciting because fiber is usually either pre-terminated or requires a time-consuming termination process.

The fiber comes in three different flavors. 1) Transparent fiber for on-wall installation. This means existing homes can benefit from distributed video without opening walls, and the fiber is so small and transparent it is virtually invisible. 2) UL listed Kevlar wrapped or 3) UL listed steel for in-wall installations. This helps guard against nail and staple punctures that can damage the cable.

OWLink is also building a DLI matrix switch so you can distribute sources to several TV locations without adapters and converters. OWLink is licensing DLI out to companies like LG and Samsung who plan on implementing it into upcoming TVs – currently OWLink provides an HDMI breakout box (about 1.25″ deep) which also carries IR and USB. DirecTV has DLI in their HR21 Pro DVR, and you can expect many companies will use DLI in the future.

What excites me most, aside from the video distribution aspect, is DLI is an open highway manufacturers can use for any data they’d like. Imagine Crestron sending 1080p video to a display along with control codes. Imagine being able to plug a Wii into the TV and sending it back over the cable to be distributed to any other TV in the house. The possibilities are endless!

Get your cash advance ready because the basic single-display connection kit is on sale now from Amazon for $599. They are working on a full line of products as well as larger manufacturers licensing out DLI, as mentioned above.

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