While wandering the aisles at a trade show for consumer electronics, I was surprised to find several vendors selling fiber optic cables. I was aware of the applications for plastic optical fiber (POF) in Toslink and FireWire (IEEE 1394) in connecting digital audio, but was surprised to find multimode and single-mode cables just like those used in local area networks (LANs) and telco cable plants.
These cables, however, were for an application that was new to me. According to the suppliers, the cables were used with a media converter to remotely connect large displays to PCs, set-top boxes or DVD players. I found several suppliers that offered media converters for DVI and HDMI interfaces as well as other video formats.
DVI is a common interface for PC displays and TVs while HDMI is a digital high-definition TV display that also carries audio signals, making it a complete TV interface.
One supplier, Geffen, Woodland Hills, Calif.—which makes several remote converters—told me that many of the large screens you see in sports arenas are simply large computer displays.
By using an electronic interface that is identical to that of a desktop monitor and extending it with fiber optics, the display can be operated from a PC remotely, where the operator can see on a local monitor what is being shown on the display.
Another application for these fiber optic interfaces is the remote displays you see everywhere in airports showing airline schedules and in buildings showing useful information or commercials. While they can be driven with a coaxial cable, the simpler interface to a PC with DVI, which has much greater distance capability, can be a more economic choice.
Many buildings already have fiber optic cables for remote security cameras and backbones for computer networks. Large government buildings and airports have been using fiber for remote video cameras for years, as have most casinos, due to the long distances from cameras to monitoring facilities in the buildings. Now many retailers are adding more security cameras and the larger size of their stores makes fiber optics the most economical choice also.
Most fiber optic cable used is standard multimode fiber in a tight buffer cable, as is commonly used in premises cabling for LANs. That means that most electrical contractors are familiar with the installation and termination procedures and are fully capable of installing these systems as part of their electrical installations in the same building.
So far, we’ve been looking at commercial applications. But similar products are being introduced to the home theater market. With flat high-definition TVs approaching projection screen size and PCs becoming multimedia controllers, a fundamental change is occurring in the home entertainment market. This change is occurring first in the top of the market, where a home theater setup costs as much as a luxury car, but like all electronics, prices will come down once production volume increases.
Home theater dealers tell us the move is toward integrating the PC and TV. You will soon be able to get a cable TV converter that plugs into your PC, allowing the PC to search cable guides, pick a program, tune to it and display it on a large display—which is just a monitor connected to the PC.
In addition, the PC will be able to download programs from the Internet over a broadband connection and store programs from any source on its hard drive for later viewing. Apple computer has started a flood of video downloading, just like the company did with music, using its iTunes and the iPod.
The multimedia PC will share its capability throughout the house. Distributing programs to remote monitors throughout the house will be done by a network. Since the signals to the TV monitor are digital, network cables—perhaps fiber optics instead of UTP or coax—will be used for distribution.
While those of us in the fiber optic business are focused on fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) by telcos, there may well be a big business in “fiber-IN-the-home,” a topic we discussed (and dismissed) in the March 2005 issue of Electrical Contractor.
Even if fiber-in-the-home doesn’t become a big market, the broader acceptance of fiber optics in commercial and government buildings means a bigger market for fiber optic products, lowering costs that will, in turn, create a bigger market yet. And, that means more work installing and testing the fiber optic cabling. EC
HAYES is a VDV writer and trainer and the president of The Fiber Optic Association. Find him at www.JimHayes.com.