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Hands on with the New Matrix Switch

I’ve made a huge mistake.

Last week at InfoComm in Orlando, the SDVoE Alliance delivered a demo that put an SDVoE system on display right next to a matrix switch. Visitors to the booth got to compare the two with their own eyes, and control them with their own hands. For a long time the alliance has been touting SDVoE as “the matrix transformed” through branding and advertising. I’ve written extensively on the subject. The message has been pushed through social media, online videos, and podcasts.

So what was the mistake? Simple: I should have thought of this years ago.

Coming out of the show I realized that I have ignored the old educational adage: Show, don’t tell.

As the week unfolded, a record number of visitors stopped at the SDVoE booth. I watched as person after person finally “got it.” They understood what we’ve been trying to say. Yes, SDVoE leverages Ethernet as its backbone. Yes SDVoE is based on AV over IP. But those are not the important facts. What we have been trying to explain, and what this demo so perfectly illustrates is that everything the matrix can do, SDVoE can do better.

System configuration

The setup of this demo is really simple. Both distribution systems are configured with four inputs and four outputs. Each system has its own set of four displays. A single set of four sources (mixing 1080p and 4K) is split via 1:2 HDMI splitters to drive both distribution systems simultaneously. This way, you always see the same content on both sets of displays.

A custom control program was built using a Crestron control system and touchpanel to operate both systems in sync with one another. If you route source A to the upper left display, that same route will be made on both systems. Click the “video wall” button, and both systems transition to video wall mode. And so on.

Drawing the comparison

With the two systems operating under exactly the same conditions, the differences suddenly become clear:

  • Switching time is instantaneous and flawless on the SDVoE system. The matrix switch does its best with tricks like freeze frame, and does execute the transition cleanly. But it lags, and that lag is difficult to ignore.
  • Video walls are perfectly synchronized with SDVoE. The matrix switch allows its video wall displays to be up to 2 frames out of sync, which can create ugly tearing and motion artifacts.
  • Multiview image compositing is possible with SDVoE. This is impossible on the matrix architecture without adding many extra output cards to the matrix to drive costly windowing processors.

Other differences become clear when one steps away from the performance and considers the systems as a whole.

  • The SDVoE system, as demonstrated, uses products from nine different SDVoE member companies. SDVoE is a fully interoperable platform of over 200 products from 45 member companies.
  • The list price for this SDVoE system is around $12,000 USD. The list price for the matrix switch shown is $18,000 USD.
  • Look at the size of those switches! The matrix switch has a max configuration of 8×8, but it takes up 4 rack units. The NETGEAR M4300-12x12F used in this demo takes up one half rack unit, and could be expanded to up to 21 video ports without changing anything about this config.

Don’t forget – because Ethernet is bidirectional, those “21 video ports” could be any mix of inputs and outputs that you need. You are not restricted to “square” configurations like 8×8 or 16×16. And by the way, you’ll need to add an Ethernet switch to the matrix system to connect it to control – in our demo we’re leveraging spare ports on the M4300.

Not everything is different

Clearly there are many ways in which SDVoE outperforms the matrix switch. Yet there is one important way in which both systems are exactly the same – image quality. The matrix switch has evolved over almost 100 years to be the gold standard for delivering top quality images without latency. Because of the way SDVoE leverages the bandwidth available in commodity 10G Ethernet networks, SDVoE delivers image quality that is 100% identical to the matrix. This is what sets SDVoE apart from any other AV-over-IP-based technology.

AV over IP is generating a lot of noise in pro AV, but over 80% of new video distribution systems are still based on matrix switches. System designers: now that you’ve seen this demo with your own eyes, can you still justify a matrix switch to your customers?

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