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Episode 3 – Leveraging Fiber Optics for Video Distribution

Fiber optic connectivity offers many benefits (and tradeoffs) compared to copper infrastructure. It is critical to know which style of infrastructure to deploy when. If you are the one putting your hands on the cables, a strong foundation in proper termination and testing is critical. This show will touch on these concepts and point you to the resources necessary to become an expert.

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Episode guest

Gary Vlaeminck
Sales Manager, Cleerline Technology Group

Episode transcript

Justin Kennington (00:00):

Hello, hello. Welcome to SDVoE LIVE!. I am your host, Justin Kennington, and this is TV for Pro AV. I am so glad you managed to join us today on our special end of 2020 holiday season event. What a year it’s been both for SDVoE LIVE! and for all of you. I hope that you managed to bring some of your leftover eggnog and have some of your toys open and ready to play with as you watch our very special episode. Not only is it a holiday episode, but it’s our first one where we’re bringing in a special guest. Today we’ll be joined by our friend, Gary Vlaeminck of Cleerline Technology. We’re going to talk today about leveraging fiber in pro AV applications, so a lot of really interesting stuff to get to. I also want to remind you that after we wrap up the half-hour show, I want you all to join us for our aftershow.

We’ll loosen up our proverbial, if not real, ties, we’ll have a seat, and you will be able to interact directly with me, with my co-host Matt Dodd, as well as Gary, our guest, and get your questions answered. Get those questions to us in the chat box right down here on your screen or through Twitter using the hashtag #sdvoelive. We’ll be monitoring that throughout the show so any comments you have on my outfit here, or whatever Matt happens to be wearing, send them to us in the chat or on the Twitter hashtag #sdvoelive.  A couple of programming notes to mention, we also have a quiz that’s part of the show. As I leave you in just a moment here to get to the rest of the show, we’ll bring up our first quiz question.

We’ve got two of those coming at you and anyone who gets both questions right will be able to win a prize. We sent out some Amazon gift cards two weeks ago to someone who managed to answer some questions about layer three of the network. This week, of course, our questions will be around the topic of fiber optics. So without further ado, I’m going to throw this over to Matt who’s waiting in our classroom. He’s going to show you the video we have today introducing the topic of fiber optics in pro AV. And don’t miss the quiz question on the way. Matt, what have you got?

Matt Dodd (03:18):

Hello everybody. Check this out. I think I’ve truly trumped JK in the Christmas jumper stakes. It says Ho-Ho-Ho written across it.

Thanks for joining us. In a moment, we’re going to take a look at the video that Gary has put together. Our special guest is the guru of fiber. Speaking of which, from my own experience over the last 20 years, fiber optics used to be that scary thing, right?

They used to have a lab coat and it was frighteningly dangerous and expensive, and only a few people did it. But as bandwidth is growing and growing, we’re getting more and more of it. In fact, in some of the news items today, we’re talking about bandwidth and the increase of bandwidth across the wide area network. So it’s really upon us and fiber optic cabling has certainly kept up with the flow in terms of making it so much easier to terminate, it’s so much more accessible, it’s in line financially with its copper variants, but it’s just so much more future ready. I use the term “future ready”, people, because I hate the term “future proof”. None of us have crystal balls to see the future but certainly with fiber optics, it’s the go-to now for increasing bandwidth.

What we’re going to see now is Gary giving us the first module that we’ve posted on SDVoE Academy, introducing you to the benefits of using fiber. So without further ado, let’s take a look at this.

Gary Vlaeminck (05:24):

Hello and welcome to our introduction to fiber optics, the first in a series of modules intended to help you become comfortable with the understanding, specifying and installing of fiber. My name is Gary Vlaeminck and I oversee the training and certification initiatives at Cleerline Technology Group.

Fiber optics has been around for decades with a proven reputation for reliability, the ability to stand the test of time, as well as the evolution of technology. In the next few minutes, I’ll explain the key benefits to using fiber instead of traditional infrastructure products, such as category cable. We’ll also see why fiber is now relevant to the AV industry and as a medium to transporting data over that all important physical layer of any IP-based infrastructure.

We’ll talk more about the different types of fiber in module two. In the meantime, here are a couple of interesting little facts about the fiber. Multimode fiber can transmit a hundred gigabits of data per second, up to approximately 150 meters (500 feet). That’s 100 times 10 to the power nine, bits per second, or the number 100 with nine zeros after it, bits per second. Single-mode fiber can theoretically transmit 1.2 petabits of data per second, up to an indefinite distance. That’s 1.2 times 10 to the power 15 or 1.2 with 14 zeros after it, bits per second. With these capabilities, fiber can transmit more data over longer distances and at far greater speeds than any other medium we know of. Just as importantly, the latency in time between transmitting and receiving that data is almost zero, a critical element to traditional networks, as well as voice-over-IP systems.

Unlike copper and other types of medium, fiber has no metallic or electrically conductive components to it. This makes fiber immune to things like power surges, EMI, RFI, ground loop interference, and lightning strikes. It also means it won’t corrode over time. Fiber and the components that connect to the ends of it have also come way down in price. To give a comparison, the type of fiber generally used to connect two IP switches together is called a “duplex fiber”. We’ll discuss that in more detail in the next module. A thousand feet (305 meters) of this particular fiber is now roughly the same price as a spool of good quality CAT6A shielded. Most people don’t realize that fiber is considerably lighter in weight than twisted pair cable, making it much easier to handle. A thousand feet (305 meters) of shielded CAT6 is approximately 50 pounds (23 kilos) with a diameter of around eight millimeters (a quarter inch). The equivalent length of fiber weighs around seven pounds (three kilograms) depending on the strand count, and is only three millimeters in diameter. Fibre is also a lot more durable than in past years. In fact, the technology built into Cleerline fiber not only makes it stronger than any twisted pair cable, but it also makes it easier to terminate than category cable. Given a little practice, an end-to-end Cleerline fiber can be successfully terminated in about a minute.

From an AV perspective, today’s HDMI specification 2.0 calls for 18 gigabit per second data throughput. The new spec, HDMI 2.1, calls for 48 gigabit in order to accommodate all of the cool new features such as enhanced high definition audio, frame-by-frame high dynamic range and the deeper, brighter colors we see today. Discussions of this going into 178.2 gigabit in the coming generations of HDMI are already in place. These talk about 10K resolutions at 120 Hz refresh rates with 4:4:4 color sampling and 16-bit color depths with virtual reality. CAT6A cannot transmit data beyond 10.2 gigabits per second at its maximum rated frequency of 500 MHz. Therefore, all systems using category cable must compress the signal down to at least 10.2 gig in order to be compatible with an 18 gig source and content. If you need to deliver today’s 4K with HDR over more than just a few meters, fiber really is your best solution.

Matt Dodd (10:23):

My sweater is better than yours.

Justin Kennington (10:29):

That may or may not be true, and I’m sure many would disagree.

Matt Dodd (10:34):

Be the judge, people! Tim, thank you for being here. Thank you for joining us, Tom, Michael, Mathias, James, thank you all for being here, giving us your answers. Some good answers there. Can you please just tell us via Twitter or the chat who has the best apparel, because I think it’s me?

Matt Dodd (12:38):

Should we do some news?

The first news item I’m going to throw into the mix is the whole cable network getting ready for 10 gig. This is fantastic. This is good news for us in SDVoE, right? All along, we’ve always said that we’ll take a punt on bandwidth. Those of you heading to SDVoE Academy, have a wander around. Check out “The Codec Triangle” course because it’s a really great representation about how we refer to latency, quality and bandwidth. There’s always going to be a trade off. If you start compressing and compromising the video, then there’s going to be a trade off. You can’t have it every way and for SDVoE technology, we took the punt on bandwidth. Bandwidth is going up. Moore’s law told us that and it wasn’t that long ago. I remember JK when I got my first PC and I had a 14.4 modem that connected to the phone line – a 14.4 modem, which a lot of us probably had. I’m not that old, but now all of a sudden, we’re talking about getting into…

Justin Kennington (14:01):

I remember upgrading to 14.4.

Matt Dodd (14:03):

Well, there you go. Hold on a minute. I’ve got about three years on you. How’s that possible? You started young! Anyway, check out the news article. It’s fascinating. It goes into some quite technical, granular detail about how they’re making this work. What was your takeaway from it, Justin?

Justin Kennington (14:40):

I think the story here is just a reminder that bandwidth is always going up. Think back 20 years when we were just getting broadband at home and a megabit DSL connection was a big deal. Now here we are, gigabit is pretty easy to find going into the home and we’re looking at 10-gig cable TV networks.

What I thought was more interesting, as a segue into the next article though, is if we’ve got 10 gig to every home, what in the world do we do for those backhauls? How do we have hundreds of thousands of homes in a neighborhood, in a town connected at this rate?

This next article is about 800 gigabits through a single optical fiber. This is about those backhaul networks. This particular experiment was 800 gigabits through a live commercial operation fiber in a real network running from San Diego to Phoenix – a single fiber in this link with some 950 kilometers running 800 gigabits of data through it. It’s amazing where we are in pushing Ethernet and this transport technology to its real speed limits.

Matt Dodd (16:11):

It’s incredible. And I’d be really keen to hear what Gary’s got to say about this. He’ll probably be pontificating about it, saying he told you so, it’s the future.

Matt Dodd (17:05):

Here’s Gary in full technicolor. Where are you Gary?

Gary Vlaeminck (17:12):

I’m in Pennsylvania.

Matt Dodd (18:10):

Gary, I’ve got a question for you. Oh, by the way, well done on the video. That was a really good video. (I don’t know who the production team was that put it all together for you, but they are pretty good. So credit to them – Clavia Group, www.claviagroup.com.)

Single-mode, multimode. The single-mode cable is cheaper, right? A multimode endpoint, the end connectors are cheaper. What’s your recommendation for people who’ve put multimode in thinking, “hold on a minute, should I have been putting single-mode in?”. What’s your response to that? What advice would you give them?

Gary Vlaeminck (19:02):

For the purposes of our industry, multimode is just fine. With multimode, we can get 10 gig up to 1,000-1300 feet. Single-mode is really used for between buildings or down the street. You’re looking at a hundred gig up to 10, 20, 30 kilometers. So that’s really what they use for the long haul stuff. As far as our industry is concerned, multimode is preferred, in fact, because when it comes to things like video over fiber, it’s much easier for the manufacturers of the endpoint to be able to manage that site, that light, and be able to transmit and receive video over fiber much more inexpensively than they would otherwise. If you’re trying to do that down a piece of single-mode, while it’s possible, it does become more expensive. You correctly mentioned earlier, Matt, that the disparity in price between fiber and copper is becoming more and more reduced as time goes on and that’s true. That’s largely as a result of people being able to do some things with multimode fiber. Multimode within a premise is just fine.

Matt Dodd (20:18):

You guys at Cleerline do some amazing stuff really, to really help these guys adopt the stuff.

Justin Kennington (20:27):

Is that something that’s changing? Is single-mode making inroads to the smaller scale system as maybe optic prices come down? Is that happening or is there a transition coming in the future?

Gary Vlaeminck (20:40):

It is definitely happening. And it’s a supply and demand thing. When you’re talking about basic SFP’s, the small format pluggable devices that go into the back of network switches, there’s really not much difference today between a single-mode SFP and a multimode SFP. But when you talk about more specialist equipment, like video over fiber and things like that, there are more and more manufacturers out there now manufacturing devices that can do this for us. And we are beginning to see that price disparity come down between single-mode and multi-mode endpoints but for the most part, at this point in time, multimode is the preferred equipment to use.

Justin Kennington (21:27):

A new idea that occurred as I was watching the intro video for the nth time, is the idea that you talked about single-mode fiber supporting 1.2 petabytes, in theory.

Gary Vlaeminck (21:39):

Yeah.

Justin Kennington (21:40):

With these other technologies, with multimode but especially with CAT cable, we’re constantly chasing more bandwidth. Every few years we go to CAT3, CAT5, CAT6, CAT7 as the need for bandwidth increases. That brings with it that fundamental infrastructure challenge of when to finally rip my old wires out of the wall and put new wires in. Single-mode gives you this very different  optimization space where now your infrastructure is almost permanent. I won’t say “future proof” in front of Matt, but it’s almost permanent. You’re not chasing more bandwidth. You’re just upgrading those end devices or seeing the price of those end devices come down, hopefully. Anyway, it’s just something that popped into my head is how different that is to the rest of infrastructure.

Gary Vlaeminck (22:28):

It’s very true, you’re absolutely right Justin, but the fact of the matter is how long do you want that infrastructure to last. Because with multimode fiber, like I said, you can do 10 gig. You can actually do up to a hundred gig over about 500 feet so that’s a fairly decent length run of say, HDMI. To get a hundred gig over 500 feet over multimode fiber, we’re not going to anywhere close to that for a long time.

Justin Kennington (23:00):

And then let’s compare that to a CAT cable.

Gary Vlaeminck (23:04):

Exactly. But you’re absolutely correct. I’ve got dealers around the world who have requested we make a cable for them that has both single-mode and multimode fiber in it. So that they’re utilizing the multimodal infrastructure at this point, but they’ve got single-mode strands in there should they need them in the future as supply and demand dictates where we’re going to see this disparity in price and such, come down.

Matt Dodd (23:31):

Gary, I’m going to ask a question, which I think we spoke about some time ago – this whole weird concept of the fiber optic cable surrounded with some sort of conductor, which would allow a fiber endpoint to then carry PoE, for example, because you can’t carry power over the fiber. So is that still a bit of a pipe dream? Is there anything happening with that? Is there any need for it?

Gary Vlaeminck (24:11):

There is definitely some development on some technology that is looking at ways to accommodate both power and data as well, with the data going down the fiber. And then of course we’ve got to facilitate power somehow, not over the glass itself but certainly we are looking at technology that can facilitate both power and data. And we already made kind of a hybrid cable where we’ve got a duplex, where we have two strands of fiber in one jacket and two strands of a twisted pair, or not twisted pair, but twisted copper conductors in another jacket for things like PoE and CCTV cameras.

Matt Dodd (25:03):

We’re running out of time, but we’re going to answer more questions in the aftershow.  Stay tuned. But before we do that, we need tell you what’s going to happen in the next episode.

Justin Kennington (28:10):

This will be all about high dynamic range imaging, HDR, and how that fits in our world of HDMI and AV over IP. Our guest will be Stéphane Tremblay, CTO of products for Semtech who builds some of the core technology for SDVoE. There’s really no better person to get straight talk on HDR and what that means for us. If you missed any of this show, or if you want to watch it again, everything we do here is available on demand both here in the SDVoE Academy, as well as on the SDVoE Alliance YouTube channel. So check out the archive there and watch us on demand.

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