Friday, April 12, 2013

About that Crestron/Extron/AMX "Shootout" video

For those not following the commercial AV field, this happened last week. Crestron released two videos on their site, comparing their Digital Media switching system to "similar" (more on this point later) offerings from rivals AMX and Extron. This first came to my attention not through Ravepub's write-up on it or even from Crestron, but in an email blast from Extron accusing their competitors of chicanery in rigging the test. Are their accusations true? I'm not sure, but don't know if it really matters.  From where the industry stands now, Extron is clearly a bit behind AMX and Crestron in availability of products. Crestron and AMX are very close to each-other, with each leading in some areas. Would I be interested in a third-party neutral "shootout" between the three (and perhaps others)? Perhaps, although switching speed and performance are not the only metrics, and there are other intriguing options on the way for some spaces.

Form Factors, Specifications, and More
Before we discuss tje performance issues, we need to look at what each side is actually offering. After all, a high level of performance is a bit of a moot point if a device lacks the capability for which you're looking. The Crestron shootout compared Extron's DXP with a Crestron DMPS and AMX Enova. It's a fair comparison on the Crestron/AMX side; each is an "all-in-one" unit comprised of a digital video switcher, audio mixer, and control system, each has HDBaseT (Crestron's DM 8G+ and AMX's DXLink) inputs and outputs, local HDMI inputs and outputs, and a variety of analog video inputs.

The Extron device, on the other hand, is a simple HDMI matrix. It lacks the audio breakaway, integrated control processor, and integrated amplifier of the other products. Reviewing the devices for actual design into a system, I'd completely ignore Extron on this one. They have their places, but this sadly isn't one of them.

So far as Crestron and AMX are concerned, in form-factor and capabilities it's very close. AMX has an edge in that they have an onboard scaler for each local output as well as scalers integrated into all of their DXLink receivers. Crestron has a scaling receiver option, but you'd need to add an external scaler if you want to scale your local output. Crestron does have an option with built-in acoustic echo cancellation (AEC) for conferencing applications. I've not had the opportunity to test this, but it's an intriguing option for small conference rooms and might sometimes save the need for a full DSP.

AMX also claims one more advantage; energy use. The DGX and DVX are presented as being more energy  efficient than competitors. They have their own comparison tool, the DVX Energy Calculator which compares a DVX to a conventional system and a "non-AMX Presentation Switcher". It's pretty much an open secret that the non-AMX PS is a Crestron DMPS. AMX claims about a 4:1 power savings in active mode and over 10:1 in standby mode - a big issue considering that these units will usually be always on. (Why are they always on? Because the control processor is built in. If you power it down, there's no way for the system to power itself back up!) With today's increased emphasis on sustainable technology this should be an issue, the lack of an Energy Star of similar certification or the ability to earn LEED points makes it a harder case to make, even though it is a real advantage.

A test set-up at Crestron's training facility
Performance aside, which of these would I suggest? It depends. In a control-system-agnostic environment, Crestron has an edge on cost, AMX on onboard scaling, Crestron with AEC (if needed), AMX in energy savings. The latter pushes the needle towards AMX for me, but not so dramatically that I'd not consider Crestron a very viable alternative.

About those Videos
I'm not getting into Extron's accusations of outright cheating; I'm not a forensic video analyst, I am disinterested in engaging in a frame-by-frame analysis, and as I said, it's an apples to oranges comparison.

The innards of an AMX Enova DVX
What did interest me is is that the set-ups for the Extron and AMX comparisons are different; for one, they added extra hardware (an HD Scaler) in the latter, while giving the option of not scaling as a benefit. This strikes me as dishonest in the least. The second is that they used two outputs of their test generator to feed both units. I have no idea how EDID and HDCP keys are handled by this sort of unit; it's quite possible that it needs to negotiate both keys and get a "best common" in order to sync. Interestingly, the only times Crestron appeared faster was when showing the test bars - a source shared between the two systems. I'd be very interested in seeing the same demonstration with truly separate sources.

Conclusions?
I don't have one as of yet. We have, at the very least, two great products from two great companies. Performance between Crestron DM and AMX Enova is close enough that "one switches faster" is most likely not going to be the deciding factor, but simply one factor amongst many. The videos should be taken as what they are: marketing. Would there be value in an independent "shootout"? Perhaps, but as stated before, that ignores real difference in form, capabilities, power consumption, and other factors. Going farther, in a larger install these systems would be part of a larger infrastructure, including control programming, remote asset management, and other factors.

Is it ironic that the discussion of Extron's video lead to a discussion of everyone but Extron?

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for this great post! I could not agree more.

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  2. Your blog was linked on a similar discussion on our forum. If you are a member of the forum, please feel free to introduce yourself. If you are not yet a member, it is worth your time to join and get your membership verified to gain access. (it's not an open public form, verified resi and commercial a/v & automation pros only).

    http://www.integrationpros.org/forums/showthread.php?26367-Extron-vs-Crestron-Extron-is-mad

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    1. 3rd paragraph down, Extron matrix switcher DOES allow for audio breakaway on either of the DXP HDMI and DVI pro matrix swtichers. As an integrator, I have worked with many of the Extron DXP switchers and provided audio breakaway. Get your facts straight. Here is the link to prove you are wrong (http://www.extron.com/product/product.aspx?id=dxphdmi&subtype=380&s=4#features). Also, do you really think an amplifier and processor internally makes a difference with the video switching?

      I do question your statement that Extron and Crestron is not a fair comparison. I understand that Crestron unit is based on the Valens chip set for their CatX inputs/output while the Extron DXP matrix only has HDMI input and outputs. So I ask you, did Crestron use any of their CatX Tx/Rx products in this shoot out? Answer NO, Justin states that the sources go directly to the switcher and then out to the displays. No extra Tx/Rx are involved. This means both Crestron and Extron are NOT using the Valens chips set technology, just basic HDMI switching. This was missed in your article that should be addressed.

      Extron has a line of products (XTP) that are directly competitive to both AMX and Crestron, this line of product was not shown by Crestron in this shoot out, by Crestron's choice. As an integrator, would we like to see a direct side by side comparison of these products, for sure!! Your article needs attention to detail, which has been missed and if you have no conclusion, why even write this article?

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    2. Internation technology ConsultantApril 29, 2013 at 1:06 PM

      If you are an integrator then I hope I never have you on any of my jobs. Clearly the first paragra[h calls out the need for a third party shootout. And if someone told me that audio breakaway is available with an HDMI de-embedder, how would that be any signifigance when I could specifiy any 3rd party de-embedder. While AMX claims breakaway capability, it is more marketing magic then pratical application. Not withstanding I am a fan of AMX products. Detail is king, and you may have plenty of years experience building pre-engineered systems, but there are techincal differences that need to be understood when engineering a system.

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    3. The conclusion was more taht there are bigger considerations than switching speed in choosing one of these. They all switch quickly enough that, unless you have two side-by-side, one would be hard-pressed to tell the difference. This means that ultimate decisions are based more on capabilities and larger infrastructure than pure "performance". In a larger install, that might mean preference for either Crestron or AMX's remote management software (or previous standardization on one or the other). It might mean AMX's lower energy use or Crestron's higher level of available input and output cards on their matrices (ie, HDCP video over one strand of single or multi-mode fiber).

      I'll note to the first anonymous poster that Extron only seems to be shipping "select configurations" of XTP. It's a promising product, but has a few potential pitfalls. One large one, for me, is HDBaseT interoperability. As HDBaseT enabled displays become more available this will be more and more important - and a route Extron has chosen to not take.

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  3. Did you even watch the Crestron vs. Extron video? They compared their HD-MD8X2 switch against the Extron's DXP 88 HDMI switch. Neither of these switches have control processors. So, if you ask me that is pretty much an apple to apple comparison. Now on the other hand, the Crestron vs. AMX they compared their DMPS-300-C against AMX's DVX-3150, and there was never any mention of the Extron switch in that video.

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  4. OK, comments locked. This isn't the place to bash manufacturers, and I've already had to remove one. No attacks, please.

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  5. Just one comment about power consumption of the DMPS-300-C vs. the AMX Enova - if you clearly check the details, you find out the the 396W is false and misleading. It is b/c of the safty rating for the UL certification, and it is not the actual power consumption of the device. I actually took the right numbers (49W in standby, 80W in typical use when amp is on and 11.3 for and RMC-200 with built in scaler), and used them with AMX's calculator - you get a different result...

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