Cable basics: Shielded vs. unshielded cable

One of the most obvious advantages copper offers is that it is less expensive than fiber cable and much easier to terminate in the field. The type of cable you choose depends on the environment and application.

Twisted pair cable used in networking applications typically consists of four pairs of 22–28 AWG copper wires, each covered by insulators and twisted together. There are two types of twisted pair cable, unshielded and shielded.

Shielded vs. unshielded cable
Unshielded twisted pair
This is the most widely used cable. Known as balanced twisted pair, UTP consists of twisted pairs (usually four) in a PVC or plenum jacket. When installing UTP cable, make sure you use trained technicians. Field terminations, bend radius, pulling tension, and cinching can all loosen pair twists and degrade performance. Also take note of any sources of EMI. Choose UTP for electrically quiet environments.

Shielded twisted pair
Over the past twenty years, the need for speed in networking has driven new cabling specifications and technologies at an ever-accelerating rate. Alongside the development of each generation of Ethernet are corresponding developments in cabling technologies. Part of that development is the increased use of shielded cable. It’s becoming more common in high-speed networks, especially when it comes to minimizing ANEXT in 10-GbE runs.

Shielded cable was traditionally used to extend distances and to minimize EMI over the length of the cable run. It still is. Sources of EMI, commonly referred to as noise, include elevator motors, fluorescent lights, generators, air conditioners, and printers.

Shielded cable can be less balanced than UTP cable because of the shield. The metal sheaths in the cable need to be grounded to cancel the effect of EMI on the conductors. Shielded cable is also more expensive, less flexible, and can be more difficult to install than UTP cable because of the grounding and bonding that’s required for a good installation.

Most shielded cable is heavier and thicker than UTP, so it fills conduits quicker. Keep that in mind as you plan your cable pathways.

Types of shields.
There are a number of different types of shielded twisted pair cable and the terminology has evolved over the years.

There are two common shields: foil sheaths and metal braids. Foil gives a 100% shield while a braid provides 40% to 95% coverage because of the holes in the braid. But, a braided shield offers better overall protection because it’s denser than foil and absorbs more EMI. A braided shield also performs better at lower frequencies. Foil, being thinner, rejects less interference, but provides better protection over a wider range of frequencies. For these reasons, combination foil and braid shields are sometimes used for the best protection. Shields can surround all the twisted pairs and/or the individual twisted pairs.

Shielding acronymsUnshielded-vs.-Shielded-Cable
Shielding acronyms have evolved over the years after confusion as to what FTP is versus STP and S/FTP. Now, the letter for the outer shield (under the cable jacket) is noted first. The letter after the slash denotes any shield on the individual twisted pairs.

U/FTP (Unshielded/Foiled Twisted Pair). This cable does not have an overall outer shield. It does have foil shields on each of the four pairs. Formerly called FTP.

F/UTP (Foiled/Unshielded Twisted Pair). This cable has an overall foil shield surrounding all the pairs. Formerly called FTP. Here are examples of CAT6 and CAT5e F/UTP cable.

Sc/FTP (Screened/Foiled Twisted Pair). This cable features an overall braided or screened shield underneath the cable jacket. It has individual foil shields on each twisted pair. Formerly called S/FTP. Here’s an example of Sc/FTP cable.

F/FTP (Foiled/Foiled Twisted Pair). This cable features an overall foil shield underneath the cable jacket. It has individual foil shields on each twisted pair. Formerly called S/FTP.

Sc/FTP and F/FTP cables offer the best protection from external noise and ANEXT.

Additional resources
8 Advantages to choosing fiber over copper cable
White Paper CAT6A F/UTP vs. UTP: What You Need to Know

7 Reasons you need a wireless presentation system

Preparing content for a presentation is daunting enough. You shouldn’t have to worry about how the presentation system works. If you’re a company that meets regularly or has reoccurring presentations, you need a wireless presentation system.

There are many reasons to use this cost-effective and flexible solution. Here’s seven to start:

1. No cables.
Ever have to get up and interrupt an important presentation just because you needed to swap cables in and out of the projector? Save yourself from the hassle of figuring out what cable goes where. Plus, cables add unnecessary clutter. Let’s not add them where they aren’t needed.

2. Display from any device.
We work in a mobile-centric world. To be efficient and user friendly, your meeting space should cater to all mobile devices. That includes tablets, smartphones, and laptops. Most wireless presentation systems allow you to display content from any of these devices. Oh, and save yourself the cost of buying a remote presenter. You don’t need it. Just install a smartphone application. The wireless connection enables the application to communicate with PowerPoint, for example, to remotely control your presentation slides from the convenience of your personal mobile device.

3. Multi-user collaboration.
Several users can access the system at once. Changing presenters is as simple as one click. This interactivity is perfect for open-forum discussion in conference rooms, classrooms, or lecture halls.

4. Long-range connectivity.
Some wireless presentation systems, like the Black Box Wireless HDMI Presentation System, can reach up to 300 feet! Ideal for large rooms like auditoriums and lecture halls where users are stationed far from a projector.

5. Multi-screen distribution.
Show multiple sources at the same time on one screen. This is great for education and training applications where the audience can make side-by-side comparisons.

6. Free up your IT team.
There’s no need for audio-visual support when you’re using a wireless presentation system. Just fire up your laptop, tablet, or PC; connect to the network; and open the wireless presentation system software. Then, it’s go time.

7. Take presentations on the road.
Slim, compact versions are available for when you need to travel or move frequently from room to room. These devices fit in your pocket. When you’re ready to present, simply plug it into a display or projector for quick presentation sharing. Some models, like the Black Box Micro Wireless Presentation Tool, provide 802.11n Wi-Fi support, which delivers up to five times the throughput and greater range of earlier Wi-Fi technology.

Need more reasons to go wireless? Comment below, or contact a Black Box technical engineer at 877-877-2269.

Additional Resources
Case study: Research Laboratory
SlideShare: Wireless Presentation System

How to choose between on-premise and cloud-based digital signage

You’ve seen them everywhere. At the mall. While in waiting rooms. On billboards. At your workplace. Digital signage is the hot, new way to communicate your message. And you need one.

But, how do you know what digital signage solution is right for you?

You may have heard the terms “on-premise digital signage” or “cloud-based digital signage.” These are two different ways to get your content from source to display. Each comes with its own set of benefits.

Knowing the difference between the two will help you to select the best solution for your needs.

What is on-premise digital signage?
An on-premise digital signage solution is designed as an owned system. With this type of system, you host the digital signage software on dedicated internal servers. This gives you full control over your system. You decide when and if updates are made. You are also responsible for maintaining the server associated with it.

What is cloud-based digital signage?
A cloud-based digital signage solution is designed as a hosted system. With the help of web-based digital signage software hosted on an external server, the device carries your message to your screens. You may access the digital signage solution via any standard Web browser.

On-premise solution Cloud-based solution
1. Cost More up-front costs, but you have no subscription or licensing fees thereafter. This model attractive to businesses that prefer capitalized expenses. Low start-up cost with subscription-based model. Can be broken out in monthly increments. This model is more attractive to businesses that prefer operational expenses.
2. Set up Designed for scalable deployment. E.g., if you are a simple small business you may configure two or three settings. But, if you are a large enterprise you might configure 100 settings that include advanced topologies, security schemes, and policy enforcement. The player side must be given direction on where to find the content manager on the network which also involves an IP address, credentials, and sometimes gateway settings. Designed as plug in and play. The experience with cloud-based technology is similar to Roku®, Google Chromecast, Apple™ TV, or Slingbox®. You just connect a few cables, power it on, and register online. That’s it!
3. Support Troubleshooting ranges depending on the scale of the deployment and the features enabled. Generally businesses with full-time IT resources would be more attracted to this to fulfill business requirements. The same troubleshooting rules apply as with technologies like Roku, Google Chromecast, Apple TV, or Slingbox. E.g., if the player stops working you might have to just power it off and back on. This is attractive to businesses with limited or no IT support.
4. Security As an owned system, the distribution of digital signage content is on your own network or possibly over leased public network spans. This ownership allows better security and policy controls to be in place to protect the content from being intercepted. It also provides an additional layer of security because it is all behind firewall devices. So, even if your login credentials are compromised a hacker cannot get to the content management system to use them. By hosting digital signage in the cloud you knowingly send content into an environment that has security challenges. In many cases digital signage content is designed for public consumption. But, occasionally confidential business data is communicated via digital signage.   In some cases this is not an acceptable risk. Since cloud services stream data to you over public infrastructure, it can be intercepted.
5. Content Requirements Does your digital signage require a high level of customization? If so, an on-premise system may be more attractive to you. On-premise systems are designed around scalability. You can make a very simple digital sign; however, most users purchase the sophisticated solution for advanced features. For example, some systems come with touch interactivity, HTML5 support, transitions, transparency, localized customization, streaming video, and a whole host of other advanced features. Perhaps you do not have a designer on staff, and are looking for a more simple solution. Cloud-based systems are designed around a website user experience. Most systems come with simple navigation, drag-and-drop technologies, and widgets. The experience is less complex. For example, some come with pre-built smart playlists, mash-ups, helper applications (widgets), and pre-defined text styles and sizes.

Make an Informed Choice
Now that you’re able to differentiate between the two, which one fits your needs? Black Box offers on-premise solutions for digital signage – see the iCOMPEL digital signage product line.

Questions
Have a question? Black Box has technical experts available to answer all your digital signage questions. Contact an expert today. Or, comment below.

Additional Resources
Case Study: College uses digital signage for communications, wayfinding, and emergencies
White Paper: 7 Questions You to Need to Ask when Choosing a Signage System

Black Box demonstrates 4K video wall at ISE 2015

The Black Box Team is back from Integrated Systems Europe (ISE) – the world’s largest tradeshow dedicated to professional AV and electronic systems integration. The show took place February 9–12, 2015, in Amsterdam.

We had a huge response to our innovative AV product line showcased at ISE. Commercial Integrator named Black Box as one of the top nine products changing the scope of video at ISE 2015.

If you didn’t have a chance to attend, take a look as Inavate captures Peter Brooke-Wavell demonstrating the new 4K-ready iCOMPEL and VideoPlex 4 live at ISE 2015.

In addition to our 4K video wall controller, VideoPlex 4, and 4K digital signage player, iCOMPEL P Series, we also showcased MediaCento IPX – our solution for HDMI-over-IP extension, switching, and video wall creation. This video extension product line includes devices that compress and encode source video for extending over a LAN using lossless compression technology. They can be for multicast distribution (multicast) or point-to-point (unicast) distribution. Other benefits include: easy integration, plug-and-play setup, optimal PC-to-screen performance, uncompromised digital content, and secure connectors. Plus, a controller is available for matrix switching and video wall creation.

Overall, the show was a success – it’s always great connecting with customers worldwide. The Black Box Team looks forward meeting again – see you at these upcoming events.

Additional resources
For more 4K resources, be sure to check out:
• 4K products: www.blackbox.com/4k
• Free white paper: Piecing Together the 4K Puzzle

10 Factors to consider when choosing a cabinet or rack

The sheer number and different types of cabinets and racks can make choosing the right one for your data center a daunting task. But, if you consider your requirements one at a time, you can zero in on the right cabinet or rack for your application.

A cabinet is an enclosure with four rails and a door (or doors) and side panels. A rack is an open, freestanding 2- or 4-post frame that doesn’t have doors or sides. The decision on whether to use a cabinet or rack depends on a number of factors.

1. Equipment
Before you choose a cabinet or rack, you need to determine what equipment you’re planning to house. This list can include servers, switches, routers, and UPSs. Consider the weight of your equipment as well. The extra stability of a cabinet might be important if you’re installing large, heavy equipment like servers. An open rack is more convenient than a cabinet if you need frequent access to all sides of the equipment.

2. Environment
With the open design, racks are a good choice in areas where security isn’t a concern such as in locked data centers and closets. And racks typically cost less than cabinets.

Cabinets, on the other hand, protect equipment in open, dusty, and industrial environments. Aesthetics can be a factor too. Will customers or clients see your installation? A cabinet with a door looks much neater than an open rack. When you’re trying to create a professional image, everything counts.

3. Ventilation
If your equipment needs ventilation, a rack offers more air circulation than a cabinet. Even if your cabinet is in a climate-controlled room, the equipment in it can generate a lot of heat. The requirements for additional airflow increase as more servers are mounted in a cabinet. Options to improve airflow include doors, fans, and air conditioners.

4. Size
Width: The width between the rails in both cabinets and racks is 19 inches with hole-to-hole centers measuring 18.3 inches. But there are also cabinets and racks with 23-inch rails. Most rackmount equipment is made to fit 19-inch rails but can be adapted to fit wider rails.

Rack Units: One rack unit (RU or U) equals 1.75″ of vertical space on the rails. A device that’s 2U high takes up 3.5 inches of vertical rack space. Rack units are typically marked on the rails. The number of rack units determines how much equipment you can install.

Depth: Cabinets and four-post open racks come in different depths ranging anywhere from 24″ to 48″ to accommodate equipment of varying sizes, particularly extra-deep servers. The rails on some cabinets and 4-post open racks are also adjustable to different depths.

When you consider the width, height, and depth of a cabinet or rack, clarify whether they are inside or outside dimensions.

5. Weight
Cabinets and racks vary in terms of the amount of weight capacity. Some cabinets can hold 1,000 pounds or more. Carefully consider the weight of your equipment and decide where you want to mount it before choosing a cabinet or rack.

6. Rails
The vertical rails in cabinets and racks have holes for mounting equipment. Two post racks typically have threaded 12-24 or 10-32 tapped holes. 4-post racks and cabinets often have M6 square holes for mounting servers.

7. Moisture, dust, shock, vibration
When housing electronic components outside of a protected data center, look for a cabinet with a NEMA (National Manufacturers’ Association) rating. NEMA standards are designed for corrosion resistance, protection from rain, submersion, liquids, dust, falling objects, and other hazards. There are also NEBS-Telcordia standards for protection against seismic activity, shock, and vibration. Cabinets and racks can also be bolted to the floor for extra stability.

8. Power provisioning
There are multiple options for powering rackmounted equipment. Power strips mount can be mounted vertically or horizontally. Power Distribution Units (PDUs) and Power Managers have additional capabilities such as remote management and metering. Uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) typically mount in the bottom of a cabinet or rack because of their weight.

9. Cable management
Most cabinets and racks have built-in cable management troughs and cable rings for routing cable. For more information on cable management, see 9 Ways to Improve Data Center Cable Management.

10. The extras
The type of shelving you choose depends on the equipment you plan to mount. There are multiple options: solid, vented, stationary, and pull-out shelves. And there are shelves built to hold specific pieces of equipment, such as servers or keyboards. Other extras include fans, waterfall brackets, and grounding bars.

Additional Resources
Cabinet Configurator
Six Things To Know When Cooling IT Cabinets

2014 Mega breaches: 5 key takeaways

A new study by the Ponemon Institute outlines how the mega security breaches of 2014 are changing attitudes towards IT security.

The breaches affected the personal records and credit card information of more than 350 million people. The financial toll is estimated to be billions of dollars in cleanup expenses, fraud response costs, lost market valuation, reputation damage, lawsuits, and related expenses. IT managers face mega challenges as they try to protect data containing credit card information, financial transactions, and other personal information.

In this January 2015 study, 735 IT security practitioners were surveyed about the impact of the mega breaches on their budgets and compliance practices. Here are five key takeaways from the results.

1. More resources are allocated to preventing, detecting, and resolving data breaches.
61% percent of respondents say their budget or security increased by an average of 34%. 65% of respondents say the increased budget enabled investment in security technology to prevent and/or detect breaches.

The top five technology investments are:

  1. Security Incident & Even Management (SIEM) (50%).
  2. Endpoint security (48%).
  3. Intrusion detection and prevention (44%).
  4. Encryption and tokenization (38%).
  5. Web application firewalls (37%).
ponemon-institute-graph-1
Source: Ponemon Institute

2. Senior management level of concern about cyber defense has risen dramatically to 7.8.
Before the Target breach, the level was 5.7 out of ten. In addition, 55% of respondents rate senior management’s concern as extremely high. Prior to the Target breach, only 13% of respondents believed senior management was extremely concerned. Overall concern among C-level executives was up by about 37%.

ponemon-institute-graph-3
Source: Ponemon Institute
ponemon-institute-graph-2
Source: Ponemon Institute

3. Senior management realizes the need for a stronger cyber defense posture.
The majority of respondents (72%) reported that after the breaches, their companies provided tools and personnel to contain and minimize breaches. 67% say their organization made sure IT had the budget necessary to defend against breaches.

4. Companies have changed their operations and compliance processes.
60% of respondents say they made changes to operations and compliance processes to improve their ability to prevent and detect breaches.

5. Many companies fail to prevent the breach with the technology they currently have.
65% of respondents say that attacks evaded existing preventive security controls. 46% say the breach was discovered by accident.

Machine vision: 100% assembly line inspection

Machine vision technology—the image-based automatic inspection process—has matured greatly and is now becoming an indispensable tool in manufacturing to increase quality and profitability. USB 3.0, with its 5-Gbps throughput and ability to send power and data over the same line, has greatly contributed to this growth.

What is machine vision?
Machine vision is an image-based, automatic inspection and analysis system for applications, such as process control. It automatically takes pictures to inspect materials as they come down the assembly line.

Other machine vision applications include:

  • PCB inspection.
  • Medical vial inspection.
  • Robot guidance and orientation of components.
  • Engine parts inspection.

Machine vision uses a small industrial camera and lights mounted near an assembly line to take pictures of product as it passes. The images are then analyzed by software to determine if various aspects of the product meet acceptable specifications. For instance, if a label is misplaced, the bottle will be rejected. All of this is done at incredibly high speeds—fractions of a second.

Years ago, machine vision systems were very expensive, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. But in the last 15 years or so, advances in technology have brought the cost of machine vision down, making it a practical solution for 100 percent quality control. And the cost for implementing machine vision keeps decreasing as technological capabilities increase.

Machine vision is now an indispensable tool for quality assurance, sorting, and material handling in every industry, including electronics, food processing, pharmaceuticals, packaging, automotive, etc. It is an economical way to make sure sub-spec product is rejected. Machine vision can be used to inspect for geometry, placement, packaging, labeling, seal integrity, finish, color, pattern, bar code, and almost any other parameter you can think of.

USB 3.0 and machine vision
USB 3.0 brings a number of advantages to machine vision systems. Because of its 5-Gbps throughput, ten times more than USB 2.0, it eliminates problems of stability and low latency for image transmission and camera control. USB 3.0 enables the transmission of higher-resolution, higher-frame rate video with no loss of quality.

USB 3.0 also sends data and power on the same line. This is enough to power a camera without worrying about a separate power supply or power line.

In addition, compared to older systems, USB 3.0 is plug-and-play, making it easy to swap out cameras and other hardware, such as USB 3.0 extenders, hubs, and other devices.

5 Reasons to use AV over IP

You’ve been tasked to engage your audience with real-time, media-rich content. In other words, send high-quality images over a local area network (LAN). Before you get your cables in a bunch, consider AV over IP.

Sending high-quality images and video over a LAN has never been easier or more advantageous. Benefit from full HD capabilities with ultra-low latency and the ability to introduce dynamic content.

Sounds great, but what exactly is AV over IP?
AV over IP is the transport of audio visual (AV) signals over a standard Ethernet network including HD video, audio, control signals, and peripheral signals.

Why use AV over IP?
1. Scalability
The technology eliminates port limitations, which means from one single source you can reach hundreds of displays. Therefore, the number of displays you can reach are only limited by the number of ports in your network.

2. Flexibility
AV over IP solutions from the right vendor provides flexibility to manage multiple displays remotely. As you grow your signage in various locations, a high-end AV over IP device is necessary to easily manage both content and the performance status of each display. This device allows you to bring multiple information sources to a display, including media-rich presentations with full video. Furthermore, it’s possible to display rich interactive content with live RSS feeds and introduce static logos for consistent branding.

3. Distance
Go the distance with AV over IP. This technology has no distance limitations; send video as far as your network reaches.

Although standard Ethernet segments are limited to 330 feet, switches or repeaters can be added to get additional distance. For very long runs, runs between buildings, or in installations in industrial environments with high levels of EMI, standard Ethernet media converters can be used with the system to convert the electrical signals into optical ones for transport over fiber cable.

4. Image Quality
Experience lossless video and ultra-low latency with AV-over-IP.

In venues such as sports stadiums, digital signage is everywhere. For the signage that streams live video of the sporting event, latency is a huge problem. For instance, fans waiting at concession stands could hear the cheering crowd and look to digital signage only to experience a four- or five-second delay for the “live” content to come through.

High-end AV over IP systems placed in stadiums, for example, can use compression algorithms such as H.264 to send packetized data over increasingly long distances. Such compression shrinks the signal delay down to an unnoticeable two or three frames per second. This gives the patrons an enhanced experience when viewing live content.

5. Cost savings
To implement AV over IP, use your existing network equipment. Since AV over IP can be set up over existing LAN lines, there is no need to tear up the walls and install separate cabling. This eliminates the need for expensive electrical contractors.

Purchasing a digital signage content publisher and manager also is an efficient one-time investment. Avoid the need to produce and mount traditionally printed signage and work with the inflexibility of non-networked systems.

So, where is AV over IP implemented?
Sending AV signals over IP introduces a simpler way for companies to better engage viewers by providing richer and more varied content to multiple locations. Today’s consumer expects immediate information. Digital signage can incorporate multimedia that meets this expectation by presenting fresh content that holds the customer’s attention.

We see AV over IP technology used in retail stores, corporate communications, schools, cinemas/theaters, health care, broadcast, command and control, security, exhibitions, concerts, and events.

The demand for real-time content has driven the need for AV-over-IP appliances in these settings. The AV-over-IP devices act as plug in and play, and are controlled by Web browsers. Additional benefits include easy installation and customization.

Next steps
Now that you’re aware of the numerous reasons to use AV over IP, how will you implement the technology at your business?

If you’re ready to explore some AV-over-IP solutions, consider Black Box. The MediaCento IPX is an award-winning HDMI-over-IP solution. We also have a host of ProAV solutions, such as HDMI matrix switches, scalers, and video wall controllers. See the full list.