Pass the remote

As computing systems become more powerful and complex, demand for ancillary equipment increases to satisfy new requirements to connect, control and view from remote locations. In addition, there is a need to do so for signals and displays of far greater resolution and bandwidth. Steve Montgomery reports on the technologies making this possible.

The evolution of KVM (Keyboard, Video, Mouse) equipment is now so far advanced from its original specification that it can barely be categorised under that heading.  The key to today’s system is the flexibility with which it can be deployed in multi-user, multi display set-ups.
Jamie Sheppard of Adder explains: “The long-time requirement for equipment that provides simple access and control of remote PCs has grown radically to encompass compressed and uncompressed digital video transmission, digital device interface and multi-device control.  The original, simple KVM is now much more complex and incorporates secure network access capability, together with complex switching technology allowing a matrix of users to connect with a matrix of computers controlling a multi-screen environment.  Typically KVM devices are found in control room environments and hostile locations, but often nowadays in myriad other applications such as digital signage, broadcast studios, and retail networks.”  Central to all these installations is the need to provide flexible access to all resources in a single or multi-site facility.

New methods of transmission and communication have also been adopted by the manufacturers.  The four pairs of twisted wire in a CatX cable are regularly used to provide high bandwidth video distribution, often allowing sources of different types to be mixed. Analogue VGA, DVI-A and DVI-D are all possible on a single system. 
At the same time the technology accommodates USB, keyboard and mouse data in response; over direct point-to-point links and through switches. The use of multi and even single mode fibre allows even longer distance applications of the utmost reliability.  Wider IP based networks are now becoming common so that access and control anywhere, at any time is the norm, rather than the exception.
IHSE, a manufacturer of KVM systems has recently introduced a matrix based on DVI switching with full bidirectional control and access capability.  Key to the design is low-latency as explained by Peter Striegel, President of IHSE: “Typically IP systems can take several seconds to respond over a large, busy network.  The new Draco range uses full DVI-I connectivity to provide a matrix solution for up to 32 CPUs over CatX or fibre, or a mixture of both depending upon topography of the site.   The main benefit of this type of system is the near-instantaneous response.”
A system of this type will need to use some level of compression.  In IHSE’s case 1920 x 1200 resolution video is compressed to a bit rate of between 1 and 5Gb/s. 
 “Gefen was founded on the design and manufacturing of KVM extenders used in post-production and recording studios that kept accessories away from the CPU,“ explains Hagai Gefen, the company’s President. “Today we still provide a selection of KVM extenders with many different peripherals built into a half or full rack sized product.  They typically support all computer accessory devices using USB, RS-232 and IP (RJ45) in addition to VGA, DVI, HDMI, SDI, DisplayPort or Mini-DisplayPort video graphics.
“The current state of technology development is all about KVM over USB or IP, as well as a combination of peripherals squeezed over a single CAT-5 or fibre optic cable solution.  KVM over wireless is likely to be expanded in future developments for peripheral extension.”
Another supplier, Avocent, also compresses video for distribution over IP networks; Wolfgang Goretzki, Product Manager, EMEA: “We achieve full HD resolution transmission in what is effectively a lossless compression system together with CD quality sound that is ideally suited to control rooms, medical applications and trading floors.  We are finding a lot of interest in point of sale applications at the moment.  Our HMX system is able to deliver streaming video with a high efficiency using 1:4 compression ratios and a low latency of less than 12ms.”
The ability to offer matrix control through video and signal switching and routing is becoming more important throughout the KVM industry. Systems are becoming more like powerful AV control and scaling devices than simple peripheral connection extension devices.
Adderlink’s Infinity system provides extensive capabilities over wide area networks. Jamie Sheppard: “With Infinity it is now possible to deliver fluid interaction with computers as far away as your network extends, including additional features not normally found in KVM technology; such as video multicast and multi user access to a single device.”
Flexibility in operation is also achieved in Rose Electronics’ range of Orion controllers, as Clifford Broekhuisen, northern European sales manager explains: “Components on either side of our Orion KVM/Crosspoint switch can operate as either transmitter or receiver devices with full bidirectional control for Single, Dual or even Quad-head systems at up to 1920 x 1200 resolution.”
System administration, access security and configuration are vital in large network configurations. Clifford Broekhuisen, continues: “Full access and administrator rights are essential to the latest generation of KVM technology as the equipment becomes more and more widely located. System administrators need to be able to access remote computers to install and maintain software packages and to monitor system operation in full resolution. Configuration of these systems is also vital as they are used in a wider variety of visually and artistically creative environments such as large networks in shopping malls and in multi-use entertainment facilities like cruise ship and theatres.”

Good management and a continuous knowledge of the connections and status of users and equipment on the system at any time is an important factor in the success of remote access technology. Various application programs are available as proprietary controllers for each system, all offering a range of remote management and overview. Typically, these enable system administrators the ability to remotely configure distant devices, limit users to specific computers and bar them from others or to apply a sharing hierarchy.
Control equipment functionality can be further extended to make all users view specific pieces of information, which then enables the system to be used for a much wider range of audiovisual applications: multicasting of information from a single point to many provides a form of closed network broadcasting; switching content across groups of screens simplifies digital signage delivery networks in multi-screen situations.
Even local control of a bank of screens in a video wall offers opportunities that are normally provided by specialised video wall controllers; demonstrating the convergence of this type of technology into the wider AV world.
RGB Spectrum offers MultiPoint KvM, a KVM and display processor management solution for control centres. According to Arndt Schrader, Marketing Manager at RGB Spectrum: “MultiPoint KvM improves a control centre personnels’ ability to display, manipulate, and act on information.  It is based on RGB Spectrum’s own high-capacity switching platform. Multi-station control room architectures are accommodated, with multiple users having access to any computer and any display.  MultiPoint KvM can be deployed in combination with any of RGB Spectrum’s multiviewer or video wall display processors, thus providing an integrated display solution.  By sending only control signals over Ethernet and video signals over direct connections, MultiPoint KvM offers HD resolution at full frame rates, making it ideal for high-end, real-time display processing.”
Computer system security and reliability is also an issue to all system administrators, particularly when networks are widely distributed.  Wolfgang Goretzki is aware of the need to provide the highest level of integrity: “The use of server based authentication with LDUP active directory security permits adequate security against unwanted intruders and hackers.  In addition, redundancy and hot swap backup means that a centralised system can deliver 24-7 operation with no down time.”
System reliability is also an issue and in the past some problems have been encountered where the KVM device disconnects a peripheral during power-up or initial connection, although these have now been overcome, as Hagai Gefen comments: “EDID issues are common since graphics card manufacturers assume the device is continuously connected after the computer is powered on. Gefen makes all sorts of EDID detectives to overcome this common problem.  It is also built into the Gefen products so there will be no reason to purchase additional accessories to deal with the situation after the initial product installation.”
There has been a clear evolution from basic keyboard, video and mouse extenders into fully fledged video and control matrices running over CatX, fibre and network installations.  A point clearly reinforced by Robin Hyatt, Sales and Marketing Manager at S.Y. Electronics: “Our CatX extender technology was first designed to add functionality to our KVM switch product range by offering secure remote access.  With the emergence of digital signage, S.Y. Electronics was one of the first manufacturers to create a new range of extenders under the CatX brand to address this market. This was done specifically to meet the requirement for the distribution of video, audio, remote access and control of digital signage networks.  There is a definite merging of I.T. and AV in this market.  For that reason S.Y. Electronics will continue to develop new partnerships in the AV industry as well as in the I.T. sector.” 
 Companies involved in the design of KVM and video distribution technologies are constantly developing products that encroach on each others’ ranges.  As a result we are seeing more creativity and effectiveness within this industry.  Indications are that it will continue well into the future as networks become simpler to implement and able to deliver higher bandwidths and are used more extensively for audio and video distribution and remote access and control; which is all to the good for system integrators and installers within the AV industry.

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