Cabling Your Way To Profit


Cables may not enjoy the "wow" factor of HDTV or home automation, but digital integrators say they're one of the most profitable parts of their business. "It's a boring world," says Jid LaRussa, owner of Superior Computer, a London, Ontario-based digital integrator. "But if we could sell cables only, we would do very well."

Very well indeed. Cables allow digital integrators to reap margins of up to 60 percent before figuring in the value of installations. And cables aren't as boring as some would assume. Vendors are helping their partners with a range of new models aimed at making it easier to install and troubleshoot most home electronic equipment.

StarTech, also in London, Ontario, launched CableZen, a line of cables with color stripes to let digital integrators easily determine where each cable is connected. The colors comply with the Consumer Electronics Association's color-coding standard and run the length of the cable. "Most cables only have color on the ends," says Tarun Bhasin, senior product manager.

Available in retail packages and installer bags, the cables include clips with easy-to-read labels for better organization. "This cuts unnecessary support calls when customers move their equipment because it is easier for them to see how the equipment is connected," Bhasin adds.

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LaRussa says the CableZen packaging is perfect for digital integrators. "It makes our job easier," he says. "And the packaging makes selling to homeowners easier."

For labeling cables, Martin Seelos, president of Laguna Hills, Calif.-based digital integrator Creative Concept Sound Solutions, uses the RhinoPro series of label makers from Stamford, Conn.-based Dymo. "It's awesome," says Seelos. "It prints labels in a way that can wrap around the cable so they are easy to read. And it has shortcut keys for different equipment or rooms in the house."

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'Component video is still dominant. But the market is shifting to digital. And HDMI is clearly starting to dominate that space.'

--David Munzlinger, Belkin

Belkin, Compton, Calif., is packing cables in bagged solutions specifically for integrators. Next month it plans to launch a bagged cable solution with a removable sticker on the bag, says David Munzlinger, director of sales for the company's PureAV line of custom installation products. Once a bag is used, the installer can put the sticker someplace where it can be counted or read with a bar-code reader to check inventory.

"It's all about saving time and increasing the efficiency of the installer on the job," Munzlinger says. "It's important to know their inventory."

Monster Cable Products, Brisbane, Calif., recently introduced no-frills packaging of cables with its patented QuickLock connectors. The cables come in single-web, double-web, and triple-web styles (one, two or three cable pairs in a single length of cable), and integrators can add the appropriate connectors in the field, says Erick Bodley, custom installation monster at Monster Cable Products. The packs are available with 10-foot or 25-foot cables with either copper or silver conductors.

Liberty Wire and Cable, Colorado Springs, Colo., also hopes to make life easier for integrators with its newest EZLinx cable and accessories. EZLinx cables have a proprietary connector at one end and 17 different termination options on the other, making them suitable for a wide range of businesses, company executives say.

Belkin next year plans to unveil a new technology that eliminates wire stripping, Munzlinger says. It includes a tool that lets digital integrators push the connector onto a piece of bulk cable, eliminating stripping and keeping oxygen out. The technology will be available for adding BMC and F-connectors to coax cable and for adding RCA connectors to speaker wire, he says. The cable industry also is making things easier by consolidating standards. Munzlinger says he is seeing S-video and composite video cables being eliminated in favor of component video and the two common digital formats, DVI and HDMI (high-definition media integration).

"Component video is still dominant," he says. "But the market is shifting to digital. And HDMI is clearly starting to dominate that space. Digital video recorders, cable boxes, receivers and so on are moving to HDMI. Even higher-end receivers are starting to include switched HDMI connectivity."

HDMI is winning the fight against DVI, despite the fact that DVI has been around longer, says Monster's Bodley. HDMI cable is smaller than DVI. However, he says, HDMI has a shorter maximum cable length and cannot be terminated in the field because it has to be cut to length and terminated before heading to the customer site. Both have built-in encryption technology (HDCP, or high-bandwidth digital content protection) for video signals, making them suitable for DRM issues. DVI does not carry an audio signal, while HDMI carries up to eight channels.

Creative Concept has already seen success running HDMI cables for high-definition satellite, Seelos says. "It's definitely a profit center for us," he says.

To get around HDMI's termination problems, Kirk Horlbeck, senior vice president of corporate marketing and international business development at Liberty, says his company is looking at new connectors from Molex. The company also just introduced its DigitaLinx family of digital repeaters, distribution amplifiers, switchers, fiber-optic extenders, and DVI and HDMI cables. They allow fiber signals to be sent to up to 330 feet away, Horlbeck says. For digital cables, fiber will win over copper because of its light weight and environmentally friendly construction, he says.

In addition to new types of cables, integrators are also finding an ever-wider range of equipment for distributing signals.

Patrick Derosier, co-owner of CPU Guys, a Hanson, Mass.-based digital integrator, says new types of distribution panels are allowing Cat5 cables to simultaneously run phone, video, audio and IT signals throughout the home. And those cables are increasingly being connected to new types of outlets. "Before, you needed three holes to run cable for three systems," Derosier says. "Now you can run all three into one double-gang outlet."

But, while cables are getting easier to install, improvements to cable technology will be harder to come by in the future, industry leaders say. "We're seeing the end of the cable cycle," says Monster's Bodley. "With analog audio, there's no way to improve. And digital audio is defined. There will be minor improvements. But digital cable handles everything coming up."

The cables themselves might not change much, but networking technologies and applications will. One to watch is HomePlug, a standard being developed for using a home's main powerlines as a way to connect electronic equipment.

Ross Harris, senior sales manager at Intellihome, an Aliso Viejo, Calif., digital integrator, says that for existing homes, powerlines are a great alternative. "It's very clever," he says. "Customers like it because you don't have to run Cat5 in their house."

The other alternative is wireless, which for all its reliability and security issues is easier to install than cables. The good news is the reliability. But for digital integrators, wireless is not as exciting as those boring cables, says Derosier. "There's no wires to run, but wired is much more profitable," he says.