Counterfeit Cable Burns Me Up

On the morning of November 21, 1980, a fire started in the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino (now Bally’s) in Las Vegas. 87 people were killed, mostly due to smoke and toxic fume inhalation. It remains the 2nd worst hotel disaster in US history, and helped usher in many building code changes and safety measures.

Among the many things that contributed to the rapid spread of the toxic smoke were the combustible plastics (PVC) used in the building wiring. The cables burned easily, allowing the fire to spread, and gave off toxic smoke that spread though the air conditioning systems. Although the fire itself was contained within the casino and restaurant, most people died from smoke inhalation on the upper floors of the hotel. It is for exactly this reason that modern electric codes require the use of a slow-burning, less toxic cable jacket, generally known as a “plenum rated” jacket, in many commercial installations. (A plenum, in this context, is an air space in a building, typically used for HVAC air flow.) Generally speaking, true plenum-rated cable jackets are usually made from Teflon®, a DuPont product. It’s relatively expensive compared to standard PVC-based cable jackets, but there’s just no substitute for public safety.

Unfortunately, there’s been an alarming trend in our industry. I complained in my last post about unscrupulous manufacturers cutting corners when making cables. But recently, continuing customer demand for less expensive plenum wire has resulted in manufacturers producing toxic burning wire that they claim is plenum-rated, and selling it for a price that’s too good to be true.  If this counterfeit cable gets installed, and the building does catch fire, it’ll be a liability nightmare for all parties.

Now, producing a poor quality cable is one thing. But flat-out lying about the rating of your product, and allowing it to be installed in a public building (such as your child’s school), is… well, even “reprehensible” isn’t a strong enough word.

So, for all the installers and resellers out there, be careful what you’re buying.  Don’t automatically assume that something is what a supplier claims it to be, especially if it’s “a real bargain.”  Demand quality at a fair price.  Remember, your children may attend the school that that wire gets installed in.  Keep them safe.

Sign of the Times…

There is a trend that has become pervasive in our society… as people everywhere demand products at cheaper and cheaper prices, manufacturers have begun giving them what they ask for.  What suffers?  Quality, of course.  We’ve seen this trend in cars and appliances for years, and in electronic equipment as well, of course.  But now we’re starting to see it more and more in the cable industry.  Unscrupulous manufacturers start cutting corners, figuring a cable that performs 90% of the time is good enough.  “Let’s use a little less shield, a bit of interference never hurt anyone!”  “Let’s use a bit less copper in that network cable.  So what if the file transfers slower!”

Manufacturers who cut corners, who shave a bit off the materials used, can often produce a cable that “works”, but doesn’t perform as well as it should; they rely on the probability that customers won’t notice.  The defense I usually hear is, “we’re just giving the customer what they’re asking for!”… which, while technically true, is probably not what the customer wants.

It’s disheartening to witness, and CableWholesale will have no part of it.  Personally, I sleep better at night knowing that we can produce a good product at a great price, and give it a lifetime warranty.  Yes, I would fly in a plane that had been wired with my products.  Would that all companies took such pride in their products.

HDMI 1.4

In my last post, I commented about USB 3.0.  I made the comment that “I like simple technological advances that I can explain to my Uncle Dominic.”

Well, the new HDMI 1.4 isn’t one of those.

Sometimes I think that the consumer electronics industry comes up with stuff that offers nothing, just so that they can have something new to get us minions to part with our hard-earned cash.

Now, for those who don’t live and breathe this stuff, here’s what you need to know. HDMI is currently the best digital technology around for connecting up your HD equipment (ie, your HDTV to your HD cable box or Blu-Ray DVD player, for example). The folks at the HDMI Consortium are tasked with the job of maintaining the standards on this stuff (and charging hefty licensing fees for same; hey, we all have to eat, right?) So in 2006, they released “version 1.3” of their specification.  In practice, it didn’t really catch on until a year later, and the truth is, even now, most equipment out there can’t take advantage of all the apparent features that it promotes.

So rather than let the industry catch up with them, they go ahead and release a new version 1.4, packed with still more features that no one can take advantage of.  In their defense, theoretically, someday, someone somewhere will start to produce this equipment and all the problems of the world will come to and end.  In the meantime, it’s comforting to know that soon there will be even more confusion about HDMI cables than there currently is.

Here’s what’s in store with the new specification:

  • A standard for automotive HDMI cables, since it’s critical that the kids in the back seat have full HD on their in-car televisions.
  • An Ethernet channel over HDMI, meaning, the HDMI cable can now transmit info back and forth to the internet.  I’m actually reserving judgment on this one; we’ll see how it plays out.
  • A distinction between “standard HDMI” and “High Speed HDMI” cables, the latter of which would deliver more bells and whistles (ie, support for higher resolutions and more colors).  Unfortunately, these cables will come “with Ethernet” or “without Ethernet”, which, I fear, is likely to cause more confusion if customers buy the “wrong” cable.
  • A new, “Micro” HDMI connector, intended for use with smaller equipment such as cell phones or MP3 players.  This wouldn’t bother me, except for the fact that they introduced a “mini” HDMI connector previously.  The more different connector types there are out there, the more likely it is that consumers will buy the wrong thing.  My only hope is that manufacturers will start to phase out the mini connectors in favor of the micro connectors.
  • Support for 3-D video.  Again, you’ll have to run out and buy a new television, and upgrade your cable TV or satellite service — once they start offering this feature — but then you’ll be the envy of all your friends.  And when that tiger literally jumps out of the screen, there won’t be a dry seat in the house.

Don’t get me wrong, I like technological developments, but make no mistake, there’s going to be a fair amount of customer confusion over this stuff.

Look for HDMI 1.4 cables to become commonplace in time for the Christmas shopping season.  Somehow, I doubt there will be much equipment to take advantage of them, and, times being what they are, not as many folks ready to run out and lay down cash for a new TV when the industry just finished convincing them to do that last year.