SDI Failures and what YOU can do to stop it happening to you.

Sadly this is not an uncommon problem. Suddenly and seemingly for no apparent reason the SDI output on your camera stops working. And this isn’t a new problem either, SDI ports have been failing ever since they were first introduced. This issue affect all types of SDI ports. But it is more likely with higher speed SDI ports such as 6G or 12G as they operate at higher frequencies and as a result the components used are more easily damaged as it is harder to protect them without degrading the high frequency performance.

Probably the most common cause of an SDI port failure is the use of the now near ubiquitous D-Tap cable to power accessories connected to the camera. The D-Tap connector is sadly shockingly crudely designed. Not only is it possible to plug in many of the cheaper ones the wrong way around but with a standard D-Tap plug there is no mechanism to ensure that the negative or “ground” connection of the D-Tap cable makes or breaks before the live connection. There is a however a special but much more expensive D-Tap connector available that includes electronic protection against this very issue – see: https://lentequip.com/products/safetap

Imagine for a moment you are using a monitor that’s connected to your cameras SDI port. You are powering the monitor via the D-Tap on the cameras battery as you always do and everything is working just fine. Then the battery has to be changed. To change the battery you have to unplug the D-Tap cable and as you pull the D-Tap out, the ground connection disconnects fractionally before the live connection. During that moment there is still positive power going to the monitor but because the ground on the D-Tap is now disconnected the only ground route back to the battery becomes via the SDI cable through the camera. For a fraction of a second the SDI cable becomes the power cable and that power surge blows the SDI driver chip.

After you have completed the battery swap, you turn everything back on and at first all appears good, but now you can’t get the SDI output to work. There’s no smoke, no burning smells, no obvious damage as it all happened in a tiny fraction of a second. The only symptom is a dead SDI.

And it’s not only D-Tap cables that can cause problems. A lot of the cheap DC barrel connectors have a center positive terminal that can connect before the outer barrel makes a good connection. There are many connectors where the positive can make before the negative.

It can also happen when powering the camera and monitor (or other SDI connected devices like a video transmitter) via separate mains adapters. The power outputs of most of the small, modern, generally plastic bodied switch mode type power adapters and chargers are not connected to ground. They have a positive and negative terminal that “floats” above ground at some unknown voltage. Each power supplies negative rail may be at a completely different voltage compared to ground.  So again an SDI cable connected between two devices, powered by different power supplies will act as the ground between them and power may briefly flow down the SDI cable as the SDI cables ground brings both power supply negative rails to the same common voltage. Failures this way are less common, but do still occur. 

For these reasons you should always connect all your power supplies, power cables and especially D-Tap or other DC power cables first. Then while everything remains switched off connect the SDI cables. Only when everything is connected should you turn anything on. If unplugging or re-plugging a monitor (or anything else for that matter) turn everything off first. Do not connect or disconnect anything while any of the equipment is on.  Although to be honest the greatest risk is at the time you connect or disconnect any power cables such as when swapping a battery where you are using the D-Tap to power any accessories. So if changing batteries, switch EVERYTHING off first, then disconnect your SDI cables before disconnecting the D-Tap or other power cables next.

(NOTE: It’s been brought to my attention that Red recommend that after connecting the power, but before connecting any SDI cables you should turn on any monitors etc. If the monitor comes on OK, this is evidence that the power is correctly connected. There is certainly some merit to this. However this only indicates that there is some power to the monitor, it does not ensure that the ground connection is 100% OK or that the ground voltages at the camera and monitor are the same. By all means power the monitor up to check it has power, then I still recommend that you turn it off again before connecting the SDI).
 
The reason Arri talk about shielded power cables is because most shielded power cables use connectors such as Lemo or Hirose where the body of the connector is grounded to the cable shield. This helps ensure that when plugging the power cable in it is the ground connection that is made first and the power connection after. Then when unplugging the power breaks first and ground after. When using properly constructed shielded power cables with Lemo or Hirose connectors it is much less likely that these issues will occur (but not impossible).

Is this an SD fault? No, not really. The fault lies in the choice of power cables that allow the power to make before the ground or the ground to break before the power breaks.  Or the fault is with power supplies that have poor or no ground connection. Additionally you can put it down to user error. I know I’m guilty of rushing to change a battery and pulling a D-Tap connector without first disconnecting the SDI on many occasions, but so far I’ve mostly gotten away with it (I have blown an SDI on one of my Convergent Design Odysseys).

If you are working with an assistant or as part of a larger crew do make sure that everyone on set knows not to plug or unplug power cables or SDI cables without checking that it’s OK to do so. How many of us have set up a camera, powered it up, got a picture in the viewfinder and then plugged an SDI cable between the camera and a monitor that doesn’t have a power connection yet or already on and plugged in to some other power supply? Don’t do it! Plug and unplug in the right order – ALL power cables and power supplies first, check power is going to the camera, check power is going to the monitor, then turn it all off first, finally plug in the SDI.

10 thoughts on “SDI Failures and what YOU can do to stop it happening to you.”

  1. I had heard about the issue but now I finally understand it too. Thanks for explaining it so clearly. I bought one of those SafeTap connectors but could not decide which device should get the honor. Now I know, the EVF with the SDI should be protected with the SafeTap. Excellent!

  2. RED suggests powering everything up before connecting the SDI. Some 3rd party monitors do not have on/off switches. In these cases, connecting the battery first implies the monitor is powered up before the SDI is made. “• While the power status of the monitor or SDI device does not matter, by powering up the monitor you are ensuring the device has been correctly grounded. Therefore, we suggest attaching power & then powering up before plugging the SDI into the camera.”

    1. There is some merit to what Red suggest. But powering up the monitor before connecting the SDI only proves the monitor has some power. It does not guarantee that the negative rail of the monitor and camera are at the same potential, which is particularly a problem with independent power supplies. It may also be possible that the monitor can power up with a less than perfect ground connection. Plugging in the SDI cable will in these cases act as a ground strap and it’s normally better to ground everything prior to applying power or turning devices on.

  3. Excellent information, much appreciated, Alistair. I currently connect my SmallHD 702 Touch to the Dtap out (on my IDX BPU camera batteries) using a perfect length coiled and very nice Kondor Blue D-tap to Sony L-series battery cable (see https://kondorblue.com/products/copy-of-d-tap-to-sony-a7siii-dummy-battery-np-fz100-cable). As far as you may know, does the Sony-L series connector that connects to my 702 Touch afford any sort of protection along the lines of how connectors such as Lemo or Hirose do, where the body of the connector is grounded to the cable shield? Am trying to avoid a soldering job, but certainly also to avoid SDI failure and repair! Thank you. Best, Tom

    1. No, no protection and can suffer from the issues detailed above. If it’s D-Tap then it’s unprotected, doesn’t have a screen connection and can connect positive before negative. The ONLY exceptions are the much more expensive electronically protected “Safe-D-tap” cables and connectors.

    1. Yes, but it is much less common as the way an HDMI cable works means there is less likelihood of the current in the ground wire inducing a voltage on the signal wires great enough to blow the drivers. But in the case of a very poor power ground if sufficient current flows through the HDMI ground it can damage the HDMI circuits.

        1. After following this thread I went and bought a hand full of SafeTap connectors. I noticed that they went down $10 in price per piece on Amazon. I thought I’d hand it on and mention it here.

  4. Following Robyns comments (Hi Robyn!)- a hire company that I use reported some time ago, several such HDMI failures to their FS7’s.
    Thanks for the SDI alert Alister-hopefully preventing
    an easy mistake to make!
    Bmj

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