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Optical Cables in Video Environments

Hear why digital specialists prefer them for durability and ease of use.

Video professionals love Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 for their easy connectivity and high-performance specs. Thunderbolt was developed by Intel under the working name of Lightpeak and was designed to pass data, as well as audio and video streams. USB 3.0 is intended for peripherals and is ideal for locally connected, external hard drives.

Despite the name, the original Thunderbolt cabling was copper, but the use of copper cables has its down side. Copper cables have an effective maximum length of 3 meters, requiring Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 peripherals to be kept close by.

A few years ago, optical cables hit the market. These thinner, longer, adaptable, and more durable optical connection devices offered an ah-ha moment for today’s cutting edge facilities.

Durability in the Field

Gary Adcock is a Chicago-based Digital Imaging Technician (DIT) in IATSE Local 600. His experience on location with primetime television productions would put any cable literally through the wringer.

“I buy cables for durability because cables are the single point of failure in any  system,” he said. “You are constantly plugging and unplugging them. When I’m on location, the company might make five or six moves in a day. The reality on set is that people drive over your cables with forklifts and trucks. They get slammed into doors. With copper cables, when the internal wiring gets broken or cracked, you can have intermittent failures. If a cable fails once, it’s going to fail again.”

The benefit of optical cables is that they have been proven relatively indestructible. “I have about two dozen of them and have yet to experience a failure,” Adcock said. “It’s so enjoyable not having to worry about the most minor piece of gear.”

Silence is Golden

Karl Slavik is an audio professional based in Vienna, Austria. Through his company Artecast, Slavik supports facility design and new technology training.

“Cables are always getting run over by dollies and [these optical] cables are more robust than other fiber cables,” Slavik said. “This is often a surprise to smaller production users because fiber has had a reputation of being a bit fragile. That’s certainly not the case with [these] cables, which are quite robust.”

The installation at Artecast is pretty straightforward. Slavik uses a large storage array, which was moved out of the studio about 15 meters away thanks to the USB 3.0 optical cable. The main goal was to make the working control room as free from equipment noise as possible.

“For a long time fiber optics were really out of reach for the small user, which is what makes [these] products an ingenious solution,” he said. “It’s really down to earth and even the smallest facility can afford them. Both audio and video professionals can take advantage of the benefits because each is better served when the noise is out of the room.”

A Secure Solution

Mark Bealo, professor of Graphic Communications at Palomar College in San Marcos, California, needed shared storage for their media lab. He decided to give Thunderbolt Networking a try. Through a ‘spider’ configuration, he was able to network up to five 2013 MacPros to a single RAID array using simple Thunderbolt Networking.

While Bealo’s configuration solved his throughput issues, it left him with space, noise, and security concerns. By using short, copper Thunderbolt cables, he would have to leave the various RAID arrays in close proximity and accessible to the students.

“I wanted to relocate the arrays from just sitting on a desk in each row to keep them secure for noise considerations,” Bealo said. “This is where optical Thunderbolt cables provided the ideal solution.” By using a long optical cable between each ‘hub’ MacPro and its corresponding array, Bealo was able to move all of the RAIDs from each row into an adjacent locked cabinet.

Corning Optical Cables Offer Durability and Flexibility

Corning cables have broken the three meter barrier while still providing high data rate protocols and strong throughput.

High-data rate protocols and thinner and lighter cabling in a more robust product make optical cables a good choice for a world that wants plug-and-play solutions. Few solutions have been met with as much praise as those USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt optical cables from Corning. Their optical cables are thin and durable with a high-bend performance radius of 1.5mm. Users can literally pinch the cables in a 180-degree turnaround or tie them in a knot without damage or performance attenuation. Best of all, the 3-meter limit is a thing of the past. Corning’s optical USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt cables have a maximum limit of 50 and 60 meters respectively.

For more information on optical cables by Corning, see here.

See also: Knot Me, Twist Me, Tie Me Up: Today’s optical cables are ensuring durability even under stress
Find out why optical cables are giving production professionals all the space they need — even in the midst of a noisy, busy studio
What to do when your shorter, less flexible cables have created a noisy, less secure facility?

Oliver Peters is an experienced film and video professional who has worked in radio, television and post-production since 1970. During that time he has worked in a variety of managerial and hands-on positions in broadcast and post facilities. In addition to currently working as an in-demand editor and colorist, he has also been a regular contributor to various web and print publications, including Videography, DigitalVideo, TV Technology and the Creative Planet Network website.