Video for the non-nerd: What’s that even mean?It’s official: USB 3.0 is here, and in addition to USB-1 (see editor’s note), 1.2, USB 2, TURBO, USB micro, USB mini-not to mention Fire Wire and it’s variants, it’s not uncommon for novice and pro alike to question what exactly they need for the situation. This post will briefly explain some terms you may hear when investigating the wide world of video. First, we’ll take a look at the cables.
USB was first called “User Interface Port”, and did pretty much what it does now: attach an external device to the computer. Now standing for “Universal Serial Bus”, USB is a simple current device allowing for low-rate data transfer. Your mouse uses USB. The square-ish one your printer uses is USB 2. USB 2 can handle a larger amount of data at a higher speed. As in the case of both USB and USB 2, the longer the wire, the less current you’ll have, resulting in bad connection. (**Editors note: Most, if not all of USB ports are USB 1.2; the term USB-1 will most likely never come up in your lifetime as they are obsolete and no longer manufactured.**) USB Turbo was an insight that allowed faster upload/download, though some will claim it was simply a marketing gimmick. Some devices such as cel-phones and cameras use a USB port for it’s power supply. As the names imply, the USB micro and USB mini are smaller than the rectangular USB, and the micro is the smallest of the series (for now). My Nikkon CoolPix camera takes a USB micro to attach to a computer, while my cel phone takes a mini for it’s charger port. Adapters for these are popping up left and right for car lighters, wall plugs and yes, USB ports. Most places that carry USB cables will have converters and adapters. There’s even a USB mini that’s smaller than the mini but bigger than a micro. Be sure to check your user manual for for what your appliance has and what you’ll need before buying just anything. The USB 3 boasts better transfer for video and already has a mini version as well. Yes, this means you’ll have to buy all new stuff. Sorry.
Fire Wire is USB’s big brother, and the differences are like comparing a hammer to a jackhammer. You can bust up a sidewalk with a hammer, but it’s going to take a while. A long while. While USB is great for transmitting low current equipment and small file data, when dealing with video, you should opt for something better-and that’s Fire Wire. Fire Wire itself has several versions, all of which are meant to outdo the previous version. You’ll find them sold in terms like 400 and 800-the higher the number, the better the wire. The data transfer rate is better than USB, but what makes Fire Wire devices unique is the ability to rope them (or daisy-chain) together. Multiple hard drives can be fastened together when limited ports are available. (***Editors note: The term Firewire is a registered trademark of Apple. The technical term is IEEE 1394 Technical Serial Bus. Saying Firewire is the same as saying Band-Aid instead of adhesive bandage strip.***) The downside of Firewire is that they tend to carry current-that’s electrical current. Carelessly plugging Firewires into computer ports or harddrives can blow fuses in your equipment or fry ports in your computer. When plugging or unplugging any Firewire cable, you are recommended by Apple to turn off ALL devices-computer, camera, harddrive, etc. Not doing so can cause damage due to latent electricity in the line.(***Editor’s note: This situation is very real. We lost a very expensive piece of equipment because we did not know this.***) When transferring video from one computer to another, we tend to use Cat-6 ethernet cables: they’re faster, the cables can be longer, and we’ve noticed a dramatic lack of file corruption. Plus, you don’t have to turn anything off.
If you’re on the consumer end of things, you may rely more on simpler cables-mainly RCAs and component cables. The term RCA is technical for “The red, white and yellow cords” you use to attach your DVD player to your TV. RCA is a better transporter of signals than the old ‘screw-on’ type of cable adapter, also called a UHF. RCA cannot transmit HD signals. Trying to do so will automatically downgrade to standard definition. If you need to transmit HD, you’ll need Component cables. These are represented by Green, Blue and Red ports similar in appearance to RCAs. Note that this is for video only. Audio is audio, white and red. High end cameras can use component for viewing on monitors, and modern video games use them as well. Your HD TV uses them, and if you’re not using them, you aren’t getting HD. On the same note, my Nikkon CoolPix camera can film in 720p HD, but the wire sent with it is an RCA/stero adaption-unable to handle HD. In order to get the footage out, I have to remove the SD.HC card inside and import directly into my computer. We’ll get to memory cards in a future installment.
If you look at the back of your TV or high-end camera, you may also see a funny cylinder type attachment. These are called BNC connectors, and are used mainly for their ability to lock into place, avoiding slip-out or loose connections. BNCs are available in component and audio. If all of your equipment sits stationary, you probably don’t need them. The important thing about connecting wires is to make sure you use the right cable to the right port. Usually it’s fool-proof, but if you don’t pay attention and learn what it is you’re doing, you can cost yourself a boat load of time and/or money. In the future, we’ll look at audio cables and memory cards. When you understand what things do, you can enjoy them more, knowing you’re getting the full amount out of them.