Connectors

Connectors put it all together

Connectors are the wires and cables that make connections between electronic devices. Since most devices perform a specialized task, their interchangeability and reliability on other devices to perform a function for them is an integral part of the flexibility of any component electronics system. The most explicit example is a Home Theater system, where audio and video components are interwoven to achieve complex and flexible configurations that meet the needs of users.

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But we're not just talking about audio/video connections. There are several digital connection standards that are purely designed to transmit data and whose implementations have historically been exclusive to PCs, such as Firewire or USB, but whose applications have surfaced in areas far beyond their original scope. Both Firewire and USB have excellent benefits in the audio/video realm, especially where an alternate power source is required. The ability to send and receive means they're not limited to one-way communication - as conventional audio/video cabling methods have been designed.

Besides the obvious use with computers sending and receiving data, these formats and even higher-performance data transmission formats will be instrumental in the future of home entertainment by providing an added edge of interactivity. Digital connection standards like USB and Firewire can send and receive data while at the same time sending voltages from the host connection. This has proven valuable for data-hungry handheld devices with rechargeable batteries - you can simultaneously recharge batteries while synching your mobile phone.

Standards like Firewire, Serial ATA and the new Display Port have taken USB and upped throughput significantly and found many uses in even more intensive applications such as full-motion video. Firewire has become common on video camera-to-TV connections because it can send uncompressed full-motion video information directly to the TV.

Most popular connector types for today's consumer electronics

Most connectors fall under one of two categories, digital and analogue. The basic electronics function of providing a point of contact between two circuits or devices requires no special consideration, whether the connection is intended to be digital or analogue. In short, connections simply connect with some conductive materials. We'll go over various connection types below and sort out what you should know as a consumer looking for cables and connectors.

Connections are an interesting study in any market through which they run. Audio and hi-fi connectors, particularly analogue RCA connectors, have been the object of unscrupulous business practices. A lot of pseudo-science is used to sell audio interconnects, with the most outlandish claims being made of the impact a simple cable will have on your sound quality. This practice in the hi-fi industry has only gotten worse with the digital age.

The computer industry, by contrast, is rather accepting of any interconnect, with no undue emphasis placed on signal purity or quality. Everything from IDE ribbon cables to a USB connector is simply taken for granted as working, and no one seems to care how well or for how long. Sometimes, the computer industry's cavalier attitude about their cabling is detrimental when the flimsiest connectors are made between important data paths. Thus, simply buying the cheapest cables you can find is never a good idea.