There are lots of types of cables with lots of different types of ends on them which can be complicated and stressful when your’re pushed for time getting a stream or other time sensative event ready. Here is a list of all of the connectors you encount whilst getting involved, although it may look like a lot, most of these you wont ever see and probably don’t need to know about.
The first thing to get your head around is that the signal being carried by a cable is not the same as the type of connector. For example the same cable with the same connector could cary an audio feed, a video feed, a lighting control feed or an internet connection; possilby all at the same time!
SDI over BNC – The BNC connector type is used for other things aside from video as it is secure and is perfect for maintaining signal integrity over long distances. BNC cables are a type of Coaxial cable. SDI is a form of video signal, the way it’s processed means it can travel very long distances (200m) without the quality of the signal being effected at all, it’s also capable of up to 4k 60p! SDI should always be your first choice for video as it is by far the most reliable, especially over long distances. When you can, convert other video types into SDI as close to the source as possible.
The next 4 are all consumer level video inputs, this means they are designed for shot range conections and ofter have other, sometimes unwanted ‘features’
Displayport – This has two different connectors, full size and mini, the full sized displayport looks very similar to HDMI but is square on one side. The mini variant is a connector type that is also shared with Thunderbolt 1 & 2 (found below). Displayport is a very convenient format as it can ‘carry’ the other consumer level video and audio types. For example you can get a display port adapater that has one displayport input and two HDMI outputs, it can also carry embeded audio! It can handle up to 4k60p but is limited to a range of about 5m, which is far from ideal… Displayport and HDMI both have something called a handshake, this means when it is plugged in a check is made to verify that the devices at each end are valid devices and that they definitly work. Whilst this sound like a good thing, it’s actually massively inconvenient as it is very easy for there to be errors in this proccess that often cause the handshake to fail, this means that no video signal is sent! You also have to wait for the handshake to complete which can cost valuable second when setting up.
HDMI – There are 3 sizes of HDMI, full, mini and micro. HDMI can carry an embeded audio signal as well as video. Micro can be found on things like the Panasonic GH4 and mini can be found on the Canon XA25. HDMI can reach up to 20m, but it gets quite temperamental at that length, esspecialy when used with an ATEM. HDMI has a few revisions, but the most comonly found versions will do 1080p60 and 4k30p. HDMI has something called a handshake same as Displayport, see displayports entry for more info.
VGA – VGA is an old analogue format, this means there’s not so much a max resolution it can carry, but the more you try and send down it the bigger the signal loss and the output. For example it was designed for 640×480 origionally, whilst it can definitly do better than that, 1080p is about its limit.
DVI – There are lots of types of DVI, but I’m only going to mention two, DVI-D Dual Link and DVI-I. DVI-D is digital only and functions identially to HDMI, it is litteraly the same signal without audio, it still has the handshake though. When DVI and VGA were first around they were quite limited with resolution, eventually a method was developed that allowed people to use two cables to increase the max resolution. This was then repalced with Dual Link, this is essentially two cables in one sharing a single connector, it behaves exactly the same as one cable, but has the functionallity of two, all it really means is higher resolution. DVI-I can transmit Digital or Analogue, allowing it to be adapted to a VGA output or a HDMI output.
Before we get into audio here’s a warning: Audio connections are way more complicated than video! There are only really 3 types of connectors to worry about, but each one has tons of sub types, each at a different level and possibly being power in at least 3 different ways. I am not going to explain it all here, if you want to find out more, find a tonmeister or talk to Alan from film and tech production. You can read about the 3 different ‘levels’ here.
XLR(3 pin) – Used for analouge or digital inputs, can carry AES/EBU audio. Can be mono or stero. Sometimes need two feeds for stero sound, normally only one. XLR can carry power so can power mics and other equpiment, known as Phantom power. You can read more about the many different types and uses of XLR in it’s own dedicated section bellow.
Jack (6.35mm or 1/4″) – The standard audio connector for instuments and amps. We have very little equpiment that uses Jack connectors, the most notable being the Scarlet 2i2 USB audio interface. To input into the 2i2 you almost always need two for a full stero mix.
Mini Jack (3.5mm) – The same kind of connector that you find on your phone or laptop, its essentially just a mini verision of the Jack connector but you will only ever need one for stero sound.
Mini Jack (2.5mm) – This connector probably should be in this section as its very rearely used for audio, it’s msotly used for remote controles, for example the zoom control on our Sony cameras.
AES/EBU over BNC – AES/EBU is a digital audio format, it can be carried by XLR or BNC cables and can have many feeds in a single signal.
Three-pin XLR connectors are by far the most common style, and are an industry standard for balanced audio signals. The great majority of professional microphones use the XLR connector. We use XLR for analouge and digital audio, coms and most of our mics. The three-pin XLR connector is commonly used for DMX512, on lighting and related control equipment, particularly at the budget / DJ end of the market.
They are the standard connector for our coms headsets. Two pins are used for the mono headphone signal and two pins for the unbalanced microphone signal. Another common use is for DC power connections for professional film and video cameras such as the two JVC 790 cameras. Some desk microphones with LEDs use them. The fourth pin is used to power the LED indicating that the microphone is on. Other uses for the four-pin XLR include some scrollers (colour changing devices for stage lighting), AMX analog lighting control (now obsolete) and some pyrotechnic equipment.
Five-pin XLR connectors are the standard for DMX512 digital lighting control. Additionally, Five-Pin XLR is commonly used for DC power in audio equipment.
Six-pin XLR connectors are used for stage lighting control applications. Another common use is professional stereo headset with balanced microphone (headphone left-pin 4, headphone right-pin 5, headphone common-pin 3, mic high-pin 1, mic low-pin 2, mic ground-pin 6).
Seven-pin XLR connectors are used to connect some valve (tube) condenser microphones to their power supplies (carrying signal, polarisation voltage, heater and HT). Used by several models of Le Maitre and Ultratec fog machines for remote control. An obsolete use for seven-pin XLR connectors was analogue lighting control signals, as well as for wired intercom in broadcast studios, specifically with Ward-Beck intercoms.
Ethernet – Mostly used simply as an internet cable, but cable of a lot more. There are a few revisions of ethernet, but the only two we need to know are CAT5 and CAT6. You can convert pretty much anything into a signal that can be sent over CAT5 cables, more moderen adaprters will use CAT6. Ethenet is the name of the conecctor on the end of the cable, the cable should be fiber, although sometimes cheap ones won’t be. Ocassionally ‘fiber’ cables with have BNC connectors on the end, but normally they are ethernet or XLR. If someone says ‘we can patch it through the fiber’ then they are talking about a patch board in the wall that has a load of fiber cables connecting it to other patch boards in other walls, these normally have ethernet connectors or XLR connectors.
USB – Universal Serial BUS, used for most computer peripherals, if you don’t know what a USB is then you’ve done an amazing job of avoiding computers and I’m wondering how you’re reading this… There are many many types of USB, you can see them all below.
Thunderbolt – Thunderbolt is a type of computer connector, versions 1 & 2 use the same connector as mini display port, version 3 uses USB Type C which is reverisble! Thunderbolt is a very very usefull conector as it can carry almost any type of computer signal. A single thunderbolt 3 cable can carry and be split via adapters into all of the following at the same time: Displayport (so by extension HDMI, DVI and VGA), Ethernet, USB, 3.5mm Jack, PCIe and it can event power whatever it’s plugged into!