Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What are the different firewire cables and which one do I need?

FireWire Cables
FireWire is a strategic method used to transfer information between two interacting digital devices, such as audio and video systems or equipment. FireWire, also known as IEEE 1394, is extremely fast with speeds up to 800 Mbps and should soon be up to 3.2 Gbps.
A FireWire bus can support up to 63 devices and works under both Windows operating systems and Mac OS. After connecting a FireWire device to your system, the computer will enumerate the device and auto-detect the device and ask for the driver disc. If the device is already installed, the computer will activate it and begin communications. FireWire devices are hot pluggable, meaning they can be connected or disconnected at any time, even with the power on.
This system is most commonly used for connection of data storage devices, DV (digital video) cameras, and industrial systems for machine vision and professional audio systems.
Although these network cables seem very similar in function to a regular USB cable, they are far speedier and have greater power distribution capabilities because they do not require a computer host. FireWire also has higher sustained data transfer rates, which is especially important for audio and video editing.

There are a few different standards and versions including FireWire 400 (IEEE 1394-1995), enhancements (IEEE 1394a-2000), FireWire 800 (IEEE 1394b-2002), and the FireWire S1600 and S3200.
FireWire 400 transfers data at speeds of 100, 200, or 400 Mbit/s. The cable length is only limited to approximately 15 feet. This standard can also be chained using active repeaters, external hubs, or internal hubs.

The enhancement versions clarified the original FireWire by adding in support for asynchronous streaming, quicker bus configuration, packet concatenation, and a power saving suspend mode.
The FireWire 800 is a newer specification of the 1394b and corresponding products allow a transfer rate of 786.432 Mbit via a new encoding scheme termed beta mode. It is backwards compatible to the slower rates and 6-pin connectors of the 400. However the 800’s connector is different from the 400’s connector making the two incompatible. A separate bilingual cable allows the connection of older devices to the new port.

The FireWire S1600 and S3200 are defined in 1394b but the 1.6 Gbit/s and 3.2 Gbit/s devices will use the same 9-pin connectors as the existing FireWire 800. These products are intended to compete with the forthcoming USB 3.0.
My panasonic video camera takes a 4 pin firewire cable as in the picture above. The other end has a 9 pin connector on it. This fits into my firewire port in the back of my computer, however my laptop has a 4 pin connecter. For the laptop I need a cable with 4 pins on both ends. It can get confusing, however once you know what connection you need, its easy after that.

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