What are Optical Cables, How do they work?

Posted by Scott Davies on

Optical cables are commonly used to transmit digital audio information from a source such as a DVD player to a destination device such as an audio receiver or television. Optical audio has been in development since the 1980s, when Japanese electronics manufacturer Toshiba developed their first optical digital audio cable for use with their CD players. Since then, the costs of manufacturing optical cables has fallen enough to make these devices commonplace, although they remain relatively expensive compared to more established technologies such as coaxial cables.

How Optical Cables Work

Optical digital audio cables consist of a bundle of thin, transparent optical fibers made from glass or plastic. These fibers are bundled into a cable and coated with a durable layer of resin. That layer is also protected by a jacket layer made out of a variety of durable materials, insuring that the fiber itself is well protected without compromising its unique properties. The end result is a cable that is capable of transferring information between audio/video equipment, from HDTVs to surround sound systems and receivers.

Like coaxial audio cables, optical cables are capable of transferring audio signals, but the methods used to transfer these signals are remarkably different. For optical cables, digital signals are transferred between audio devices using pulses of light that travel through each glass fiber. The fibers feature a coating that makes them completely reflective on the inside, making it so that not only does light travels down the fiber by refraction, it is also unable to escape from the fiber. Once the light reaches the destination device, a reception module converts the light back into a digital signal.

These pulses of light are able to travel faster than electrical pulses and other means of data delivery, without any degradation of sound quality or clarity. This makes optical digital audio cables ideal for nearly all entertainment systems. However, this also makes optical digital audio cables fairly expensive. Since optical digital audio cables only transmit sound, these cables are often paired with DVI, S-video or other video-only cables.

Advantages of Optical Cables

Optical digital audio cables are quickly becoming commonplace in audio/video equipment setups thanks to their numerous advantages over coaxial cables. For instance, optical cables are immune to electromagnetic interference that can impede or interrupt data transmission through coaxial cables. As a result, optical cables are hardy enough to survive an electromagnetic pulse with little to no ill effects. Signals sent through optical cables are also able to maintain their strength over long distances, whereas signals sent through coaxial cables tend to lose their signal strength due to resistance issues and electromagnetic interference.

Optical cables are not just used for audio/video equipment - they are now a prominent fixture of the Internets very backbone. A growing number of telecommunications companies are also using fiber optics to connect residential customers to their Internet and television services. Optical cables are used in the same environments as their coaxial counterparts, from burial in trenches to attachment on aerial telephone poles. As technology progresses, one can expect optical cables usage to expand even further.

Remember to have a look at our range of Optical Cables we have in our store.


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