Thunderbolt’s single cable connectivity in a 4K world

Gary Adcock

As someone that deals in future technologies on a daily basis, I am constantly amazed how long people cling to the outdated tools they are using.

Take Firewire, once ubiquitous on computers, now a rarity.

At the beginning of the NLE age, Firewire drives allowed users the freedom and portability that SCSI and Serial connections did not. The drives allowed us to edit Standard Definition and even the first generations of HD digital content using HDV and Panasonic’s DVCProHD codec.

That hardware showed its first signs of age with RAW and LOG workflows appearing at the dawn of this millennia, encoding more and more data into the digital file to achieve a more “filmic” look.

Digital cameras, for the most part, record data in a linear manner, whereas these new encoding methods allowed the manufacturers to pack more information into the recorded signal in a manner that was not all that different from film, where a properly exposed negative allowed post to extract additional details from the shadows. 

All of that additional detail added to the file size. Even with advanced logarithmic encoding, the data being generated continued to grow exponentially. Native camera files grew from a few megabytes to gigabytes in size. But the media that was used to store it lagged further and further behind. Something had to be done to accelerate the data being created on-set.

Thunderbolt made it to the consumer marketplace in 2011. Initially it was relegated to secondary status due to the limited number of devices, cost of cables and Apple-only status.

Missed by most, Thunderbolt was designed to expand your computers’ capabilities, freeing users from the desktop by allowing externalization of everything on the PCIe buss.

Ethernet, SATA, Firewire, USB, Serial and Graphics were now going to be accessible over a single cable.

Today, Thunderbolt’s third generation has revolutionized Macs and PCs.  It has created a technological ecosystem to allow connectivity heretofore only imagined on computers from Apple, Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo and others: Networking, monitoring, power and connectivity for the 4K world, all via a single cable.

Not limited to a single 10Gb/s channel as the USB3.1 standard, Thunderbolt3 allows for two channels of USB, dual 4K 60p video streams, dedicated networking and all of the connectivity options you have used previously without the need for the cards and slots previously required.

Utilizing a USB-C connector, Thunderbolt3 powers configurations like Lenovo’s P70 laptop, where the dual TB3 ports offer users data transfers beyond 2.5 Gigabytes per second, nearly 25x as fast as Firewire was capable of while allowing simultaneous 4K or larger monitoring, networking and external GPU processing.

This leads to smaller, yet far more customizable systems than the PCIe slot configurations we are accustomed to. We saw this transformation on the “new” MacPro, where Apple only offered only USB3 and Thunderbolt2 for connectivity and one All-in-one designs from HP and Apple’s iMacs.

As the single cable connectivity in Thunderbolt3 allows users to upgrade as needed, you can power workstation level performance and monitor from your laptop — without sacrifice — even in a 4K world.

(Disclaimer: I have consulted with a number of companies on Thunderbolt technology, including some listed in this article. I have been sought out for my knowledge and expertise using this technology, yet I receive no compensation from any source other than ReelChicago for mention or inclusion herein.)