What are Digital Optical Cables
- TOSLINK -
Digital Optical and TOSLINK Cables are interconnects designed to carry a digital signal from a source such as a CD player or audio visual receiver where the signal is converted from (unit A) as digital electrical pulses to a series of light impulses through optical fibres connecting a further component such as a digital amplifer or SKY box (unit B) giving accurate and detailed digital information, audio or visual data exchange.
TOSLINK was created and trademarked by Toshiba thus giving us the name "TOShiba Link" now known as TOSLINK interconnects, the technical name is also known as "EIAJ optical standard" and sometimes in the professional music recording industry as "ADAT", and is now an established connection standard for the carrying of digital audio streams. The TOSLINK cable was originally produced as a connection solution for higher end Toshiba CD players to give a superior quality connection between their audio components using PCM (Pulse-Code Modulation). PCM is a digital conversion of an analogue signal which is then sampled at regular periods and converted to a series of pulses but the signal is usually compressed for a reasonable bit-rate conversion.
Diagram of a TOSLINK / Digital Optical Audio Cable
Digital Optical Cables (Fibre Optic) and TOSLINK Interconnects can be recognized, when attached to one component, as showing an illumination at the other end of the cable. This light is basically the digital signal being carried via pulses of light through the fibre optic cable. Optical Audio Cables , Optical Sound Cables, Digital Optical Cables are all the same as TOSLINK Cables and perform the exact same job.
There is a also a TOSLINK mini cable standard but this is generally found on portable audio players and Apple Computer components and many new laptop computers now come with a multipurpose headphone socket output which doubles as a mini TOSLINK connection via a small 3.5mm jack socket with fibre optic capability. However, the new TOSLINK mini plug (3.5mm jack) is slightly longer than a standard jack plug thus avoiding confusion with standard connectors. You can also get toslink feedthru, toslink switching and toslink converter boxes/adaptors for extending optical audio cable applications.
Although there is no industry defined limit to the maximum length of Optical Audio Cables (TOSLINK cables) it is widely understood that an acceptable maximum is 10 meters. The reason for not having an excessive length of digital optical audio cables is that the fibre optic signal (light pulses) can be absorbed by the plastic cable housing, fibre optical cables work by total internal reflection, and a small degradation in the light signal can occur thus causing data, sound and visual degradation over long cable runs. This also relates to the quality of a digital optical cable and choosing a superior cable manufacturer or more expensive TOSLINK cable can help you achieve better sound, vision and data quality when using this type of connection between your equipment.
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It is also worth noting that SKY on their standard SKY+ boxes and new Sky+ HD boxes have a digital optical cable output connector on the back of their set top boxes and using this is very highly recommended as not only is the digital sound sent via the TOSLINK cable but all the relevant Dolby (DD EX, DTS ES), PLII, and Surround Sound Settings (7.1) are transmitted to your home cinema / audio receiver system for superior and complete home cinema and home theatre setup for your viewing enjoyment.