Gear & Now: Cables, Connections, and Comfort Levels
Posted Sep 10, 2009

Take a good look at the tools of your trade. No, not your camera. Not your PC or video monitor. Look at the cables and connections in between them. Be they old or new, cable coverings (rubber, plastic, or fabric) can be easily nicked, cut, torn, or damaged from everyday use; it can happen "in-studio," but it's even more likely to befall wedding or event videographers whose workplace is a new and challenging one each time. Underneath the cover, metal wires are subject to corrosion or tarnishing over time. At the ends, connectors that are loosened, damaged, or worn will cause problems and undermine all your other gear-and all your creative efforts. So, here's a look at some developments in cables and connectors used in video production. But first, a naughty novelty item, if you don't mind!

Gender Neutrik
On a recent shoot, while videotaping a one-person stage play, I was asked by another tech on site if I had a "gender bender." I admit I didn't get it at first. But thanks to Neutrik USA, Inc., I have something better.
The company has released the first unisex XLR cable connector. Male or female, it doesn't matter. The ConvertCon has a unique housing that slides back and forth to make the needed conversion. Neutrik's well-known gold contacts are on the standard three-pole XLR cable connector, which is said by the company to be able to withstand more than 1,000 "mating cycles."

The connectors are priced at less than $15. For about $5 more, Neutrik can help you weather the elements with its new XX-HD series XLR cable connector, designed for outdoor use. With its hybrid metal/rubber design, the new XX-HD is protected against dust and water.

The XX-HD connector features a rubber sealing jacket actually assembled during the termination of the connector itself, which provides dust and water protection meeting an IP67 rating (an international industry protocol) for immersion in water of a depth of 1 meter. The rubber sealing jacket also protects against mechanical shock.

Neutrik XX-HD female cable connector

Monster
From the connector to the cable, more protection is now available. Monster Cable Products, Inc., well-known for its consumer and home theater wiring, also has a pro division, and it has released a new heavy-duty microphone cable called the Monster 100.

Its Duraflex outer jacket is made of proprietary PVC material that is said to resist nicks and cuts. Perhaps it follows, then, that the cable has a lifetime warranty, which can solve a lot of problems. But issues can be prevented from occurring in the first place with its injection-molded connectors that relieve strain while increasing durability. Inside, the copper-braided shielding rejects radio electromagnetic interference while providing a low noise floor for better sound quality and resolution.

Technicalities aside, the cables come with interchangeable color-coded O-rings that can be attached to the cable ends for quick and confident identification. A 5' Monster 100 mic cable is $19.95; a 50' cable goes for $59.95.

Wireworks
And if a Monster doesn't get you, maybe some dazzle will. That's dazzle as in Dazzler, a new mic cable from Wireworks Corp. that is designed to be a visual treat as well as an audio support. In cases such as a formal wedding speech, a corporate retirement dinner, or any other video event where important people speak on camera, this cable adds a unique visual sparkle.

WireWorks Dazzler mic cable

Dazzler mic cords feature the flexible MusiLUX mic cable and cover embellished with Neutrik's crystalCON connector, but the dazzle comes from the fact that the cables are encrusted with genuine Swarovski crystals. (Swarovski was a Czech glassblower and jewelry expert who became world-renowned for the quality of his company's crystal glassware, jewelry, and accessories.)

The sparkle is added to an undercolor of black, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, gray, or white, which can be used to match the actual decor of your video shoot or for more practical reasons such as easy cable identification. Either way, they are so much more visually engaging on camera, especially in an elegant setting such as a high-end wedding reception. Looks aside, the cables are flexible PVC, with regular or crystalCON XLR connectors available. Standard lengths range from 25' to 100' with custom lengths to order; pricing varies accordingly.

By the way, Wireworks also offers new BG Cable Assemblies with the convertible Neutrik convertCON, in four configurations: XLR Male to convertCON, XLR Female to convertCON, convertCON to convertCON, and .25" TRS to convertCON. The new audio cable assemblies are offered in a variety of standard lengths, with custom lengths available upon request.

Belden
Many of us have Belden, Inc. cables in our location kits, edit suites, or production facilities, and they are probably still holding up just fine, thank you. Friends of the RG 59 family are everywhere, it seems.
But the company has come out with new video coax cables, RG-11, designed specially for long-run, digital, and HD applications. The new Belden Brilliance Plenum-Rated RG-11/U Type Precision Digital Video Coaxial Cables (they better have a long run with a name like that) are ready for high-definition video (HD-SDI) or 1080p/60 applications, and their long-run capabilities are grounded in tech specs that show they have a very high rating on what's called "return loss," or signal degradation.

Belden cites -23 dB 5 MHz to 1.6 MHz and -21 dB from 1.6 GHz to 4.5 GHz ratings, making this the only plenum RG cable to guarantee such performance. The cables feature a 14 AWG solid bare copper conductor and a Duofoil + 95% Tinned Copper Braid Shield, as well as PTFE insulation and a fluorocopolymer jacket. They are available in 10 colors, including black, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, gray, and natural.

Gepco
Still with coax (as opposed to fiber or HDMI-type) cable for HD, Gepco International, Inc. has introduced the VHD13F, with three audio twisted-pairs designed for the demands of ENG applications. It is an RG59-type coax, with a stranded center conductor and a double-braided shield. The video coax is rated to a 4.5 GHz bandwidth, making it suitable for uncompressed HDTV, standard SDI, and high-quality analog video, along with audio or intercom when required.

Gepco's VHD13F is a coextruded zip cable, housing the audio and video components side by side to help reduce its size and weight, always a bonus on the road or in the field. Each audio pair is individually shielded and isolated with a mylar/foil shield and drain wire.

Adder
In some video environments, cabling on a one-to-one basis sometimes is not enough. We often have to connect multiple devices or share multiple peripherals among different computers. KVM (keyboard, video, or mouse) switches are the way to go in such cases, and manufacturer Adder has released some great new hardware devices that can help. The AV4PRO-DVI is a four-port USB emulator, providing connectivity options for specialized interface devices such as graphics tablets, high-resolution screens, and other USB peripherals.

Even better, in a video post or graphic design facility, the AV4PRO-DVI supports full dual-link DVI (WQXGA image resolutions, up to 2560x1600) and digital audio. The unit has independent switching modes, so you can take the keyboard, video, and mouse function from one computer while taking the audio from another. Any connected computer can use the two additional USB ports, for printer or scanner connections, for example. The AV4PRO-DVI is shipping now at $495 MSRP.

AdderView 4PRO-DVI USB emulator

Adder is also talking up its new audio, video, and USB extender, the AdderLink Infinity, with its capabilities for extending DVI video, audio, and USB signals over unlimited distances using IP and gigabit Ethernet technologies.

The AdderLink Infinity supports an industry-leading DVI-over-IP technology with resolutions of up to 1920x1200 at 60Hz; that's full-frame video over a single gigabit Ethernet cable. The new DVI-over-IP (and combo USB) extender will be ideal for many video environments, allowing dynamic switching of video sources for desktop and display activities. It is slated to ship later this year.

Extenders are also available from other cable and tech manufacturers, of course, including Belden; Gefen, Inc.; IOGEAR, Inc.; Network Technologies, Inc.; StarTech.com; TecNec Distributing; and many more.

Coiling and Clamping
As any videographer knows, keeping good cables in good condition will help your work and workflow. Keeping them neat and tidy is another matter. I still see people using twist ties, rubber bands, and homemade solutions to keep their cables close and coiled.

A couple of store-bought solutions are worth mentioning if you still find yourself in a spaghetti junction, such as Cable Clamps. Sturdy and reusable, these steel and polymer plastic clamps snap open and shut with a quick-locking feature that holds the cable securely until release.

They come in various sizes (and combo packs, priced from $20 to $30), depending on the cable load you need to lasso. Available in different colors and with private labeling, they can really help in video studios or editing suites. New Sea Clamps are also available, for wet or weather-intensive outdoor cable management.

I use a Bongo Tie to wrap and store loose cords. Selling online for less than $20 a pack, these elastic wraps are made of natural rubber and wood. They use a patented "button-type" closure to wrap and tighten around any cable. Even better, by looping the wooden head through the rubber end and pulling tight, the Bongo tie will forever stay with its cablemate-regardless of gender.

Lee Rickwood (lrickwood at goodmedia.com) is a media consultant and freelance writer.