Fiber Optics: What, Why, How

Last month, I talked about going to the Sports Video Group’s College Video Summit in Atlanta and how at times I felt out of my league.

One of the areas that I have felt most unprepared for is the increase in the use of fiber optic cables in video production. I have spent a year or so trying to figure out the voodoo that is an ultralight cable that carries uncompressed video signal up to 20 miles with embedded audio and the ability to integrate talkback with camera operators, and send program feeds back to the terminal ends. Then came the new terminology: tactical, LC, ST, Single-mode, multimode and more. Over the nextFiber01 several months, I plan to help you figure out how fiber can fit into your program and increase your production value while decreasing your workload. I am working with our partners from Blackmagic Design and Tactical Fiber Systems to demystify fiber and bring it to the front of your mind as you prepare for your students for their future.

The technology behind fiber optics is quite simple - use microscopic glass fibers to transfer data. A quick google search reveals that Fiber optic cables are “A technology that uses glass (or plastic) threads (fibers) to transmit data. A fiber optic cable consists of a bundle of glass threads, each of which is capable of transmitting messages modulated onto light waves.” So how does it work? I have no idea.

Here is what I know and why it matters:
Fiber is much lighter than copper which means less weight
Fiber allows for a single strand of cable to send and receive multiple video and audio
signals. This means fewer cables needed.
Fiber is relatively inexpensive. Fiber is typically a dollar a foot which is about the same
as copper.

Fiber allows you to run a cable MUCH farther than copper. The sky's the limit in terms of
where you can run cameras.

My plan for this series is to take this super powerful tool out of the dark and make it something you are not only aware of but something that you can be excited about adding to your plan. There are a lot of new terms and applications that come with fiber that may intimidate you but let’s dive in and clear the air.

To get started check out this video from Pasha Souvorin with the basics of fiber optic cables:

The first terms to understand are single mode and multimode cables. Mode refers to the path the light will take down the cable. So single mode fibers only allow the light to travel down one path therefore can be used for much larger length. Multimode is equivalent to allowing light to bounce through a larger tunnel. Multimode cables don’t allow for longer lengths because of a term called dispersion. Dispersion means the light has spread out due to the size of the cable and is more difficult to read at the end of the cable. Single mode is going to be the best cable to use for our applications. This video is the best lesson on the difference between the two modes that I have found:

Now that you know what type of cable you need to purchase, you need to know how, where, and why you are using the cables to know which kind of cable you need to purchase. I am going to break down the needs into two categories: field and studio. While some of the tools needed are the same, there are some specific things you will need to get the job done right with as few hassles as possible.

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There are a variety of cable connections available for fiber cables in video production. It is essential that you determine your signal flow and devices to be used to make sure you get the correct cable connections for your devices. In our studio, we use the Blackmagic Design ATEM Studio Converter and the ATEM Camera Converters (https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/atemconverters) which uses LC cables. It is imperative that you get the correct connector. Take your time and make certain you purchase the correct cable for your application.

Check out this video from Rich at Tactical Fiber Systems about cable connections to see the difference between the different connection types.

In the field there are several other factors you must take into account when purchasing cables. In studio applications, you connect your cables and leave them but in the field you have multiple deployments which may set you up for frustration if you don’t have the correct cables and connectors. When you deploy fiber in the field, you have to make certain to lay the cable opposed to “pulling” the cable like you may have done in the past with copper. Laying the cable means the cable isn’t pulled from the reel but instead the reel and the cable are moved from point to point at the same time. If you pull the cable, you may break fibers in the cable rendering it useless. Another concern is protecting the cable from bending, crimping, or foot traffic damage. Tactical fibers are the answer to for field production in my opinion. Tactical fibers have additional protections built into the cable to protect the cable. Tactical Fiber Solutions (tacticalfiber.com) has done a great job of creating a superior product but playing an “armor” layer in the cable to further protect it.

Tactical Fiber Systems also has a great video to show the different protections that can be built into the fiber.

Over the next several months, I will show you how we have integrated fiber into both our studio and field productions as well as help you prevent some of issues we have experienced during the season. I will also share the latest information from Blackmagic Design and Tactical Fiber Systems.


TFSLogoAbout Tactical Fiber Systems
Tactical Fiber Systems manufactures Tactical Optical Fiber Cable Assemblies (TFOCA) and delivers complete value priced optical fiber systems for video and audio communications. For more information, call 561-372-0604 or visit http://www.TacticalFiber.com

Tactical Fiber Systems is a Division of Mobile Studios, Inc. located in Boca Raton, Florida. Visit http://www.mobilestudios.com