Active cables are copper cables for data transmission that use a silicon chip (semiconductor) to boost the performance of the cable. Compact digital active cables embed signal processing technology directly into the cable structure to improve bandwidth performance and extend the capability of many communication standards such as HDMI, USB, PCi Express, Ethernet, DisplayPort and Infiniband. Active cables are used to connect consumer devices such as HD digital cameras & camcorders, smartphones & PDA mobile phones, tablet PC & laptop computers, gaming consoles and HDTV 3DTV home theaters, as well as enterprise networks which form the backbone of modern data communication systems.

Active Cables Vs Passive Cables

In active cables, a chip is embedded in the sink end of the cable to compensate for the data loss which occurs when very high speed signals are transmitted over copper. This technology enables cable brands and cable assemblies to produce slim, flexible and compact cables for consumers. Without a chip, a cable is considered a ‘passive’ cable. Passive cables always degrade the data they carry, due to such “channel impairments” as attenuation, crosstalk and group velocity distortion. In active cables, one or several semiconductor chips are embedded in the cable to compensate for some or all of these impairments. This active boosting allows cables to be more compact, thinner, longer and faster than their passive equivalents.

Why Signal Boosting Chip Technology in Cables

HDMI Active CablesWhen you increase the length and decrease the gauge of a cable, the electronic characteristics of cable assemblies becomes less reliable and causes higher loss. The chip technology recovers this loss through equalization settings to produce compliant cables.

As performance demands increase, high-frequency bandwidth suppression becomes more difficult to solve. These problems cause common-mode noise (cross-talk, equivalization, de-skew, EMI) and increased rise times and reduced amplitudes, which mean that data becomes virtually impossible to recover.

The chip is powered by a technique called power harvesting. The IC is designed to harvest power from the data lines without corrupting the data. The technology ensures cable quality and compliance through an in built high-speed test function. This works by sending high frequency data around the cable and measuring data edges with pico-second accuracy.

The major benefit of embedding chip technology in cables is a reduction in the copper used in cable production, reducing the overall form factor of the cable and reducing the weight of the cable by as much as 80%. Other benefits include longer reach and lower power consumption: active cables have demonstrated reach extensions up to 5× over simple passive cables while consuming approximately 75% less power than comparable fiber-based interconnects.