Previously I’ve written about the introduction of a new USB connector. New USB 3.1 standards, released in July 2013 and not included in any products on the market yet, hinted at this upcoming change. The actual specification for the new connector (released about a week ago as I write this) is related to both that USB 3.1 standard and the new USB Power Delivery standard, which was released as an element of 3.1 (we’ll be talking a lot more about these standards and what they might mean in upcoming posts, stay tuned). It appears as though the use of this new connector doesn’t necessarily mean the inclusion of USB 3.1 speed or Power Delivery in a product. You see, each element of this new USB universe will be applicable on its own making for a varied and interesting collection of new devices, options and abilities.
The new connector changes just about everything we thought we knew about USB. It’s a connectivity revolution in the works and, since we’re a connectivity solutions company about the only thing we can say is “Vive La Revolution!” The name of this revolution is Type C (catchy, eh?). Up until now you’ve used a USB Type A connection (the standard upstream connection to a computer or host, available in a 2.0 or 3.0 configuration) and the USB Type B connection (the square, downstream connection to the hub or device such as a printer or document camera, also available in a 2.0 or 3.0 configuration). Type A and Type B come in a choice of sizes. First, there are the standard connections you’re so familiar with on computers, docking stations and thumb drives. Then there is the USB mini-connector. It’s a smaller version of the standard Type A and B that’s used on portable devices such as video cameras and DSLR cameras. Finally there is the USB micro connector. It’s the smallest USB connection and you typically find it on really cool smartphones and other George Jetson-like futuristic gadgets. None of them are going away. In the electronics industry, we prefer to keep adding options and variations as a form of user entertainment. We know what you’re thinking and you’re welcome.
Incidentally, the reason there are two different connectors on a USB cable is because USB supplies power. You’ve been using USB connectivity to charge the battery on your iPod or cell phone for a few years now. USB has become the universal batter charging port, and no professionally designed A/V system should be without an ample supply of USB ports. When power is involved there is always the chance of sending that power in the wrong direction on the electrical network. This often results in the release of the magic blue smoke that makes these devices work in the first place. So we have Type A and Type B to prevent us from plugging something in the wrong way and being disappointed with the results.
Now along comes USB Type C and things are going to get really interesting. First, this new connector comes in a version that doesn’t have an up or a down. Think about it. Last night you plugged your phone in for it to charge while you dreamt about all the wonderful things you’d be doing at work today. First you tried to put in the plug, but it didn’t fit. Then you flipped the plug upside down, but somehow it didn’t fit again. Finally you rotated the connector to the exact same orientation as your first try, and it popped right in. You might even have let a little sigh of exasperation out when you did this. The new Type C connection won’t play this game because it’s symmetrical. There are 12 pins on the bottom and 12 pins on the top.
24 pins is a lot. USB 2.0 (the one you’ve been using the most) only has 4 pins. So why the big pincushion? Because the USB Type C connector, when coupled with USB 3.1 performance, also supports a native, built-in DisplayPort connection for digital AV and an additional pathway for up to 4 channels of analog audio (for a microphone and headset on a smartphone). USB Type C will unify desktop connectivity of audio, video, data and power to level never before seen!
And speaking about data, this new connector supports SuperSpeed + which offers data transfer over short distances (think desktop) up to 10GBit/s and the full measure of the new Power Delivery standard, which allows up to 5 amps at 20 volts to run through a tiny cable for an astounding 100 watts of pure, useful electrons! Even Herbie Hancock couldn’t deliver that kind of crazy power!