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What's TOSLINK

TOSLINK or Optical Cable is a standardized optical fiber connection system. Its most common use is in consumer audio equipment (via a "digital optical" socket), where it carries a digital audio stream between components such as MiniDisc and CD players and DAT recorders. Although TOSLINK supports several different media formats and physical standards, digital audio connections using the rectangular EIAJ/JEITA RC-5720 (also CP-1201 and JIS C5974-1993 F05) connector are by far the most common.

History

TOSLINK connector (JIS F05)

Toshiba originally created TOSLINK to connect their CD players to their receivers for PCM audio streams. It was soon adopted by manufacturers of most CD players. Early TOSLINK systems used the raw PCM data from the CD player; the S/PDIF standard has now become nearly universal for audio streams. It can often be found on DVD players and some game consoles to connect the digital audio stream to Dolby Digital/DTS decoders.

The name is a registered trademark of Toshiba, created from "TOShiba-LINK". Variations of the name, such as TOSlink, TosLink, and Tos-link, are also seen, while the official generic name for the standard is "EIAJ optical".

Design

 
A TOSLINK fiber optic audio cable being illuminated on one end

TOSLINK may use inexpensive 1 mm plastic optical fiber, or it can use higher quality multistrand plastic optical fibers or even quartz glass optical fibers, depending on the desired bandwidth and application. TOSLINK cables are usually limited to 5 meters in length, with a technical maximum of 10 meters, for reliable transmission without the use of a signal booster. However, it is very common for interfaces on newer consumer electronics (satellite receivers and PCs with optical outputs) to easily run over 30 meters on even low-cost ($0.25/ft) TOSLINK cables.

Mini-TOSLINK jacks exist and are commonly found on Apple computers and portable MiniDisc players. These provide the same capabilities but are almost exactly the same size and shape as the ubiquitous 3.5 mm stereo minijack (they are 0.5mm longer to prevent an analog plug from contacting the LED). Adapters are available to connect a TOSLINK cable to a Mini-TOSLINK jack.

One may occasionally encounter terms for technology similar to TOSLINK, such as ADAT Lightpipe or simply ADAT Optical. These are most often seen in the professional music/audio industry. While the ADAT Lightpipe format uses the same JIS F05 connectors as TOSLINK, the ADAT Lightpipe data format is not compatible with S/PDIF.
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