Fact Checked

What is IEEE 1394a?

Patrick Roland
Patrick Roland

The IEEE 1394a is a type of adapter cable for computers and audiovisual equipment. It has uniquely shaped plugs that aid in high speed data transfer. After surviving many incarnations, this connector has become the standard adapter for many forms of technology. The cable can be known by different names, including FireWire, i.LINK and lynx, but it has the same format and serves the same purpose no matter the title.

The IEEE 1394a cable was developed by Apple Inc. in the 1980s as a replacement data transfer cable for its Small Computer System Interface (SCSI) bus. Engineers from Sony Corp., Texas Instruments Inc. and other technology firms also assisted in the cable's development. Over the years, it has evolved into many variations, but the 1394a is the most popular. In the 1990s and 2000s, the cable's makers hoped it would surpass the Universal Serial Bus (USB) cable as the preferred method of data transfer, but patent tie-ups kept its price high, and it therefore was not widely implemented. It has dropped this high patent fee and enjoyed a surge in popularity, but it still has not surpassed the USB.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

The IEEE 1394a adapter looks a great deal like popular USB cables but with one major difference. One end of the cable has the well-known rectangular metal input look of the USB plugs and is about the same size, but the two are not interchangeable and will not fit within each other's ports. The other end of the cable is where the two stop sharing similarities. A USB cable has two identical ends, but a FireWire cable has an opposite end that is smaller than the tip of a pinky finger. This particular part of the IEEE 1394a was developed to take up as little space as possible on digital devices such as cameras.

Most computer operating systems support IEEE 1394a cables, but some people believe that Macintosh computers download the data from these wires faster than personal computers (PCs) do. No matter the system, a variety of devices use these cables to transfer data to computers. The cables were developed with video cameras in mind, because their blend of audio and visual data required a streamlined way to transfer. More recently, the cables have been adapted to digital cameras for downloading photos to a computer. Recently, high definition cable boxes began utilizing the IEEE 1394a interface to transfer their digital signal to televisions.

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Discussion Comments


@NathanG - Alas, my friend, you should buy a Macintosh computer. They are completely video ready, IEEE 1394 and all, no exceptions-at least not from my experience.

And of course, Macs are the de facto computers for graphic and video professionals, for good reason. The hardware is better suited towards high end graphical applications and there is a wide range of software available.


@NathanG – I respect your nostalgia, but I think USB is a better standard. You don’t need to buy a IEEE 1394a PCI card; I know the cards are dirt cheap, but still, you need to buy them if you want this technology.

Computers that offer video editing capability have the cards preinstalled, and they add that to the price. Not every computer has it, however. With USB, you can edit on anything with a USB port-laptop, desktop, whatever. USB 2.0 especially is a faster standard than its predecessor USB 1.0.


I love Fire Wire. Of course, I guess USB takes a close second since it’s far more prevalent. However, when I first got my start in video editing over ten years ago, Fire Wire was the standard. I have a plug for it on my trusty Sony camcorder and I bought an IEEE 1394 card. I attach one end of the wire to my camcorder and the other end into the port on the card, and I’m good to go.

What amazed me was the speed of the data transfer. I started doing video editing on a Pentium II with less than 1 Gigabyte of RAM, and I was able to transfer video very fast. It was almost instantaneous. I’ve stayed with the Fire Wire standard ever since, although I realize most camcorders today use USB.

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