Thunderbolt Strikes!

Earlier this year, Apple started releasing laptops equipped with Thunderbolt connectors. Developed in conjunction with Intel, Thunderbolt is a pretty amazing interface. Standard Thunderbolt ports can carry two 10 Gbps bidirectional data channels and two channels of DisplayPort. Intel has recently announced a few new controllers that will vary the number of data and DisplayPort channels for different applications. 

Like many new interfaces, it’s all pretty ho-hum until peripherals start showing up. Right now, about all that’s available is a RAID box from Promise Technology and the new 27” Thunderbolt Display from Apple. That display is pretty impressive by itself (it includes FireWire 800, Ethernet and USB on the back), but it’s just the beginning of what’s coming. 

Last week at the Intel Developer Forum, some new products that will be very applicable to what we do were announced, and I think the future looks pretty bright. 

First up, we see AJA is announcing the Io XT. The Io XT can do hardware-based up, down and cross-conversion, includes 3G SDI I/O, HDMI I/O and SD & HD component output. With two Thunderbolt ports, it doesn’t have to be at the end of the chain. Best of all, it’s priced at $1495.  

Blackmagic has already announced the Intensity Extreme ($299), which appears to essentially be a Thunderbolt version of the existing Intensity Pro. It will input and output HDMI and analog video and is Thunderbolt bus powered. Pretty slick. 

The new UltraStudio 3D can capture two streams at once for 3D (though if you ask me, 3D is dead already, but that’s another post). With dual-link SDI in and out, HDMI 1.4a in and out plus a breakout cable for analog I/O, it will capture pretty much anything you might need. Oh, and the price is $995. Not bad.

One of the main reasons Apple need to keep the MacPro around is for PCIe cards. Even though the 27” Core i7 is the fastest Mac made today, the inability to add PCIe cards, primarily for video capture or SAS or FiberChannel, is a big drawback. But there are a few offerings ready to change that. 

The Echo Express PCIe 2.0 Expansion Chassis will be available in two versions; one to hold a full-length card, another for half-length. While it only holds one card, most of the time, that’s all we need. Drop your PCIe card in the chassis and hook it up via Thunderbolt and you can use the card. Cool. No pricing yet.

Now, if you need more than one card, check out the Magma ExpressBox 3T. Magma has been making expansion chassis for a long time, and the 3T will hold, you guessed it, 3 cards. It even comes with a travel bag. Again, there has been no pricing announced yet, but I love the fact that you could hook this up to an iMac or Mini and be able to do pretty much whatever I would want to on a Mac Pro. 

Now, I don’t know for sure this is coming, but I would have to think that RME is also working on a Thunderbolt version of the MADIFace line. Another product that has been announced is the Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock. The Thunderbolt Express Dock comes equipped with three USB ports, a FireWire 800 port, and a Thunderbolt port. I have a feeling that Apple is going to be dropping FireWire in the next rev of the Mac line, but many of us still have FireWire devices we’ll need to use for a bit. This will be a great way to make that happen.

Personally, I’m pretty excited about this whole Thunderbolt thing. 

One thing I learned a few weeks ago is the reason why we’ve not seen more Thunderbolt products released yet. The issue is that Intel has not released the chipset to more than a handful of primary partners. In fact, the guys at ProMax told me that they won’t likely get actual chipsets before the first quarter of next year. They figure they’ll have to buy a few of whatever hits the market first, take it apart and use the chipset in development of their products even before they have wholesale access to them. 

So the bad news is that it’s still going to be six months to a year before we really have a bunch of Thunderbolt devices to connect to. But the good news is that once we get there, it’s going to be pretty amazing.

What are you looking forward to with a Thunderbolt interface?