Arik Hesseldahl

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Intel And Apple To Debut Thunderbolt Video and Data Connection Today

Intel will today announce a new connection technology for personal computers that will combine the ability to transfer large high-definition video files at substantially higher speeds than current technologies, and to display them on HD video screens into a single cable, a source familiar with the plan tells me. Essentially, a single connection will allow both for super-fast data transfers and for display and capture of high definition video.

Previously demonstrated by Intel under the codename Light Peak, the connection is being called Thunderbolt, and will debut today at an event in San Francisco. Apple will announce the first computers using the technology today.

Thunderbolt will be able to move data at a blistering rate of 10 gigabits per second, fast enough to transfer the contents of a Blu-Ray move in less than a minute. It’s meant to meet the needs of a world where the creation and viewing of HD video content is an increasingly mainstream activity among consumers, though it will initially be adopted for use in products favored by video professionals.

The technology also speaks to the growing frustration with the number of cables running into and out of PCs and related devices, especially when video is involved.

The technology will allow multiple Thunderbolt-ready devices to be connected to a single PC in a daisy-chain arrangement. At first, Thunderbolt will be intended for use in PCs. It’s possible that consumer electronics makers will embrace it as well, though none have as yet. So far, the other companies debuting products supporting Thunderbolt include professional video systems companies like Avid, Apogee and and Aja Video Systems, as well as storage companies like LaCie and Western Digital.

And while Apple is only the first PC maker to embrace Thunderbolt so far–it collaborated with Intel on the technology–other PC makers are expected to adopt it later this year and into early 2012. Photos on Mac enthusiast sites depict the Thunderbolt port as looking more or less identical to the Mini DisplayPort already found on the sides of new MacBook models. Thunderbolt ports will be identified with a tiny symbol that resembles a bolt of lightning with the head of an arrow at its bottom.

Apple has a long history of adopting new connection technologies early. In 1998 its first-generation iMac was the first computer with USB ports. Apple also invented the Firewire connection technology and was early to add it to the Mac. Firewire technology was also used on the first iPods and proved popular with video editors constantly moving large files between external storage drives.