AJA and Thunderbolt

What is Thunderbolt?

Thunderbolt™ is the brand name of a hardware interface developed initially by Apple and Intel that allows the connection of external peripherals to a computer. Thunderbolt 1 and 2 use the same connector as Mini DisplayPort (MDP), whereas Thunderbolt 3 uses USB Type-C. It was initially developed and marketed under the name Light Peak, and first consumer products rolled out to the market in 2011.

Thunderbolt combines PCI Express (PCIe) and DisplayPort (DP) into two serial signals, and additionally provides DC power, all across one cable. Since Thunderbolt uses the DisplayPort protocol for video display, you can connect any DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI, or VGA display using existing applicable adapters.

For systems that include Thunderbolt™ 2, users can take advantage of transfer speeds of up to 20Gbps, with support for DisplayPort 1.2. Thunderbolt 2 workstations and laptops are backwards compatible with original Thunderbolt devices and Thunderbolt 2 uses the same cables and connectors.

Thunderbolt 3 doubles the throughput again to 40Gbps and now utilizes the USB-C connection for broad and simplified device connectivity. Attention needs to be paid to the details however as USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 3, while sometimes using the same port, are different protocols. Not all USB-C ports will be USB 3.1, or Thunderbolt compatible. If you purchased a drive or device that is Thunderbolt 3 and your port is USB-C with USB 3.1 support only, like a standard current MacBook, the Thunderbolt device will not be recognized. Your USB-C port MUST also support Thunderbolt 3 to use Thunderbolt devices.

Up to six peripherals may be supported by one connector through various topologies for any of the Thunderbolt standards.

Thunderbolt 3

Compared to Thunderbolt 2, Intel's Thunderbolt 3 controller (codenamed Alpine Ridge) doubles the bandwidth to 40 Gbps (5 GB/s), halves power consumption, and simultaneously drives two external 4K displays at 60 Hz (or a single external 4K display at 120 Hz, or a 5K display at 60 Hz when using Apple's implementation for the late 2016 MacBook Pros) instead of just the single display previous controllers can drive.

Thunderbolt 3 supports PCIe 3.0 and other protocols, including HDMI 2.0, and DisplayPort 1.2.

Backwards compatibility: Solutions and products built to Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 specifications will work with Thunderbolt 3 via an adapter.

Thunderbolt 3 Benefits Video

Bring more power, speed and simplicity to your workflows with Thunderbolt™ 3 solutions from AJA.

Learn how AJA’s Io 4K Plus and Io IP I/O devices give you the bandwidth to easily move 4K/UltraHD, High Frame Rate and deep color content over a single cable in and out of your computer, including HDR support across HDMI 2.0.

Thunderbolt 3 Features

  • 40 Gbps, double the speed of Thunderbolt 2
  • Bi-directional, dual-protocol (PCI Express and DisplayPort)
  • Four lanes of PCI Express Gen 3
  • Eight lanes of DisplayPort 1.2 (HBR2 and MST) – supports two 4K displays (4096 x 2160 30bpp @ 60 Hz)
  • USB 3.1 (10 Gbps) – compatible with existing USB devices and cables
  • DisplayPort 1.2 – compatible with existing DisplayPort displays, devices, and cables
  • HDMI 2.0 support
  • Power (based on USB power delivery)
    • Up to 100W system charging
    • 15W to bus-powered devices
  • Faster than 10 Gb Ethernet connection between computers
  • Daisy chaining (up to six devices)
  • Lowest latency for PCI Express audio
  • Connector: same shape as USB-C, reversible and flippable

Io 4K Plus

Io 4K Plus is the cutting edge of capture and output hardware available over Thunderbolt 3, offering a full set of professional video and audio connectivity with support for the latest 4K/UltraHD devices, High Frame Rate (HFR), High Dynamic Range (HDR) and deep color workflows. The power of Thunderbolt 3 enables Io 4K Plus to handle a wide range of formats from SD to HD, UltraHD and full 4K with frame rates up to 60p over both 12G-SDI and HDMI 2.0 with single cable simplicity, plus HDR 10 and HLG support over HDMI for emerging HDR workflows.

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T-TAP Pro is the newest generation of AJA’s proven T-TAP, featuring the latest 12G-SDI and HDMI 2.0 connectivity for working with up to 4K or UltraHD 60p video over a single cable. This allows for easy output of deep color, high frame rate, SDR and HDR video to a wide range of pro and consumer monitors and devices, all at the highest 10- and 12-bit quality. T-TAP Pro is a compact, silent device that delivers next generation mobile monitoring capabilities to any supported Thunderbolt 3 enabled system.

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Io X3

AJA Io X3 is perfect for high quality HDR or SDR video work with up to 60p HD/2K signals or files with support for all major NLE applications as well as other video applications such as OBS Studio, vMix and Telestream Wirecast. Connecting with a single Thunderbolt 3 cable and providing a second Thunderbolt connector for flexibility, Io X3's compact and quiet form factor is ideal for on set, in the studio, at an event or in the edit suite.

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Thunderbolt 2

Thunderbolt 2 takes Thunderbolt 1 at the physical level and aggregates channels, whereby the two previously separate 10 Gbps channels can be combined into a single 20 Gbps channel.

Thunderbolt 2 is able to transfer a 4K video while simultaneously displaying it on a discrete monitor over display port.

Thunderbolt 2 incorporates DisplayPort 1.2 support, which allows for video streaming to a single 4K video monitor or dual QHD monitors. Thunderbolt 2 is backwards compatible, which means that all Thunder-bolt cables and connectors are compatible with Thunderbolt 1.

The first Thunderbolt 2 product for the consumer market was Asus's Z87-Deluxe/Quad motherboard, announced in August 2013, but the first full product released with Thunderbolt 2 was Apple's late 2013 Retina MacBook Pro, on October 22, 2013.

Thunderbolt 2 Features

  • 20 Gbps, estimated real-world performance of around 16Gbps
  • With Thunderbolt 2, there are two bidirectional channels delivering 20Gbps each. That means a single channel has more than enough power to drive a 4K display or high-speed storage device, but if you want to do both things at once you'll need to devote a channel to each one as daisy-chaining won't give you enough throughput.
  • Data, video, audio, and power over a single cable
  • Display Port v1.2 and PCI Express over the same cable
  • For host CPUs without internal PCI Express slots, provides the ability to capture and playback 4K/UltraHD when paired with an appropriate Thunderbolt device with professional connectivity
  • Bi-directional, meaning it can transmit and receive data at the same time
  • Connector: same shape as Mini Display Port (MDP)
  • Daisy chain up to 6 peripherals


In February 2011, Apple introduced its new line of MacBook Pro notebook computers and announced Thunderbolt availability with MacBook Pros being the first machines to feature the new I/O technology.

In May 2011, Apple announced a new line of iMacs that also included Thunderbolt. The Thunderbolt port on all the new Macs is in the same location relative to other ports and maintains the same physical dimensions and pinout as the prior MDP connector. The main visible difference on Thunderbolt-equipped Macs is a Thunderbolt symbol next to the port.

Later that year Sony and others started to announce the availability of similarly equipped Windows PCs

Thunderbolt Features

  • 10 Gbps, estimated real-world performance of around 8Gbps
  • Each Thunderbolt port includes two channels
  • Data, video, audio, and power over a single cable
  • Display Port v1.1a and PCI Express over the same cable
  • For host CPUs without internal PCI Express slots, provides the ability to capture and playback HD when paired with an appropriate Thunderbolt device with professional connectivity
  • Bi-directional, meaning it can transmit and receive data at the same time
  • Connector: same shape as Mini Display Port (MDP)

Thunderbolt Accessories for Ki Pro Digital Recorders and Players

Ki Stor Dock

External Ki Stor media dock with Thunderbolt™ and USB3 connections for fast transfer of media to a host computer. Perfect for transfer of your Ki Pro Rack media files at high speed to and from a Thunderbolt host computer.

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