Stands for "Analog-to-Digital Converter." Since computers only process digital information, they require digital input. Therefore, if an analog input is sent to a computer, an analog-to-digital converter (ADC) is required. This device can take an analog signal, such as an electrical current, and digitize it into a binary format that the computer can understand.
A common use for an ADC is to convert analog video to a digital format. For example, video recorded on 8mm film or a VHS tape is stored in an analog format. In order to transfer the video to a computer, the video must be converted to a digital format. This can be done using an ADC video conversion box, which typically has composite video inputs and a Firewire output. Some digital camcorders that have analog inputs can also be used to convert video from analog to digital.
ADCs may also be used to convert analog audio streams. For example, if you want to record sounds from a microphone, the audio must be converted from the microphone's analog signal into a digital signal that the computer can understand. This is why all sound cards that have an analog audio input also require an ADC that converts the incoming audio signal to a digital format. The accuracy of the audio conversion depends on the sampling rate used in the conversion process. Higher sampling rates provide a better estimation of the analog signal, and therefore produce a higher-quality sound.
While ADCs convert analog inputs into a digital format that computers can recognize, sometimes a computer must output an analog signal. For this type of conversion, a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) is used.
NOTE: ADC can also stand for "Apple Display Connector," which was a proprietary video connector developed by Apple. It combined DVI, USB, and AC power into a single cable. Apple stopped producing computers with ADC ports in 2004 in favor of the standard DVI connection.