A potentiometer is a manually adjustable resistor. The way this device works is relatively simple. One terminal of the potentiometer is connected to a power source. Another is hooked up to ground (a point with no voltage or resistance and which serves as a neutral reference point), while the third terminal runs across a strip of resistive material. This resistive strip generally has a low resistance at one end; its resistance gradually increases to a maximum resistance at the other end. The third terminal serves as the connection between the power source and ground, and is usually interfaced to the user by means of a knob or lever. The user can adjust the position of the third terminal along the resistive strip in order to manually increase or decrease resistance. By controlling resistance, a potentiometer can determine how much current flows through a circuit. When used to regulate current, the potentiometer is limited by the maximum resistivity of the strip.
The power of this simple device is not to be underestimated. In most analog devices, a potentiometer is what establishes the levels of output. In a loud speaker, for example, a potentiometer directly adjusts volume; in a television monitor, it controls brightness.