2010-02-05

MacBook to TV via HDMI for under $25.

I recently bought a new, modern HDTV: a 42 inch, 1080p Panasonic LCD TV. And one of the first things I wanted to do with my new TV was to hook it up to my trusty MacBook. Like many modern TVs, my new TV has a VGA input, so I figured that'd be the right way to hook it up. I got the following stuff together:
I plugged the dongle into the MacBook, and I plugged the VGA cable between the dongle and the TV. Sure enough, my Mac's video image immediately appeared on my TV. I figured with a little fine tuning, I'd get a great 1080p image!

I was wrong.

Attempt #1: MacBook to HDTV via VGA dongle and cable


The major disappointment is that many new TVs, like mine, won't accept a high resolution 1080p-class signal over VGA. Although my MacBook's "Display Preferences" control panel displays a huge range of potential video resolutions, very few of them work adequately (or at all) with my TV.

I wound up setting the TV to 1280 x 768 ... quite a bit less quality than I hoped for.

Lots of resolutions, but only a few combinations work -
and none look as great as an HDTV should
.
Only 1280 x 768 worked adequately.


There are some minor disappointments too. The VGA cable is big, bulky, and inflexible. It looks clunky. And the audio was noisy - evidently the VGA video signal "bleeds" into the audio signal, resulting in an annoying hum at low volumes.

The Better Solution: HDMI. But with a Mac?

I was happy enough with my VGA solution, but I was looking for something better.

The story on the street is that Macs don't do HDMI. That isn't exactly the full story. The truth is that Mac's "do" DVI and DisplayPort, and both can be converted into HDMI.

But Apple doesn't sell DVI to HDMI such converters. I figured the complexity of such a device would result in extremely high costs.

So I did some snooping around. I checked out Amazon and discovered this Mini-DVI to HDMI dongle for under $10! "Too low, it can't possibly work!," I exclaimed. But for such a low price, I figured I'd take a risk and buy one. (For those with a new Mac that uses DisplayPort: you'll likely want a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adapter instead.)

The Magic: Mini-DVI to HDMI dongle.

At the same time, I bought an inexpensive HDMI Cable and a 3.5mm Male to RCA audio cable.


MacBook to HDMI: Mini-DVI to HDMI, along with audio cable.

I hooked this stuff together with my MacBook, attaching the new dongle to my Mac, the HDMI cable between my Mac and my TV, and the audio cable between the headphone port on my Mac and my TV.

The result? Stunning!

In fact, with the HDMI converter, my Mac can recognize both my TV's manufacturer and its supported video modes. Recall that with the VGA solution, my Mac just showed me a heap of possible settings, some good, many not good.

With the inexpensive HDMI Adapter, my Mac detects
the TV and the mode it supports

I could have improved my audio by adding a TOSLink digital optical audio cable, but since I don't have a modern audio system (another story!), I decided to hold onto my money.

Final Notes

If you have a Mac that you want to connect to a modern TV, HDMI is a great way to go. The cabling is flexible and inexpensive, and the quality is high.

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