An upcoming video adapter will allow new unibody MacBooks and MacBook Pros (and refreshed MacBook Airs) to be connected directly to high definition television sets.
Since Apple introduced the new aluminum MacBooks and MacBook Pros a couple months ago, there has been a lot of uncertainty and frustration over the consequences of DisplayPort being the only video-out option offered on the notebooks. Not only DisplayPort, but an Apple-customized variation of the open standard called Mini DisplayPort. What this means for users is that the only way to connect these new laptops to an external display at the moment would be through Apple’s own adapters — currently limited to Mini DisplayPort to VGA ($29.99), Mini DisplayPort to DVI ($29.99), and Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI ($99.99).
So how do you push video out from that shiny new MacBook to your big, beautiful high definition TV? As of right now, there’s no optimal way to do it. Sure, you can use Apple’s adapters if your TV supports VGA or DVI, but some models do not have these connectors. Not to mention the fact that VGA is not compatible with the HDCP copy-protection measures incorporated into the latest MacBooks. When viewing high definition content on an external screen (once it becomes available from the iTunes Store in the future, for example), you must use a digital signal (VGA is analog).
Don’t get too riled up — Apple is not the only one adding HDCP to their products. Any manufacturer who intends on marketing their products as HD-capable (including monitors, TVs, Blu-Ray drives, etc.) is forced to integrate HDCP to appease the movie industry’s crooked ways. No, it’s not fair to legally-paying consumers, but nothing’s going to change their minds. No HDCP, no high definition content. Some folks have reportedly had luck going from Mini DisplayPort to DVI and then getting a second adapter that converts the DVI to HDMI. Quite frankly, while this fixes the HDCP issue, it is an unacceptable workaround. Nobody wants crippled functionality (especially with such high-priced equipment), so a direct solution should be available.
Luckily, the news last week that Apple is offering free licenses for hardware builders to incorporate Mini DisplayPort into their products means that its use will eventually become more widespread over time. Additional computers, displays, and accessories from third party vendors will support this standard in the (hopefully near) future and gradually replace the now-outdated VGA and DVI connections.
I have already been in contact with at least one company that plans to solve the Macbook to HDTV issue. MonoPrice.com, a wholesale distributor of computer cables and accessories based in California, has informed me that Apple fans are on their radar and a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI video adapter is on the way. “Yes, we will carry this item soon. However, it won’t be available until end of January 2009 or so,” a company representative said via email.
This is great news for anybody looking to hook up a new Apple notebook to their HDTV without patching together a mess of video cables and adapters. Keep in mind that since Apple’s iteration of Mini DisplayPort reportedly only supports video signals, a separate audio cable will be necessary to route sound to the TV. These are usually fairly cheap and widely available at most electronics stores. While it would have been nice for Apple to have this video accessory available back in October when the new MacBooks were introduced, there was no certainty when or if one was in the pipeline at all. Now that we know a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter is coming, the only thing left to do is eagerly wait for the end of January to roll around…
UPDATE – February 11, 2009: Finally, an announcement has been made and the wait is over! Well, almost. MonoPrice.com will begin shipping their Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter on March 15th for only $14.25! It’s a little later than expected, but that excellent low price makes up for the wait. There’s still no word on whether it will support sound, though. As if that weren’t enough, MonoPrice is also offering DVI and VGA adapters at prices much lower than the ones offered by Apple. Nice, right?
UPDATE #2 – March 29, 2009: Monoprice is still planning on making their adapters available soon, but they have let their shipping dates slip. As of today they are saying March 30th is the estimated time of arrival, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see that change again. In the meantime, Amazon.com has a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter available for sale now through their 3rd party resellers, with some claiming immediate shipping.
UPDATE #3 – July 10, 2009: Although the first round of Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapters released earlier this year did not support audio, a new product from Kanex does! It grabs video from the Mini DisplayPort connector and audio from the USB connector, then packs it all up for HDMI to bring to the HDTV. Read more about Kanex’s new adapter for information on availability.
UPDATE #4 – October 16, 2009: Check out our review of the Kanex Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter with digital audio, which is available online now!