Connect your Mac to a HDTV

Connecting your Mac to a HDTV should be a relatively easy thing to do but it may require more planning ahead than you might expect. My recent experience will help explain why this post seemed important to help others out in this area. I recently did a slideshow in Aperture for a close friend for her mother’s funeral. I only had time to generate the export to a file on an external hard drive prior to them leaving town for the funeral. Ideally, I would have created a DVD for the movie. A DVD becomes readily playable in many more situations than just a digital file. The DVD could have easily been played at the church on a regular DVD player or BluRay player. Unfortunately, time constraints prevented that option until after the funeral. From Aperture, I generated a m4v file which is easily played back in QuickTime player or iTunes. My assumption had been that a Mac notebook would be used to play back the video at the church. Let’s take a look at the options for doing this.

Mini DisplayPort and Thunderbolt

Today’s MacBook, MacBook Pro and MacBook Air notebook computers all utilize Mini DisplayPort to connect to external displays or projectors. On the latest MacBook Pro computers this port is now a Thunderbolt port. A Thunderbolt port can use all of the Mini DisplayPort connectors but also provides connections to other devices at up to 10 GB per second. This port provides higher speed connections than USB 3.0 and brings workstation throughput to the notebook. So it is safe to say that DisplayPort and the even better Thunderbolt port is here to stay for a while on Apple’s notebooks. The size of the port is optimal for Apple’s slim designs.

HDMI

There are two main ways to connect to an external system with your Mac. The best option is to connect through HDMI. HDMI has the advantage of being able to send both video and audio over one cable. For protected content, it may be your only option. With the advent of BluRay and HD video, content providers were looking to prevent unauthorized copies of their content. HDMI provides a continuous verified path from your computer or player to the screen thus allowing you to play the content. Most people see it for the convenience of a single cable and are unaware of the protection scheme. The protection scheme only crops up when one of your devices doesn’t work properly in the path. At this point it becomes debatable as to whether the protection scheme does anything more than make it difficult for consumers since the pirates already have other ways around the constraints. Since my slideshow was original content, none of these protection schemes are an issue but be aware of it when connecting for movies or other protected content. So our first choice is to use a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI connector. Apple doesn’t make their own Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter but they offer two third party solutions on their web site. The first is from Moshi and retails for $34.95. Since this is an adapter, you will also need an HDMI cable to connect to your TV. The second choice is from Kanex and is a 10 foot Mini DisplayPort to HDMI cable for $44.95. This option does not require the HDMI cable as an adapter would but is not as easy to carry around in your bag if a cable is available where you want to use the connection. If you need a solution right away, these are great choices available at your local Apple Store. Take a look at MonoPrice.com for their MiniDisplayPort to HDMI adapter if you have time to order it. There solution is only $6.46. If you need an HDMI cable be sure to check out my post on MonoPrice.com. If you have an older notebook you will likely have another issue to consider. Apple didn’t add audio support to their Mini DisplayPort until the 2010 models. If you fall into this category, you will also need to connect your audio out port to your TV.

VGA

The second choice to connecting is VGA. VGA is the most common cable used to connect a computer to a monitor. If you have a Windows desktop computer, you will likely have a VGA cable going from the computer to the monitor. This connection is typically your choice for projectors and an option on some HDTV’s. VGA is only for video so you will also need a separate connection for audio. Apple offers their Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter for this connection for $29.00. Also consider the MonoPrice.com Mini DisplayPot to VGA adapter for $13.43. You will also need a VGA cableto finish the connection between the adapter and the projector or TV.

Audio

If you are using the VGA connection for video, you will also need to connect your audio out port to the TV. If you are using HDMI on a newer Mac, this won’t be necessary. Depending on your TV you may have one or two options here. From the Mac, you will need a 1/8” (3.5mm) minijack plug. On the TV end, you may have the same plug available or you may only have the red and white RCA plugs. Both cables can be easily found. Either the 1/8” (3.5mm) minijack to 1/8” (3.5mm) minijack cable will work or the 1/8” (3.5mm) minijack to 2 RCA cable. If you want to choose one, the minijack to RCA cable should work in more situations.

Where Things Went Wrong – Part 1

The church where the slideshow was to be presented was a Windows setup. This is not uncommon and they had Macs brought in before where they used the VGA and audio cable setup to connect to their system. There were two problems that I failed to think of with the time constraints. The first problem was my friends did not have a Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter for their Mac. So one solution was to purchase the adapter. These are most easily found at Best Buy or an Apple Store. There was a local Best Buy but the closest Apple Store was about an hour away. The plan moved to playing the file on the church’s Windows system. The second problem was the file format of the external drive I had put the slideshow on. I used the preferred Apple HFS format for the drive. This was no problem if a Mac was going to be used to present the slideshow. However, HFS is not readable by a Windows computer without additional software. Adding additional software to their system was not an option. The way around this was to use a USB drive. Most USB drives are formatted with the FAT32 file system which is readable on both Windows and Mac. Note that the NTFSfile system which is often used on hard drives on Windows is not easily readable on a Mac. We were able to copy the file from the external drive to the USB drive on the Mac and then use that on the Windows computer. They had some issues with the USB port on the Windows computer which provided some additional issues. Eventually when they tried a good port on another computer the file copied without issue. It is interesting to note that when the USB port did not work on the first Windows computer, the church technician was quick to blame the Mac for causing the problem. Unfortunately this seems to be common when someone doesn’t understand the Mac. Since the church initially had problems and we didn’t know until later that the USB port was to blame, a Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter was purchased as a backup plan. The church ended up presenting on their system. I gathered they still had some problems with the sound but it was still well received.

Where Things Went Wrong – Part 2

So the church service was over and my friends wanted to play the slideshow using the Mac on an HDTV at the house where they were staying. The HDTV that they wanted to connect to did not have a VGA port. This is not uncommon. When I purchased my HDTV’s I specifically looked for this feature but don’t count on it to be available with every HDTV. In their case, we were down to the HDMI option. The problem is that the Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter wasn’t available at the local Best Buy. It was only available at the Apple Store an hour away. It didn’t make sense to run for the adapter so they weren’t able to watch the slideshow on the HDTV.

Lessons Learned

Here are the things to watch for if you want to have a successful hookup to projectors and HDTV’s.

  • Make sure you have the necessary adapters and cables
  • QuickTime is not as commonly installed on Windows as on Macs
  • Prepare a DVD for the most flexibility

Hopefully my experience will help prevent issues like this for you. Keep in mind that some of the same issues I ran into can be problems for Windows presentations as well. With the right connections, your Mac can connect to any HDTV or projector out there.

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