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Thursday, November 24, 2011

The iPad HDMI Connector

I've been fighting a bit of a cold for the last few days. With a baby and mom that I don't want to give it to I've been sleeping downstairs on our futon. It's actually suprisingly comfortable. But one thing that's been getting tedious over the past few nights is our selection of movies. I usually like to turn on a movie as I wind down for the night, but since our Apple TV with Netflix is upstairs ensconced in the bedroom I've been forced to watch DVDs. As I'm sure you can imagine, its been a while since we've bought any of those, so our selection is pretty thin.

Seeing as I have a perfectly good iPad and HDMI connector I thought I'd give watching Netflix on the TV using the iPad a shot. The good news is that it works as advertised; you plug it all together, set the input on the TV the voila: your Netflix movie on the TV. The bad news is the decidedly un-Apple-like experience of using the thing.

To start its ugly, if utilitarian. It connects through the only multipurpose port on the device: the 30-pin connector. The connector is really wide and the HDMI port is offset to one side with a 30-pin connector next to it. This design makes the whole thing feel bigger than it is and awkward. A better design might have been vertically stacking the HDMI and 30-pin connector ports so that there is a closer ratio of size between the two ends of the HDMI connector.

Thick HDMI cables have a mind of their own in terms of how they bend. Through its own force of will it bends the HDMI connector in all sorts of directions that seem like they'll either break the wires in the connector by twisting them or pull the connector out of the iPad by its weight. I found the contortions of the HDMI connector with a thick HDMI cable to be really worrying.

If I was trying to use the HDMI connector to mirror the iPad's display for a presention it would certainly feel awkward. But these things don't really matter that much if you're just using the dongle as a way of getting the iPad's screen on to the TV for watching a movie as I was. Once the connector and HDMI cable were connected and the iPad was laying down these issues weren't so bad. But then I ran into another problem: the device cannot be asleep while playing and the Smart Cover has to be open.

Once you close the Smart Cover or press the sleep/wake button the signal to the TV shuts off. I can see why this is done when you're running on battery; you want to conserve power so if someone has put the iPad to sleep then don't waste power sending the display over the HDMI connector. I get that, but its a horrible user experience in some situations. A better design would have been to just turn off the display if full screen video is playing when the device is put to sleep and the HDMI connector is attached. Then after the video stops playing automatically sleep the whole device after a minute or two. Wouldn't it be better for battery life to allow the display to be off when the user is doing something non-interactive and using the HDMI connector?

In any case, it did what I needed done so for that I'm thankful. But there are a few design bugs that I think need to be worked out. For an extra $60 you can get an Apple TV that does display mirroring without having to physically attach your iPad to the TV, plus a whole lot more. Either way you go, the iPad has to be awake when the display is mirrored to the TV which is an issue I hope gets addressed in a future release.