Yet More Mac Mini-DVI Hearbreak
April 13, 2008 3:13 PM   Subscribe

MacBook DVI output connected via adapter to my TV results in nothing.

I'm pretty handy with a Mac, but I guess not handy enough.

I'm trying to get a MacBook (model A1181) to play a DVD on my TV (its an exotic region code, otherwise I'd just use the DVD player). And first off, the DVD plays fine on the Mac's LCD, so that's not it.

So I went out and got a mini-DVI-to-Composite-Video adapter, which I plugged into my MacBook, and then connected to the TV, which is a fairly old standard NTSC 4:3 CRT set, a Panasonic. What I see is a slight change in the margins around the TV's "blue screen of no input" and occasional flickering. Changing the resolution on the Display Control menu in the toolbar results in a slightly different flicker in the blue screen of inputlessness. The options said menu offers me are "800x600, 60Hz" and "640x480, 60Hz." Again, neither produces anything other than than the flickering blue screen.

In my attempts to solve this myself, I've Googled around and found some people who say putting the Mac to sleep and then waking it solves this. I tried this and several full restarts and the output on the TV is always the same. I also tried using DisplayConfigX to detect the TV and set the output, and it wanted to use 100Hz, which I tried but only resulted in (predictably) higher frequency flickering. I've hit "Mirror Displays" and just about every other button I could find in the display control panel, and nothing changes much. I bought an s-video cable and used that (this adapter has both composite and s-video outputs) which again resulted in a slightly different flavor of flicker but nothing substantial.

So, um, any ideas?
posted by ChasFile to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The problem may be your adapter. I would try using one of the Apple sourced solutions, like this one or one of the others on this page (although I think the one I linked is the one you want.)
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:26 PM on April 13, 2008

Yes, if it's a non-Apple DVI adapter that could definitely be it. I understand that Apple's does some non-standard things to their DVI output.

The people at the forums @ might know more too. They've been good to me.
posted by meta_eli at 3:31 PM on April 13, 2008

We had the same problem with a Dynex adapter. I haven't had a chance to exchange it for an Apple brand, but most sites I've googled say that should do the trick.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:38 PM on April 13, 2008

Response by poster: Yes, if it's a non-Apple DVI adapter that could definitely be it. I understand that Apple's does some non-standard things to their DVI output.

You must be joking me. That means the DVI output the laptop is sending must itself be doing something non-standard, if something else non-standard is required by the adapter to get it to work. So I am forced to buy the Apple product that fixes my other, broken Apple product.

This further means that the adapters the retailer sold me, though fine for standard mini-DVI, are useless for Apple mini-DVI, despite being sold in the Apple section of the store and having "for use with Apple laptops" written on the packaging. And since nobody else in the known universe other than Apple uses mini-DVI, the adapter is, essentially, useless.

Do I have that all right?
posted by ChasFile at 3:39 PM on April 13, 2008

I have an Apple mini-dvi to rca composite video/s-video adapter which I have never used before just now after reading your question. It just works, instantly.
posted by thomas144 at 4:08 PM on April 13, 2008

Do I have that all right?

I dunno. You want this to work, or are you looking to move every zig for Great Justice? What I've found is that third party stuff doesn't always work with my Apples. The Apple sourced stuff usually does.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:12 PM on April 13, 2008

Do Macbooks allow you to play video DVDs on an external screen nowadays? With my (I must say old 700Mhz) icebook I would get that blue screen when trying to play DVD's on my tv set using the mini-VGA port with the original Apple composite adapter; I'd otherwise be perfectly able to mirror the computer. Not sure this applies anymore.
posted by ddaavviidd at 4:21 PM on April 13, 2008

Yes (ddaavviidd), I tested my mini-dvi video adapter with a Region 2 (German) DVD on my TV set.
posted by thomas144 at 4:31 PM on April 13, 2008

Response by poster: You want this to work, or are you looking to move every zig for Great Justice?

1) As you can probably guess, if I had a choice I'd rather not run an Apple, and its experiences like this that are exactly why. I could go on for pages about how absurd this experience has been, how Wrong it is from just about every angle (to implement your own, fancy standard just so people have to buy your kinds of cable, and then to violate that standard in order to force people to buy your own brand of special cable?!) but yes, mostly, I want it to Just Work.

In fact, it was my impression that that was the whole Apple brand mantra. "Out of the box it Just Works." Which is why I find this doubly-frustrating. I'm plenty used to things being weird and opaque with lots of computer-related issues, but when a company tells me something will Just Work and then intentionally breaks its own product so that it will not Just Work unless you buy another of their products to fix it, well, that just ratchets up my OMGFU dial to 11. All I want to do is play a DVD on the TV for my intensely flu-ridden mother to watch, and on any computer BUT an Apple this whole process would have Just Worked long before now.

2) On top of that basic-level advertising lie I was told, I feel like I've been quite literally lied to in a perhaps fraudulently way. This adapter, and the store that sold it, CLEARLY positioned this adapter as one that would take mini-DVI input and convert it to a TV signal. Now, of course now I know that it does indeed do this, its just that Apple sends a non-standard mini-DVI [mini-DVI: the standard they invented, BTW. Did I mention that?] signal out of their laptops. But clearly this is now common knowledge, and I feel like I was sold a product that advertised itself as being able to take an Apple mini-DVI output and turn it into a TV signal when everyone involved in the process but me was well aware of the fact that in reality it was impossible for this product to do what it advertised. Again, this makes me angry and feeling defrauded. So yeah, some justice would be nice.

So for future reference, Apple's crappy hardware is so immensely and intentionally broken that only using other crappy Apple hardware can fix it. Even for something as simple as a daggum piece of CABLE. Lesson learned, I guess. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to the Apple store to set them up the bom.
posted by ChasFile at 4:32 PM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do I have that all right?

Pretty much. Given that lots of other video cards (e.g. Matrox, NVidia, etc) also only work properly with certain DVI-analogue adaptors, and even Apple themselves sell at least 3 different DVI-analogue adaptors for various laptop / Mini models, is it surprising that its best to ignore what the 3rd-party packaging or vendor says and go with the one suggested by the manufacturer?

And yeah, I'm pretty sure the Mac DVD Player app won't output to DVI. My 1 year old Intel MacBook running 10.4.11 certainly wont. That's what VLC is for...
posted by Pinback at 4:36 PM on April 13, 2008

And yeah, I'm pretty sure the Mac DVD Player app won't output to DVI. My 1 year old Intel MacBook running 10.4.11 certainly wont. That's what VLC is for...

I use the Mac DVD Player app all the time with external displays (through mini-DVI). Although I haven't used my composite video connector before (it does work) I use a mini-DVI to VGA connector all the time to watch DVDs on an overhead projector (it's wicked nice).

Chasfile, I understand your frustration. I'm a recent convert to Macs myself - there are a lot of annoyances (the missing right-mouse button being the big one), but the adapter we are talking about isn't all that expensive, is it?
posted by thomas144 at 4:44 PM on April 13, 2008

Do Macbooks allow you to play video DVDs on an external screen nowadays?

I wondered about this too. The result I'd expect, once this is working right, is that you see your Apple desktop on the TV but the DVD window is blank. That is a result of Apple's digital media copyright protection against circumvention. But I may be out of date on this one.

Sorry you're annoyed, ChasFile, man. Computing hardware and software have been an afterthought for Apple for quite a few years now - all the top talent in the company has migrated to portable (iphone and ipod) and digital media, reflecting what the company's current profit drivers are. The days of System 7 reflecting the best possible computing experience you could ever hope to buy are not gone - I still think Apple does pretty well - but the attention to detail is not anywhere near what it was.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:44 PM on April 13, 2008

I use the Mac DVD Player app all the time with external displays ...

Well, whaddya know - it does work, even at full-screen. I'm sure I'd tried this before and it didn't. Maybe I dreamt it ...

(Tested using a proper commercial DVD w/ CSS & RCE.)
posted by Pinback at 4:58 PM on April 13, 2008

Response by poster: Given that lots of other video cards (e.g. Matrox, NVidia, etc) also only work properly with certain DVI-analogue adaptors

Yeah, listen, that's all valid, and such, but as I mentioned to someone IRL while venting about this, we're talking about a laptop.

For a desktop to require special stuff to get it to work with other special desktop stuff, I can understand that. If a particular high-end video card manufacturer wants to add another pin to the DVI standard in order to implement their latest wild feature, well, knock yourselves out. Just about anything can and will be sacrificed in desktop hardware for increased performance, because it lives in a pretty hermetic environment.

But this is a laptop. Its supposed to go anywhere, do anything. A laptop's whole reason for being, the whole reason it, as a product, exists as separate from a desktop, is that you can take it with you to some non-familiar environment and still be able to use it. Therefore, in a laptop, the only philosophical hardware decision that makes sense when deciding what holes to put in it is this: all other concerns regarding output sockets should be secondary to having the lowest-common-denominator compatibility. Why? Because with a go-anywhere do-anything laptop, you never know what kind of hardware you'll need to hook it to, so best to stick in it the holes that allow you to connect it to the most possible devices! I mean, when was the last time you saw a projector or TV with a mini-DVI input?

And this isn't just a personal or academic concern: I once worked in a Mac-only shop and I had to bring my ThinkPad with me to work with me every day because if we ever had to go to another office to do a pitch or something, we simply knew that between the VGA and s-video outputs my ThinkPad had, it would Just Work with whatever kind of projector or HDTV they had on the wall. With the Mac laptops of my co-workers, we could be pretty sure they probably wouldn't. Now I guess I know why.

So add that nonsense to the whole Apple-breaking-its-own-standards nonsense, and add that to the we'll-sell-you-an-Apple-specific-product-we-know-for-a-fact-can't-possibly-work-with-an-Apple nonsense and Its just layer upon layer of frustration. And what if I don't live near an Apple store? Or (as in this case) I'm on the road and its impossible for me to get to one in order to obtain the magical Apple un-breaking part I need? Again, with my ThinkPad I could walk into any RadioShack in the world and get the parts I need to make this little operation happen in about two seconds. Even the power cable uses a standard DC plug. With an Apple, its another $20 for overnight shipping to even approximate the ease with which things happen would happen with just about any other make of laptop.

Anyway, now I'm ranting. Sorry guys. Issue solved, as others have mentioned. No need to start a holy war after trying so hard for so long to be Apple-PC agnostic, after all.
posted by ChasFile at 5:22 PM on April 13, 2008

Give Apple some time to iNtegrate the whole world and you'll see, things will really be smooth then.
(and you can run windows too!)
posted by ddaavviidd at 6:08 PM on April 13, 2008

Out of the box it Just Works.

To be honest, this is true when you are using it with other Apple products, but when you throw in something non-apple, it can sometimes get a little dicky (if you want proof, do a search on the debacle currently going on with the Time Capsule / Apple Airport Extreme with HDD).

Having said that, I think you probably need to accept here that your beef isn't really with Apple, but with the guys that made the cheap third-party cable you bought... As shown by a few other posters here, the Apple cable DOES work, so isn't the fault on the part of the cable manufacturers, not Apple? I admit that it's not too kosher if they've changed the standard between (say) the Powerbook and the Macbook, but again it would seem the cable manufacturer should label their cable with the machines they've tested it with.. Does it actually say it works with the Macbook?

As for the rant about Apple making you buy your own cable, have you see what ALL the other manufacturers do? How about the proprietary connections on your Creative Zen MP3 player, or your Sony recorder? Talking about Sony, how about their widely incompatible Firewire-but-not-firewire standards? All the manufacturers make you buy their cable to work their machines (even IBM with the thinkpad), so I think it's a bit unfair to single Apple out here...

But anyway, as you said, problem solved, so really it's all just academic... :)
posted by ranglin at 6:45 PM on April 13, 2008

Okay, this may be a dumb question, but the "mini-DVI-to-Composite-Video adapter" you got...

is it composite NTSC standard def, or composite HD? They aren't compatible with each other. If your adapter is turning the DVI into a composite HD signal, then it wouldn't show up on an NTSC TV.

What is the model number of that adapter, if it's not clear on your end? This is a point of confusion that I've seen at work, where we had a TV that took composite, just not the kind of composite that was being put out by the box.

This may not be an Apple problem at all.

Additionally, the Apple internal DVD player doesn't have any problems playing out to an external monitor. That's how I show clips in the film making class I teach, but, in this case, going out to a digital video projector. I'd look very closely at that adapter you have.
posted by MythMaker at 11:20 PM on April 13, 2008

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