“It Just Works,” My Ass

I’d been putting it off for a while, but I finally went ahead and picked up an HDMI Switch Box. Wait, didn’t I already have one? Yeah, I did, but that was for Component inputs… since I got that back in 2006, my needs have changed. I don’t need more than two Component input these days: one for my Wii and one for my DVD player. Everything else that is video related can go HDMI.

Or so I thought – my Mac mini is causing me all sorts of trouble… yes, Apple is causing yet another problem in my electronic world.

As usual.

My need for switch boxes is caused by Sony. Well, sort of. I guess it could also be caused by the fact that I don’t want to buy a new TV any time soon… I bought this one in 2004 – I really have no plans (or desire) to upgrade that. The problem with that is that there’s only two component ports and one DVI port on the back of it. Heh, yeah, that’s not going to help me any. When I had a DVD player, Wii, Xbox 360, and Xbox all using Component ports, I had little choice but to get a switch box. Another bonus of the Pelican box was that it handled some of the optical port switching as well. Cable used DVI and optical as well – was and easy set up, sort of.

Jump ahead two years: my two Component ports on the back of the TV are filled by the DVD player and the Wii. The Xbox has been retired. The cable box TiVo HD uses HDMI. So does my Xbox 360 Elite. The Mac mini… well, the Mac mini supports DVI …and therein lies the problem.

A few months ago, I took a shot and ordered a DVI-to-Component adapter. I knew it was only expected to work with certain ATI cards. I took a shot anyway. They were right – I blew $10 on it. Ah well. I pinged Apple to see what they offered – the best they could do was a DVI to S-Video adapter. Ever seen a PC run at S-Video resolution? Pain. Scars. Right on your heart. A rectal exam with a Buick and a lot of sand. That type of thing.

But then I remembered seeing a lot of DVI to HDMI adapters and cables out there. That’s what put me on the path of HDMI in the first place… while at The Mac Store today I saw the HDMI Switcher from XtremeMac. And was shocked to find a 4-port HDMI switch box for the same price that I paid for the Pelican and in the same sized case as an Apple TV… meaning that it would nicely compliment the Mac mini. The last 4-port switch I saw was over $200. After a run to Target, I had a nifty HDMI cable and HDMI(f)-to-DVI(m) adapter.

Plugged it all in. TiVo HD? Worked fine. Xbox 360? Worked fine. Mac mini? Black screen.

I VNC’d into the Mac mini. It showed a generic VGA display, locked into the VGA modes that only my local video card supported. Uh, OK. So I disconnected my session. I plugged in the DVI cable directly into Mac mini. It worked fine, like I remember it did a few months ago. Sees the TV as a Sony. Offers me 1080i, like it should. Also gave me a far more readable 1280×720 option, which is what I’m looking for. I power it down, reconnect the HDMI/DVI adapter, power it back up. Black screen.

And so begins the round of technological troubleshooting an tweaking.

A number of hours and one piece of shareware later and I’ve got nothing. Oh, and the shareware crashes when used via VNC. Go figure.

What I want to do is lock my driver into a specific resolution and keep it there. Not an unreasonable request, I thought. Then again, I also think that turning off the display on an iMac while connecting to it remote isn’t an unreasonable request and that hasn’t happened through four generations of hardware. As with that, this seems to be a no-non – Apple feels the need to save me from myself and not allow locking in a resolution. Each reboot, it automagically detects a new display. Why is this the only option? I have no idea. There’s no way for me to lock it down… as per usual, the ongoing obsession for “one button is all you need! you don’t need options!” has screwed me.

I doubt it’s hardware related. I mean, it might be that I need to get an all in one cable… not too bad to swallow, if I can return the adapter thingy to Target, but I’d prefer not to have to. Target has seen enough of me lately. Besides, what would be the difference in this? It’s still just connecting one pin to another via a wire – fault adapter thingy might be a possibility, but what are the odds of that? Slim, I’m betting. No, my money is that the problem is in software. And that I’ll eventually find a “oh, do this magic key combo” suggestion that will be passed around like folk lore rather than having the feature in the OS itself…

Meh. Two outta three devices supported ain’t so bad, I guess… although, I wouldn’t put up with it from Windows – why would I from OSX?

On the bright side, at least the DVI-to-DVI cable is right near the Mac mini now – physically swapping the wire is far better than living with S-Video output, but I’m still pretty unsatisfied with the whole mess over all.

4 thoughts on ““It Just Works,” My Ass”

  1. Did you try the xtremehd hdmi->dvi cable that was designed for the box, rather than blaming and complaining as usual?

    Who knows if the HDMI->DVI dongle you bought is DVI/A or DVI/I, especially if you’re not seeing anything with it. Just as a side note: I picked up a Monster DVI->HDMI dongle for the macbook pro, and it fired up at max res on the Sony.

    I’d try the DVI->HDMI dongle direct to the TV to see if you get anything there.

  2. Actually, the DVI->HDMI is designed for AppleTV not the Mac mini, so I’ve already fired them an email as well as posting a question to the Apple forum. Where there’s several hundred posts about getting the mini to support HDMI… seem’s it’s not just a “it just works” branded feature.

    As for trying the dongle direct to the TV, I believe the Belken packaging blurbed DVI-D. The pins say Single Link either way and since DVI-D and DVI-I are supposedly compatible, it should be working fine… otherwise, I’d have to disconnect the DVI cable from the TV, which means crawl behind or under the thing – not likely to happen :)

    The bigger suck of it all is that if I get the HDMI->DVI cable, I’ll be stuck with a $50 receipt from Target for cable and adapter. Meh.

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