The MacBook Video Connection

If you, like me, are giving several frequent lectures (2/3 per week during courses periods) you could have the problem of often plugging and unplugging a video-projector into your laptop.

In general when it comes to MacBook Pro and video output you have two options (actually three but only two really viable):

  1. use the Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter from Apple, 29€ (white adapted on the right)
  2. use an active HDMI to VGA Adapter (e.g. from Cable Matters), 22€ (black adapter on the left)



I used option 1 with my previous MacBookAir until it started to give me problems and I switched to my current MB Pro (I wisely managed to let the two events occur roughly at the same time). And I am using the same option right now and I’m starting again to have problems.

I tracked the problem to a few possible causes:

  • Probably I’m being too rough in plugging and unplugging the cable into the Thunderbold outlet
  • I am moving (very slightly) the PC while I am writing code during the lectures
  • The Thunderbolt outlet is not robust.

I’ve been working on eliminating the first cause, especially after the problems I had with MBAir. I cannot avoid the second cause: this is how I believe you should teach coding: by writing code. As far as the latter it is Apple’s designers responsibility.

As I heard of the new MacBook Air that has only one port — a USB-C outlet — to power the device and connect all sorts of devices, including video output, my first thought go to the fragility of that port when plugging and unplugging continuously.


So the second option (HDMI to VGA) is becoming more attractive. Since the MB Pro HDMI output inherits from the DVI output, it includes only the digital signal. Unfortunately the VGA signals to drive a monitor or projector are analogue, so an active converter is needed to convert the digital to analogue. The one I found is reasonably priced and works perfectly: it has an HDMI input and a VGA output plus a USB input to get some current to power the DA conversion circuitry: so two cables are needed.

I used this configuration for the external monitor in my office, but I think I’ll use it for lectures too since the other solution is starting to fail more and more frequently. In a year or so from now I’ll be able to evaluate the robustness (or lack thereof) of the HDMI outlet.

Apple TV: the third option

Actually there is a third option: streaming the output to an Apple TV and connect the HDMI output to the VGA input of the project through an HDMI to VGA — passive is enough since the Apple TV generates also the analogue signals –.

This option is more expensive (circa 3x) and is less viable if you have to carry the apple TV, connect the power cable, and connect it to the classroom projector all the time. Not mentioning when you have to go to a conference…

Sooner or later this will be the way to go: streaming your show wirelessly to some server device. What we need is a standard wireless VGA protocol.

A Plea to Jony Ive

Dear Jony, when you’ll turn your attention to the next generation of Mac Book Pro, please keep in mind that all around robustness is much more important than thinness or lightness, at least for users like me.



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