Apple's Lightning to HDMI adapter opened up, discovered to contain a tiny AirPlay-esque computer

Apple's Lightning to HDMI adapter opened up, discovered to contain a tiny AirPlay computer

The fine folks at Panic were experimenting with video out from iOS -- never we mind why -- and came across an interesting discovery: Apple's Lightning Digital AV adapter, aka HDMI adapter, doesn't seem to pass along a 1080p signal in the traditional manner. Instead, it looks like it's passing along upscaled AirPlay-like video. Intrigued as to how, Cabel Sasser gutted the adapter like a Tauntaun on a cold night to find out, and shared what he discovered on the Panic Blog:

Your eyes don’t deceive you — that tiny chip says ARM. And the H9TKNNN2GD part number on there points towards RAM — 2Gb worth.

So it's a tiny computer. More specifically, a tiny, single purpose, hard-lined Apple TV-esque device. That explains the less-than-stellar quality of the output (ugh!), but not why Apple chose to go this way.

For some theories on that, and more on Panic's adapter adventure, including the torn-open guts of the gear, check out the link below.

Source: Panic Blog

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Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Apple's Lightning to HDMI adapter opened up, discovered to contain a tiny AirPlay-esque computer

5 Comments

More complicated, more expensive, lower quality output.

There must be some seriously important external factors to drive this design, because on the face of it this makes no sense either for Apple or for users.

This comment on the Panic Blog is interesting:

https://www.panic.com/blog/2013/03/the-lightning-digital-av-adapter-surprise/#comment-16841

The reason why this adapter exists is because Lightning is simply not capable of streaming a “raw” HDMI signal across the cable. Lightning is a serial bus. There is no clever wire multiplexing involved. [...] Airplay uses a bunch of hardware h264 encoding technology that we’ve already got access to, so what happens here is that we use the same hardware to encode an output stream on the fly and fire it down the Lightning cable straight into the ARM SoC the guys at Panic discovered. Airplay itself (the network protocol) is NOT involved in this process. The encoded data is transferred as packetized data across the Lightning bus, where it is decoded by the ARM SoC and pushed out over HDMI.