Panic digs into the Lightning digital AV adapter, finds a surprise

Randy Nelson
R. Nelson|03.02.13

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Panic digs into the Lightning digital AV adapter, finds a surprise

The folks at Coda and Unison developer Panic Inc. have a good old fashioned mystery on their hands, and it all revolves around Apple's digital AV adapter for iPhone 5 and iPad mini with Lightning connectors. As they tell it, the Coda crew was recently trying out the accessory for capturing video from iOS devices when they noticed something wasn't quite right -- namely that the maximum resolution capable using the adapter wasn't full 1080p and the video signal didn't seem as pristine as it should have been.

This lead Panic to wonder if the adapter wasn't sending a "pure," direct signal via HDMI. Lo and behold, when they literally cracked open the US$49 accessory, they found that it seems to contain what amounts to a dedicated, ARM-based system on a chip (SoC) with 256 MB of RAM.

They believe the SoC could be performing something akin to AirPlay streaming from the attached device to the HDMI connector, resulting in the compression artifacts and other quality issues including input lag. Of course, they can't be entirely sure this is what's happening, but all available evidence points in that direction.

Why take this approach versus the direct output provided by the 30-pin digital AV adapter? Panic thinks it may have something to do with the Lightning connector not having enough pins to provide true video output, or that Apple wanted to shift as much hardware outside of the iPhone 5 and iPad mini as possible to keep production costs (and weight, and battery drain) down to a minimum. Either way, it certainly is an unusual find and one that anyone planning to output video from newer iOS devices will want to bear in mind.

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