hook up xbox to HDMI with analog audio output

I recently bought myself an XBox 360, and intended to hook it up to my HDTV for high-def video, and to my stereo for audio.

But my stereo is old, and doesn’t accept HDMI inputs. And my high-def TV doesn’t have audio output. So I needed two separate cables out of the XBox: one for video (the HDMI cable) and one for audio (analog 2-channel would do).

It never occurred to me that the XBox couldn’t do this, as I knew that it had several outputs on the back. I did know that an HDMI cable didn’t come with the XBox, but I had an extra one already. However, when I opened the XBox box, I found a couple of F-You’s from our pals at Microsoft:

First, the XBox came with a nonstandard “weird cable” adapter that goes from the XBox’s Weirdo Port (some elongated thing that I’m sure Microsoft has a name for but I’ve never seen before) to analog audio (left and right RCA cables, which is exactly what I needed for my stereo) plus crappy analog RCA video, which is useless and won’t allow for high def (or even reasonable video quality).

Secondly, although the XBox had both the Weirdo Port and a standard HDMI video port, these were directly one atop the other on the back of the XBox.

Thirdly, the F-You cable that Microsoft gave me was designed with an unreasonably fat piece of gray plastic at the end which completely covered the HDMI port, preventing me from plugging in both HDMI and Weirdo Port cables at the same time!

Naturally, in a final F-You, Microsoft offered to sell me an upgraded Weirdo Port cable that would split into both HDMI and analog audio. For $50. I should point out that eBay has similar adapters for about $10.

[I should point out that if I had surround sound on this particular system, I would have had to buy one of these adapters, since I’d have needed an optical Toslink connector rather than 2-channel RCA analog cables. But I didn’t need that this time.]

But the heck with it: I figured that since I was going to be stuck with a useless Weirdo Port cable anyway, I might as well take the thing apart and see if I could make it fit with the HDMI at the same time.

Guess what? It worked! If you break off the grey plastic cover at the end of the F-You Weirdo Port cable, the actual metal part is nice and thin, and fits just fine with an HDMI cable. Both can be inserted at the same time, and both ports are completely active. Video goes out the HDMI port, and audio goes out the Microsoft-supplied F-You cable.

Tip for breaking off the gray plastic cover from Microsoft’s cable:

The sides of that hard plastic have a groove. I first tried to wrench them apart with a screwdriver, but that’s a losing proposition. Here’s the really simple way: if you have a vise in your workshop (you DO have a garage workshop, don’t you?) just gently use the vise and you can crack the plastic pieces apart like a walnut shell.

If you don’t happen to have a vise, I bet you could do the same thing with a pair of pliers. Or a few gentle taps with a hammer.

Anyway, you’ll be up and running in a few minutes, and save the money and aggravation.

hook a mac mini to your tv, & remote control everything!

Name Withheld asks,

Hey – I’m considering a Mac Mini to do a home entertainment solution as per your config. A few questions:

• What do you use to connect to your TV screen? Are you happy with the quality? I like the idea of the flexibility provided by a Mac Mini vs Apple TV, but notice that the Mini does not have HD out.

Dear NW,

The Mac Mini can certainly do an HD signal. New ones have two video outputs: you convert either the mini-dvi to HDMI or mini-display port to HDMI. Your best best is probably the mini-display port to HDMI rather than mini-dvi, as that gives a higher resolution (and supports HDCP, which is the horrible copy protection that the industry created in order to make life that much more difficult for people trying to hook up their gear). But they’re both digital signals.

For what it’s worth, I have an older Mini and an older HDTV without enough digital inputs, so I just get 780 rather than full 1080 out of the Mac Mini. It looks great, though.

I don’t believe that the Mini as of this writing (or Apple’s software) puts audio out over the mini-display port, so converting that output to HDMI will only give you video unless that changes. There are, however, solutions for this. There’s a “Kanex” cable from Apogee that, on the Mac side, gets power and audio from the USB port and video from mini-display and converts both of those to a single HDMI. There are probably other adapters like this as well: search for “mini-display plus usb to hdmi.”

But here’s the deal: you only need a cable like this if you want both audio and video over HDMI. That would be appropriate if you intend to put the HDMI cable directly into a TV that has speakers (in general, yuck!). Or if you’re sending the HDMI cable into the back of a stereo receiver.

If, however, you’re running the HDMI cable into a recent stereo receiver, then you probably have several options apart from getting both audio and video over the HDMI cable. You could, for instance, hook a mini phono plug (it’s like mini headphones) into the audio output of the Mac Mini and route that into the stereo. Or better yet, the Mac Mini uses that same audio output for an optical digital signal, which can carry audio over a “Toslink” connector to your stereo and give you 5.1 surround sound. You’ll need a mini-optical to Toslink adapter cable. I found one at Radio Shack.

One good reason to go from the Mini to a stereo is so that you can play audio from your Mac through your stereo without having to turn the TV on. I detail some of this in a previous post, and talk more about it below.

* * *

• How do you navigate the UI of the mini on your TV screen? Do you use a keyboard or are you able to navigate with a remote? If a remote, the one that comes with the Mini or something you bought separately?

I can navigate a lot of ways. The Apple Remote (which used to come with the Mac Mini but is now a separate purchase, I believe) is primarily for the Front Row application that comes with Mac OS, but I don’t use Front Row. I have too much audio for that UI, and I don’t like the screensaver.

Rather, I do like Front Row visually, but I’m concerned about burn-in given the type of TV I have. I think they use a different screensaver on Apple TV. The one that Front Row uses has areas of pure white that switch out every 20 seconds or so but nevertheless stay on the same region of the screen. So unless you’ve got a TV that won’t suffer from burn-in (and nearly all of them do), it’s not a solution for hours-at-a-time use in my opinion.

So back to the remote control question:

We have a lot of gear (stereo, Mini, TV, DVR, wii, etc.), so I use Logitech’s Harmony remote. Really excellent way to control everything if you don’t mind spending a while setting it all up. M wouldn’t have been able to do it, but now that I set everything up it’s easy for her and the kids to control it all.

Love the Harmony remote. We have two of them. The new models use Bluetooth and then use a re-broadcaster to convert that to infrared (IR) signals to control your stuff. If you can handle the cable complication this is a good thing, because a universal remote that’s setting up (or turning off) multiple pieces of equipment must otherwise keep pointing at your gear until it finishes sending the slow IR signals. Bluetooth means that you can press the button on the remote and it doesn’t matter where it’s pointing.

Not an issue for me, but my wife and kids sometimes forget and only half of the gear turns off.

So that’s the Harmony universal remote, which I can use to turn on and off everything, control volume, play and pause, etc. There are other ways to control the Mini as well, more directly. What I use depends on what I’m trying to do:

– Wireless mouse to directly access the machine, though often we access it over screensharing from other laptops etc. without ever turning on the TV (for audio, we just need the stereo!). You’ll need a wireless mouse and wireless keyboard, unless you’re going to control the Mac Mini entirely ‘headlessly’ over VNC/screensharing. It can certainly be done, but sometimes something will go wrong with the screensharing (another app will interfere with it, or a system update or something) and you’ll want to access the Mac directly. Hence the keyboard and mouse. I don’t use these very often, though, as a TV isn’t a great computer monitor. Small text that’s perfectly readable two feet from your face becomes really hard to see from a couch.

– Remote (the iPhone app) for playing audio. Again, no need to turn on the TV. I use this constantly. Love it! I can play any audio in my library (thousands of albums), controlled from my iPhone or iPod Touch. Since I have several Airport Express’ in different rooms of my house (all hooked to smaller satellite speakers) I can actually control volume and turn off different sets of speakers, too. All from my iPhone.

– VNC Lite (iPhone App) when I need to screenshare to the Mini. Not usually necessary, since I can get to screenshare from any other computer in the house. But it’s really cool and has come in handy several times.

– Air Mouse (iPhone app) — really cool. Uses the iPhone as a mouse. Since my iPhone is nearly always in my pocket, this is what I often grab when the TV is actually on, rather than using the wireless mouse. In fact, if you carry around an iPhone anyway, and the wireless mouse isn’t an every day thing for you on the Mac Mini, you can avoid the mouse altogether and just use the Air Mouse application. Apple should buy this.

The most minimal setup would be:

– a wireless mouse (or iPhone + “Air Mouse”) and keyboard for when the TV is actually on and you need to access the Mini directly

– “Remote” on the iPhone/iPod Touch to just control what songs or albums are playing

the only roundeyes in the room

We’re a family of cultural chameleons, hopping from ethnic branch to branch and sticking out like an NBA first draft pick at, well, pretty much anywhere. And by the way: if you know me, you realize how painful it was to make a sports analogy just then. I got a little pinprick right behind my left eye. Might be some sort of aneurism; let me go and check it out.

Ok, I’m back. Brain still working? Can I type? Wae feiak lajwoi fdaiw. Just kidding. Where am I? Oh, yes.

A bit o’ the short ‘n’ pithy: We live in a supposed cultural melting pot, but the cultures don’t melt. America is less a cheese fondue than a vinaigrette. Stop shaking the bottle and we all separate.

Case in point: I took Ben on Sunday to a Dim Sum restaurant in South San Francisco. Great big place with “Palace” in the name and terrific Yelp ratings. On the inside, it was opulent, cavernous and lit by incredibly bright and flat fluorescent lights. There were no shadows anywhere, just like Beijing when it’s full of smog (which is, apparently, 100% of the time). Home, crowded home. We had a great meal amid about a thousand other diners, most of whom spoke Chinese, and the rest of whom appeared to be close relatives of people who speak Chinese. We were the only roundeyes in the room. As I said, great meal. You know you’re having good Chinese food when you can’t understand a word anybody says.

Unless you’re at a deaf school. Their Chinese food is lame.

After we left our excellent Dim Sum lunch, we went to the grocery across the street, a good Latin American market full of south of the border awesomeness (that is to say, south of the Canadian border. There’s no shortage of good Mexican food ’round here). There, nearly everyone spoke Spanish. The rest of them appeared to be close relatives of people who speak Spanish. We were the only gringos in the room. This was just across the street, mind you. Plenty of Chinese diners probably needed to pick up some lemons on the way home, but none of them were stopping by the Latin American grocery store. And plenty of Hispanics on Grand Ave, but apparently none of them eat Dim Sum.

To cultural chameleons it happens all the time. Back in Texas B.C. (Before Children) we had yearly season tickets to the TITAS cultural events at SMU. Lots of wonderful concerts, dance events, and the like. Marci and I went to see Tito Puente with my BIL and SIL (Brother-In-Law And Sister-In-Law. Let’s just call them BASIL and be done with it). Anyway, we were at SMU for TITUS in the BC with BASIL. Clear?

Awesome event. I’m so glad I got to see Tito Puente bring down the house while he was still alive. Now that he’s dead, his concerts are nothing to write home about, but back then, man oh man! He had us dancing in the aisles. Couple thousand other people too. But again: we were the only gringos in the room. Hey, what’s up? Tito Puente, Oye Como Va. Who wouldn’t dig that? 

A month later, we went on the same concert series to see Sweet Honey In the Rock. Beautiful a capella harmonies, great and soulful. Very spiritual, uplifting, fun. And us? We were the only crackers in the room. Or should I say crackah? Maybe that’s less offensive to, uh, myself. Where were all the otha crackas?

Same concert series: The Klezmatics. Funky Klezmer music. And we were the only Yids in the house. No, just kidding. It was Hebrew Central, one of few times outside the walls of a synagogue where “Hello, Rabbi!” is something you might find yourself saying more than once in an evening. But no African-Americans in sight. And no Hispanics. And no Chinese. Just like there were no Hispanics in sight at Sweet Honey In The Rock, and no black people at Kodo Drummers, and no Asians hearing Buena Vista Social Club because they were all having lunch with us at Lucky Empress Jade Palace.

But here’s the thing: being a social chameleon doesn’t mean squat. Doesn’t mean I’m enlightened in the least. As you can tell. Doesn’t mean I’m racially balanced. Surely not. If I was, maybe I wouldn’t have noticed who was around me in the first place. Maybe I wouldn’t have written this story. Maybe it wouldn’t strike me as odd that almost everyone around me at the symphony was light skinned, and almost everybody at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles was dark skinned. And as an aside, if you’re in L.A., there are few things better than a warm plate of chicken and waffles. I kid you not.

Walk down the streets of San Francisco and you’ll see a bit of everybody. Sometimes quite literally. Hey, fella, put a towel over it! It’s not just economics: everyone goes to see basketball. Even, occasionally, me. Everyone eats (except anorexics. They get eaten). But look for Asians in a Taqueria, or Hispanics eating Dim Sum. Go have Indian food, then look for those same faces at a sushi restaurant.

Life’s too short. Why do we put ourselves in little ghettos for the parts of life that really bring us to life?