Connect a Mac to an HD TV: HDMI? Mini-DisplayPort? Audio?

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Joined: 01/12/2004

I'd like to connect my Mac Mini or my MacBook Pro to my flat-panel HD TV. It would be great to use my Mac as a media center.

But I'm a little lost in terminology: Mini-DisplayPort, "true 1080p HD" video, HDMI, surround audio... As I understand it, if you don't use the right ports and cables, you won't get full HD video quality.

What's the best way to do this without losing any quality?



Joined: 02/12/2009

There are a few ways of doing this. It depends on the model of Mac you have, and its ports.

Our goal is to get TRUE HD video (1080p, not 1080i or lesser) and full surround (not just stereo audio). We want all audio and video signals to be transmitted digitally, on one connector.

To use the following flow chart, first look up your Mac's specs.

Try EveryMac:

Or download the Mactracker app:

In summary, our port choices, in order of desirability are: HDMI, Mini-DisplayPort with audio, Mini-DisplayPort without audio.

Here are pics of the various connectors:


OK, here we go. If you have an HDMI port (such as on the Mac Mini from Mid 2010 or later) you are done! HDMI is the way to go because it carries video in full HD and audio in full surround. Just get a good quality HDMI cable.


If you don't have HDMI built-in, we move to plan B.

Mid-2010 models introduced Mini-DisplayPorts which are capable of sending audio, a big improvement. Earlier models' Mini-DisplayPorts did not carry audio.

So, if you don't have an HDMI port, and you DO have an audio-capable Mini-DisplayPort, you can get an adapter like the Kanex iAdapt HDMI V2:

Note that the first version, the Kanex iAdapt HDMI, did not pass audio. Get V2! It's under $25.

Just make sure that your adapter conforms to the VESA v1.1a DisplayPort Interoperability Guidelines, as described here:

"MacBook Pro (17-inch, Mid 2010), MacBook Pro (13-inch, Mid 2010), MacBook Pro (15-inch, Mid 2010), iMac (21.5-inch, Late 2009), iMac (27-inch, Late 2009), MacBook (13-inch, Mid 2010)... computers supply an audio signal from the Mini-DisplayPort. However, not all Mini-DisplayPort to HDMI adapters support audio out. For this feature, use Mini-DisplayPort to HDMI adapters that conform to the VESA v1.1a DisplayPort Interoperability Guidelines."


Having fun yet? If the above solutions didn't work, there's still hope. Older models are not left out in the cold. For example, I have a Mac mini 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo (released in Late 2009). This model does not have HDMI (boo!!), but it does have a Mini-DisplayPort (Yay!!). But the Mini-DisplayPort has no audio (boo!!).

Enter: Stage Left... The Kanex iAdapt 51 MDP to HDMI w/ 5.1 Channel Digital Audio! (Yayyy!!)

This squid is unique. It creates a true HDMI signal by combining these sources: The Mini-DisplayPort (for video), the optical audio out (for surround audio) and USB (just used to power itself, no signal sent over USB). It sells for about $60 to $70.

I use this and it's worked perfectly for 6 months so far. [Edit 2014: It has been working very well for me for 4 years. But a lot of bad Amazon reviews say that it failed for them after a while. Some users returned it under warranty, then it worked well. Watch out for this!]


If none of these options work for you, you're relegated to Mini-DVI or another port.

If you can't get video and audio on one cable, check that your TV has the capability to assign an analog audio input to one of the HDMI inputs. Not all TVs can do this. This way at least the video is full HD.

Finally, for older Mac Minis and older OSes, read this article:

p.s. Get EyeTV by El Gato! It turns your Mac into a DVR, letting you stop paying your cable company monthly fees for a DVR. But it is complicated so it is not for everyone.