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ARM chip found in Apple's Lightning Digital AV Adapter could be AirPlay decoder

post #1 of 80
Thread Starter 
A recent teardown of Apple's Digital AV Adapter for Lightning connectors reveals that the unit comes with an embedded ARM system on a chip, complete with 256MB of RAM, which some speculate acts as an AirPlay decoder.

AV Adapter


The discovery was made by developers at Panic Software, who stumbled upon the ARM chip in troubleshooting the device for video-out capabilities in an upcoming project.

As Apple describes it, the Lightning AV Adapter "mirrors exactly what you see on your device so that everyone in the room can enjoy it on your widescreen TV, video projection screen, or other HDMI-compatible display." It also supports 1080p output from an iPhone 5, fifth-gen iPod touch, fourth-gen iPad or iPad mini. As seen above, the unit sport a Lightning connector and an HDMI output.

AV Adapter
Source: Panic Software


It is unclear why the accessory would require such advanced hardware, but Panic believes the adapter is outputting video by using Apple's AirPlay protocol. The firm was led to the conclusion after noting image artifacts and limited resolution suspiciously akin to those found when an iOS device streams to an Apple TV.

All we can figure is that the small number of Lightning pins prevented them from doing raw HDMI period, and the elegance of the adapter trumped the need for traditional video out, so someone had to think seriously out of the box. Or maybe they want get as much functionality out of the iPad as possible to reduce cost and complexity.


Initial testing of the adapter also found that Lightning may not be able to support full 1080p resolution over HDMI, lending credence to the theory that the device is actually converting the output signal into an upscaled AirPlay stream.
post #2 of 80
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post
the unit comes with an embedded ARM system on a chip, complete with 256MB of RAM, which some speculate acts as an AirPlay decoder.

 

Nope. It's for running iOS.

 

This adapter has as much RAM as the first iPhone. I don't see why not.


It is unclear why the accessory would require such advanced hardware

 

"Obviously for the sole purpose of making the accessory overpriced!"

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post #3 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Initial testing of the adapter also found that Lightning may not be able to support full 1080p resolution over HDMI, lending credence to the theory that the device is actually converting the output signal into an upscaled AirPlay stream.

Well there is a bit of a difference when Lightning has 9 pins and HDMI has 19.

 

Upscaling bad.

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post #4 of 80
As much RAM as the Model A Raspberry Pi. I wonder if people will load Linux on it just to do it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

Nope. It's for running iOS.

Why would they load iOS on an adapter?

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post #5 of 80
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post
Why would they load iOS on an adapter?

 

Crap, ¡. 1wink.gif

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post #6 of 80

Hm, while I certainly do not know, I consider most of the explanations too complicated. An easier approach would be to multiplex the source signal to reduce the amount of pins required, and then inverse multiplex it in the adapter. The chip and RAM could simply handle inverse multiplexing and buffering. Upscaling is not the only possible cause of artifacts, it could simply be syncing issues in the demuxing.

post #7 of 80
Now talk about scaling down in technology.
post #8 of 80
They accidentally got a connector intended for the Iranian market, its the Echelon interface.
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post #9 of 80
So are we saying that this thing is over-engineered because Apple needed to make a new connector in order to save space in it's iPhone and iPad?
post #10 of 80
Originally Posted by bdkennedy1 View Post
So are we saying that this thing is over-engineered because Apple needed to make a new connector in order to save space in it's iPhone and iPad?


I don't think so.

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post #11 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post
 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

 

Nope. It's for running iOS.

 

This adapter has as much RAM as the first iPhone. I don't see why not.

 

 

As much RAM as the Model A Raspberry Pi. I wonder if people will load Linux on it just to do it.
Why would they load iOS on an adapter?

 

They may not be running iOS, but they are some kind of OS. Perhaps the iPod Nano OS?

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by bdkennedy1 View Post

So are we saying that this thing is over-engineered because Apple needed to make a new connector in order to save space in it's iPhone and iPad?


I don't think so.

 

I don't think it's a completely unreasonable premise, particularly on the emaciated iPhone5 and iPodT.

post #12 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by bdkennedy1 View Post

So are we saying that this thing is over-engineered because Apple needed to make a new connector in order to save space in it's iPhone and iPad?

I wouldn't call it over-engineered since it presumably won't function properly without these additions.

You could argue that iDevices or the Lightning connector are over-engineered but then you'd have account for this adapter being uncommon and that including the cost in each iDevice and making the iDevice more complex and costly when it's the item sold in huge quantities, and that Apple should have not included a future-forward connector to replace its aging decade old iPod Dock Connector, but I don't think that would be a good position to take.

If you want a recent example of over-engineering I think the new iMac qualifies on every level. We're moving on 6 month since they were announced and it's still weeks of waiting and it doesn't appear to be from a higher than expected demand.

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post #13 of 80
I feel like microusb doesnt have this issue.
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post #14 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by jeffreytgilbert View Post

I feel like microusb doesnt have this issue.

Neither does coax but neither of those options can do what Apple's Lightning connector can do.

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post #15 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post


Neither does coax but neither of those options can do what Apple's Lightning connector can do.

Such as?

post #16 of 80

If I understand correctly, this adapter hast to perform several tasks:

 

1. Since Lightning is basically a software defined interface, the adapter has to identify itself and tell the "mother device" to configure Lightning for video output

2. The adapter must negotiate the desired resolution of the output signal with the attached HDMI device.

3.The adapter has to establish a digital data transmission link with the ARM chip in the "mother device" and receive display data at the native resolution of that device in real time

4.  It must convert every image from the format and resolution received via Lightning to the proper HDMI output format and resolution.

 

It seems perfectly reasonable to me that Apple would use an ARM SoC for this, since ARM is what the software guys are familiar with, and it allows them to minimize the chip count.

post #17 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone 
Well there is a bit of a difference when Lightning has 9 pins and HDMI has 19.

Mini-USB only has 5 pins but can support full 1080p HDMI and 3D:

http://www.lindy.co.uk/usb-2-to-hdmi-1080p-adapter/42698.html

Thunderbolt has 19 pins, same as HDMI but can support dual 2560x1440 displays plus Firewire 800, ethernet and 3x USB.

I highly doubt they'd have purposely redesigned the port not knowing its capability. There must be something else going on here. There was a mention somewhere of HDCP compliance but the old adaptor obviously managed it without this complexity.

Maybe they are analyzing what you are watching and if they discover any porn being streamed to the TV, they will block the signal and report back to Cupertino.
post #18 of 80
It seems baffling that Apple would create a new standard like Lightning without support for 1080P HDMI video. The use case must have been known.
post #19 of 80
Quote:
Mini-USB only has 5 pins but can support full 1080p HDMI and 3D:

http://www.lindy.co.uk/usb-2-to-hdmi-1080p-adapter/42698.html

 

No, it can't. That's a display link device.

post #20 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by soward 
No, it can't. That's a display link device.

It does support 1080p and 3D video. It's limited by the USB 2 bandwidth so they compress the input like Apple does but with micro-USB 3 (10 pins), they can support multiple 1080p HDMI outputs:



While pin count limits bandwidth, it can't be the only issue if micro-USB can support multiple 1080p outputs with 10 pins.

edit: it looks like there's a different behaviour between video mirroring and video playback:

http://www.idownloadblog.com/2012/10/24/lightning-to-hdmi-vga-adapter/

"Bad news: video mirroring is supported only in 720p, though video playback is 1080p."

So it's capable of outputting 1080p video over the connector, just not mirroring at 1080p. This issue should only affect the mirroring that the developer was using:

http://www.panic.com/blog/2013/03/the-lightning-digital-av-adapter-surprise/

One reviewer on the Apple site said there's no 5.1 audio support though on the new adaptor, which is a downgrade:

http://store.apple.com/uk/reviews/MD826ZM/A/lightning-digital-av-adapter

If these same issues with upscaling and artifacts affect video playback, that wouldn't be good at all. If they only affect mirroring, it's more likely they'll be able to fix it.
post #21 of 80
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post
It does support 1080p and 3D video. It's limited by the USB 2 bandwidth so they compress the input like Apple does but with micro-USB 3 (10 pins), they can support multiple 1080p HDMI outputs:

 

How soon do you figure they'll swap their USB 2 accessories for USB 3 compatible versions? Given that 3's backward compatible*, you'd think they would have done it already, right?

 

*MicroUSB 3 being the stupidest looking port ever not withstanding, of course. But then again, Apple doesn't use it.

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post #22 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shameer Mulji View Post

Such as?

You really need me to tell you how USB and Lightning (and the 30-pin Dock Connector) cable are different? Ever hear of Google?

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post #23 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil 
How soon do you figure they'll swap their USB 2 accessories for USB 3 compatible versions? Given that 3's backward compatible*, you'd think they would have done it already, right?

The read/write speed of the storage exceeded USB 2 with the iPad 4:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=sM4BO5BVP1E#t=53s

That says 65MB/s write and 164MB read - USB 2 is around the iPad 3 write limit of 32MB/s. It would take a while to restore a full 128GB iPad over USB 2 but then again, that wouldn't be sequential write speed. They probably should have done it when they switched to Lightning even though not all the Macs had USB 3. Hopefully at the next revision.
post #24 of 80
I'm seeing here and elsewhere that because Lightning doesn't have 19 pins like HDMI it can't possibly do the same quality as HDMI. While that may be true (but I doubt it) the reasoning is completely false. Lightning's pins are dynamic so it can do more with less. For instance, does Lightning need to have 3 pins for clocking or can that be reinserting via the chip in the adapter? I think the latter. Same goes for pins 14, 18, and 19. I'm not sure why 4 of the pins have shield pins as that is a unique usage to me. Perhaps someone can explain that.

Type A receptacle HDMI
Pin 1 TMDS Data2+
Pin 2 TMDS Data2 Shield
Pin 3 TMDS Data2−
Pin 4 TMDS Data1+
Pin 5 TMDS Data1 Shield
Pin 6 TMDS Data1−
Pin 7 TMDS Data0+
Pin 8 TMDS Data0 Shield
Pin 9 TMDS Data0−
Pin 10 TMDS Clock+
Pin 11 TMDS Clock Shield
Pin 12 TMDS Clock−
Pin 13 CEC
Pin 14 Reserved (HDMI 1.0–1.3c), HEC Data− (Optional, HDMI 1.4+ with Ethernet)
Pin 15 SCL (I²C Serial Clock for DDC)
Pin 16 SDA (I²C Serial Data Line for DDC)
Pin 17 DDC/CEC/HEC Ground
Pin 18 +5 V (max 50 mA)
Pin 19 Hot Plug detect (all versions) and HEC Data+ (optional, HDMI 1.4+ with Ethernet)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tallest Skil View Post

How soon do you figure they'll swap their USB 2 accessories for USB 3 compatible versions? Given that 3's backward compatible*, you'd think they would have done it already, right?

*MicroUSB 3 being the stupidest looking port ever not withstanding, of course. But then again, Apple doesn't use it.

I wouldn't think so due to chip size and possible power and cost. Lightning does open itself up to allowing much faster data transfers

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post #25 of 80
So Lightning can't output true 1080p without resulting to up-scaling shenanigans - all for the sake of a compact connector - very disappointing! I assumed Lightning was a variation of Thunderbolt, or at least capable of outputting USB3 like speeds - boy was I wrong! I wonder if Lightning is capable of having its throughput increased through future upgrades like Thunderbolt, USB etc...if not its a technological dead-end - Ultra HD is going to be standard in 2 or 3 years, what then for Lightning? Isn't it supposed to be a ten year technology?
Edited by 1983 - 3/2/13 at 8:27am
post #26 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by 1983 View Post

So Lightning can't output true 1080p without resulting to up-scaling shenanigans - all for the sake of a compact connector - very disappointing! I assumed Lightning was a variation of Thunderbolt, or at least capable of outputting USB3 like speeds - boy was I wrong! I wonder if Lightning is capable of having its throughput increased through future upgrades like Thunderbolt, USB etc...if not its a technological dead-end - Ultra HD is going to be standard in 2 or 3 years, what then for Lightning? Isn't it supposed to be a ten year technology?

1) Thinking Lightning is like TB really was wrong.

2) Lightning is a connector nothing about it says it can't deliver USB3.0 speeds or higher. Don't confuse the port interface with other aspects being discussed.

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post #27 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post


It does support 1080p and 3D video. It's limited by the USB 2 bandwidth so they compress the input like Apple does but with micro-USB 3 (10 pins), they can support multiple 1080p HDMI outputs:



While pin count limits bandwidth, it can't be the only issue if micro-USB can support multiple 1080p outputs with 10 pins.

edit: it looks like there's a different behaviour between video mirroring and video playback:

http://www.idownloadblog.com/2012/10/24/lightning-to-hdmi-vga-adapter/

"Bad news: video mirroring is supported only in 720p, though video playback is 1080p."

So it's capable of outputting 1080p video over the connector, just not mirroring at 1080p. This issue should only affect the mirroring that the developer was using:

http://www.panic.com/blog/2013/03/the-lightning-digital-av-adapter-surprise/

One reviewer on the Apple site said there's no 5.1 audio support though on the new adaptor, which is a downgrade:

http://store.apple.com/uk/reviews/MD826ZM/A/lightning-digital-av-adapter

If these same issues with upscaling and artifacts affect video playback, that wouldn't be good at all. If they only affect mirroring, it's more likely they'll be able to fix it.

 

I don't see why everyone is so confused and upset.  

 

They wanted HDMI out (at least for some devices) ergo they had a choice of squishing it through the lightning connector or doing something weird.  Now since squishing the signal through the lightning connection cannot be done without loss of (some) quality, it isn't a perfect solution.  Also, since wires and "wired out" is going the way of the dinosaurs lately anyway, why not put a Airplay module right in the chip?  

 

It's a stop-gap measure for those that are still needing "wired out" 1080p signals and can't/won't switch to streaming instead.  They think they have a wire, but instead they are streaming.  

 

There is a loss of quality, but I would bet money that they tested the difference between the two methods and that streaming is probably less of a quality loss than squishing it through the wire.  

 

I've seen people on other sites using this as one of those "Steve Jobs would never... " moments, but to me it's the reverse.  This is brilliant out of the box thinking by Apple engineers and it's just a throwaway solution in the end of a cable that they didn't even bother to tell anyone about.  Brilliant.  

post #28 of 80

Since it has a CPU and RAM they could conceivably run something like Apple TV OS on it and use the Lightning connection just for power. Then it could AirPlay 1080 to the TV. So instead of it being a pricy adapter it would be a cheap Apple TV.

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post #29 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post

It's a stop-gap measure for those that are still needing "wired out" 1080p signals and can't/won't switch to streaming instead.  They think they have a wire, but instead they are streaming.  

 

Streaming has nothing to do with or without a wire. Streaming is a method of playing while buffering, that media applications use regardless of which protocol the data is being transferred by.

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post #30 of 80
Mind as well just buy an appletv seeing as its doing the same exact thing except wireless. I wonder if there is less latiency hard wired with the adapter, probably.
post #31 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gazoobee View Post

 This is brilliant out of the box thinking by Apple engineers and it's just a throwaway solution in the end of a cable that they didn't even bother to tell anyone about.  Brilliant.  

 

No, it's a sub-optimal and expensive hack.

post #32 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by alphafox View Post

Mind as well just buy an appletv seeing as its doing the same exact thing except wireless. I wonder if there is less latiency hard wired with the adapter, probably.

There would certainly be less latency as there are fewer and less complex protocols to deal with (I.e.: WiFi) but any noticeable difference would most likely be from buffering. The nature of WiFi means that they probably buffer more of the data stream before initiating playback.

PS: The Apple TV currently doesn't allow an ad-hoc connection from iDevice (or Mac/PC) to it. You must traverse via a router. Routers intrinsically add processing overhead to the path which also introduce latency. It would be great if you could connect directly (think of boardrooms and classrooms) so I hope they add that option soon.

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post #33 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by RichL View Post

No, it's a sub-optimal and expensive hack.

Surely the number of people who are buying adapters to connect their iDevices to a TV or monitor via a direct cable are few and far between compared to the number of iDevices they sell. I can't see how it's more optimal and less expensive to add this to every… single… iDevice… they… sell…. in the world. And that doesn't even consider the volume needed to support the HW. The iPad could probably take the chips but what about the iPod Touch? I highly doubt it.

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post #34 of 80
This article is missing the image of the low-quality display due to compression. Also, the false statements by Apple that the adapter supports 1080p.
post #35 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gazoobee 
Also, since wires and "wired out" is going the way of the dinosaurs lately anyway, why not put a Airplay module right in the chip?  

It's a stop-gap measure for those that are still needing "wired out" 1080p signals and can't/won't switch to streaming instead.  They think they have a wire, but instead they are streaming.  

There is a loss of quality, but I would bet money that they tested the difference between the two methods and that streaming is probably less of a quality loss than squishing it through the wire.  

I've seen people on other sites using this as one of those "Steve Jobs would never... " moments, but to me it's the reverse.  This is brilliant out of the box thinking by Apple engineers and it's just a throwaway solution in the end of a cable that they didn't even bother to tell anyone about.  Brilliant.  

I wouldn't say that it's a brilliant idea as it results in more expensive adaptors and lower quality output. It doesn't even move HDCP compliance to the plug and away from the iPad because the whole data path has to be HDCP compliant. It could even waste power doing compression/decompression as well as powering the memory chip.

Some people on the development blog wrote:

"From talking to a friend from Apple last thanksgiving, this was done because of the lack of pins, and the iOS device starts by pushing firmware to the dongle then streams video to the dongle which outputs the hdmi signal. The dongle and firmware combo were described to me as basically an underpowered Apple TV minus the wireless hardware. My friend was waiting for someone to tear into it and report on this."

"Apple can update the adapter with a new firmware easily, thus enabling higher resolutions and introducing more features later, without the need to introduce a new adapter."

Having a plug that can adapt to new formats is fine in theory but they still have Lightning on one end and HDMI on the other so I don't see the benefit there and why would the firmware have to be copied every time? Surely they'd use non-volatile memory.

Also, why would they purposely use 8 pins when the plug has two sides and could have taken at least 16 if this was going to be an issue?
post #36 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post

Also, why would they purposely use 8 pins when the plug has two sides and could have taken at least 16 if this was going to be an issue?

Perhaps I'm not understanding your comment because I'm certain you know this: It's not really 16 pins. It's more akin to 8 forked pins
Edited by SolipsismX - 3/2/13 at 11:18am

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post #37 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by RichL View Post

 

No, it's a sub-optimal and expensive hack.

 

sez you.  1tongue.gif

post #38 of 80
Originally Posted by Marvin View Post
The read/write speed of the storage exceeded USB 2 with the iPad 4:

 

I still say this shouldn't matter at all. "The chips can't write as fast as the port moves data" has never been a valid excuse in my mind. I see it as an aspiration, not a limitation. Add the ports now, have that overhead (and basically ensure a maxed-out R/W all the time), and then build up to saturate that port.

 

I'm a real pessimistic idealist, aren't I? I've noticed that a lot. Helps to keep a lot of balance in my life, but people tend to dismiss both the dreams I put forth and the hopes I hold back.

 

And then Apple releases new hardware and they're shown I was right to be pessimistic. *rimshot*

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post #39 of 80
Imagine a Beowulf cluster of these.
post #40 of 80
Quote:
Originally Posted by SolipsismX 
Perhaps I'm not understanding your comment because I'm certain you know this: It's not really 16 pins. It's more akin to 8 forked pins

I was thinking the pins were just on one side and they had two sets of contacts on the port. The top side would likely have to be plastic or they'd have to recess the port contacts if they did that though. Someone posted a pin layout here:

http://www.slashgear.com/apple-lighting-port-not-identical-on-both-sides-26249284/

Anyway, the fact that there's 16 pins on the current one means that there was enough room on the smaller plug that the form factor of the plug wasn't an issue. Some people seem to suggest that Apple compromised function in pursuit of the smaller plug. They must have purposely designed it knowing that 8 pins would be enough for them and given that USB 3 only has 9-10 pins, bandwidth shouldn't be a major problem.

It's a very bizarre workaround - almost as if two separate teams had the tasks of designing the port and adding HDMI support. Maybe this is why they've decided to collaborate more on things.
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