Inside the new MacBooks: Audio and Video

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited January 2014
Apple's new MacBook and MacBook Pro models present a variety of changes in the way audio and video are handled, including support for iPhone-style integrated mic headphones and the new DisplayPort standard. Here's what's new in audio and video.



Audio Inputs



The entire new MacBook line retains audio input and output with both regular electrical analog and optical digital (S/PDIF) connections. However, the new models also adopt the four conductor headphone jack introduced with the original iPhone, which enables the use of headphones with an integrated mic and remote playback controls.



Last month, the new iPod touch, nano and classic were also updated to support iPhone-style headphones to handle new audio recording features, and potentially VoIP features on the iPod touch. Apple has announced new sets of headphones due out later this month that provide an integrated mic and playback controls.



The MacBooks also have an omnidirectional mic integrated into the left side speaker grill (as earlier models did), but capturing audio conversations for podcasting and VoIP will greatly benefit from the new capacity for using mic-integrated headphones. The new MacBooks also continue to supply 2.1 audio, with two directional speakers for stereo imaging and a subwoofer for better bass response built into the center of the right side of the unit.



When an iPhone-style set of headphones with an integrated mic are plugged in, the Sound panel in System Preferences automatically switches audio input from the internal microphone (below top) to the external mic available in the headphones (below bottom).











PlainTalk to the iPhone mic



Apple hasn't supported a basic microphone input on the Mac since 1991, when it replaced the Mac's unpowered mic input with the PlainTalk line level input. Prior to that, Macs shipped with the "Apple Omni-directional Mic," an unpowered or "mic level," monophonic device.



Throughout the 90s, Apple shipped new Macs with its PlainTalk microphone, which used an extra long jack to supply power to the mic from the computer. By tapping power from the Mac, the PlainTalk mic could boost its output from mic level to "line level." The line level mic inputs that have been on all Macs since (apart from a few models with no mic input at all) have therefore required a line level microphone. Most cheap mics designed for use with generic PCs are unpowered and therefore do not deliver a strong enough signal to be used with the Mac's line level audio input.



In order to use an unpowered mic, Mac users have previously needed to either attach a preamp between the unpowered mic and the line level input to boost the mic's output to line level, or alternatively use a digital USB mic, such as the Snowball from Blue, or some other USB or Firewire driven audio input device such as the Griffin iMic. For a period of time around the delivery of the PowerMac G4 Cube, Mac desktops and notebooks dropped PlainTalk analog mic inputs entirely as Apple expected everyone to use a USB mic.



Line level mic inputs later returned, and since the MacBook arrived in 2006, most Mac models have sported a line level input that can input 24-bit stereo at a 44.1-192kHz sampling rate and also accommodate an optical digital mini-toslink S/PDIF input at the same audio resolution. With the latest MacBooks, the headphone jack can also now support audio input using a fairly standard four conductor jack.



Video and Display



Physically, the glass panel covering the screen on both new MacBook models is listed by Apple as "not a serviceable part," according to sources familiar with its design. The company's policy on servicing a broken glass panel notes that "any attempt to remove the panel can shatter the glass, which could lead to other damaged parts. Broken or scratch glass panels will instead be addressed by replacing the entire display module."



The new Mini DisplayPort contributes toward a much more compact array of expansion ports on the left side of the machine. Looking at the logic board (below), it's obvious why such a difference in physical port size matters. The MacBook's motherboard is only a bit larger than a quarter of the surface area inside the machine, and its left edge offers no vacancies for additional ports or a full sized DVI connector.







Unlike VGA, DVI, and HDMI, DisplayPort is more than just a way to deliver a video signal between devices; it is also designed to replace the LVDS cabling used internally in notebooks and inside displays. The more sophisticated signaling of DisplayPort, and the subsequent need for fewer wires to deliver the signal, will not only allow manufacturers to make slimmer display case designs, but also affords Apple the ability to add support for multiple internal displays on its notebooks in the future, such as an LCD panel built into the trackpad. DisplayPort is also designed with the potential to allow a single cable to drive multiple monitors.



Despite using the new Mini DisplayPort for external video displays, the new MacBooks continue to use LVDS cabling internally to drive the built in display. This results in needing to route a delicate bundle of a large number of wires from the logic board through the hinge and to the display panel. Future models may likely take advantage of the DisplayPort standard internally to replace this thick display cable with a simpler, thinner signal cable once LCD panel makers start adopting DisplayPort themselves.



The mini DisplayPort catch-22



Mini DisplayPort also allows even the entry level MacBook to support the 2560x1600 resolution of Apple's most expensive 30" Cinema Display without needing the large, 24-pin connector demanded by dual-link DVI on the relatively small notebook. The muscle to drive that resolution is provided by NVIDIA's 9400M controller chip; the previous MacBook, using integrated Intel graphics, lacked the capacity to drive a 30" resolution display despite having a DVI connector with the pins available. Resolutions lower than 30" only require single-link DVI, which uses 6 fewer pins on the DVI port, although the connector itself is the same size.



The new MacBooks now have the best of both worlds: a small connector and the capacity to handle very high resolution. Somewhat ironically, the converter for adapting the MacBook's Mini DisplayPort for use with the dual-link DVI signal required by the 30" Cinema Display not only costs $99, but it's not even available for purchase yet.



Dell makes a 30" monitor of its own that uses DisplayPort, although the "Mini DisplayPort" used by Apple isn't common (it appears Apple invented it) and therefore cables aren't yet readily available to connect the new MacBooks to a third party, full size DisplayPort-equipped screen either. Apple's new 24" LED Cinema Display uses Mini DisplayPort exclusively, so it can only be used by the new MacBook and MacBook Pro. There are no converter boxes for turning DVI signals from a Mac mini or Mac Pro into DisplayPort, which uses not just different physical wiring but an entirely different signaling protocol.



In other words, during the transition from DVI-based Macs to DisplayPort, there are a number of things that won't work together. From this point forward, all new Macs will have DisplayPort (likely Apple's Mini variant, as there is no obvious advantage to using the larger version), and new Cinema Displays will also eventually gain the new connector. Existing 30" displays will require a somewhat expensive box (although if you can afford a 30" screen, you're probably not sweating over a $99 converter), but other displays only need the $30 VGA or single-link DVI dongle to work with a new mini DisplayPort Mac.



The Apple TV will likely retain HDMI rather than mini DisplayPort, as it doesn't need to drive display resolutions higher than HDTV's 1920x1080, which HDMI has no problem doing. DisplayPort is only required for driving higher resolution monitors with 30" 2560x1600 resolutions or greater.



Other Segments from our Inside the new MacBooks series



Apple details new MacBook manufacturing process

A closer look at Apple's move to NVIDIA chipsets, DisplayPort

Inside the new MacBooks: LSI, Battery, HD, and RAM

Inside the new MacBooks: FireWire, USB, and the NVIDIA Controller
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 103
    Any word yet on whether the new machines support audio out via mini DisplayPort? I'd love to (eventually) pick up a miniDP->HDMI adapter and use a single cable with my HDTV.
  • Reply 2 of 103
    pxtpxt Posts: 683member
    In a possible near future when DisplayPort is the dominant connector, Mac users will still have to carry around adapter cables because Apple have used a non-standard 'mini' DisplayPort connector.



    Being in an office, or at someone's house, there always be that moment of "Oh no, I've left the cable in my other bag, so now I can't connect because my Mac is incompatible with the whole world".



    DisplayPort, yes, maybe the future.

    mini DisplayPort, no, totally isolated.
  • Reply 3 of 103
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by PXT View Post


    In a possible near future when DisplayPort is the dominant connector, Mac users will still have to carry around adapter cables because Apple have used a non-standard 'mini' DisplayPort connector.



    Being in an office, or at someone's house, there always be that moment of "Oh no, I've left the cable in my other bag, so now I can't connect because my Mac is incompatible with the whole world".



    DisplayPort, yes, maybe the future.

    mini DisplayPort, no, totally isolated.



    mini DisplayPort is just like mini VGA and mini DVI - completely nonstandard, which requires the use of an adapter to connect ANYTHING. Dongles such as these are annoying for the exact reason that you've stated, the "I've left my cable in the other bag" syndrome.



    Even my last-gen MacBook Pro with a full-size DVI port needs an adapter because most projectors still use VGA...

    (except that DVI-VGA adapters are actually fairly common)
  • Reply 4 of 103
    What would have been nice is giving the MacBook Air the four conductor headphone jack - enables the use of headphones with an integrated mic and remote playback controls.



    Cheers Daniel
  • Reply 5 of 103
    What about audio out from the new mini displayport on the new MBP? I know audio out is part of the DisplayPort specification, but if you parse everything that Apple has said about mini displayport, they suspiciously fail to mention audio every single time. How about a mini to standard displayport - does anyone have an idea if Apple will ever make one? I ordered the new MBP, but this new connector has me wondering if I made a mistake. I can't imagine needing anything higher res than HDTV in the next three years. Most of the time, I can't even get a projector that handles more than VGA so I'm worried that DisplayPort is not only future-proof but also present-proof if I can't connect it to anything in the near future without a bag of adapters.
  • Reply 6 of 103
    ahmlcoahmlco Posts: 432member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by c3fcc View Post


    ...if I can't connect it to anything in the near future without a bag of adapters.



    Well... even if they'd kept DVI you'd still need a "bag of adapters" to connect to DVI and HDMI and VGA and anything else. Call it an "adaptor" or an "X to Y" cable, you still need one and you're still SOL without it.



    Reminds me of the days when they started playing around with the SCSI specification and you needed a half-dozen cables and adaptors to connect anything to anything.
  • Reply 7 of 103
    I suspect it DOES carry audio, because the new 24" screen has speakers, and no audio cable to connect it to.



    here:

    http://www.apple.com/displays/features.html



    no audio cable needed...oh wait...it very well could be using USB for audio. Crud, so we STILL don't know for sure.
  • Reply 8 of 103
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by brianpeat View Post


    I suspect it DOES carry audio, because the new 24" screen has speakers, and no audio cable to connect it to.



    here:

    http://www.apple.com/displays/features.html



    no audio cable needed...oh wait...it very well could be using USB for audio. Crud, so we STILL don't know for sure.



    I has been reported that the speakers don't activate unless the USB is connected. It's probably USB audio.



    An official comment on whether mini-DP supports audio would be nice. That may well be the sacrifice they made to get the port size down.
  • Reply 9 of 103
    Does miniDP have the entire functionality of standard DP? If it does, why didn't VESA standardize this mini port and make it the full-sized port? Apple doesn't talk about audio support through miniDP, which standard DP enables. In fact, Apple's new built-in Cinema Display speakers don't activate until you plug in the USB part of the cable. I'm not calling that proof that miniDP doesn't support audio though. It could have been a design decision.



    If miniDP doesn't support all the features of standard DP, would it be as simple as getting a miniDP to DP adapter to get full functionality? I'm not a technical guy, I don't know.
  • Reply 10 of 103
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by PXT View Post


    In a possible near future when DisplayPort is the dominant connector, Mac users will still have to carry around adapter cables because Apple have used a non-standard 'mini' DisplayPort connector.



    Being in an office, or at someone's house, there always be that moment of "Oh no, I've left the cable in my other bag, so now I can't connect because my Mac is incompatible with the whole world".



    DisplayPort, yes, maybe the future.

    mini DisplayPort, no, totally isolated.



    There are many more ways of getting someone to see the content besides plugging it into a TV set. While this may be a problem of sorts (if you forget your connector), it's not like there aren't a dozen ways around it if you want to show people content that is on your laptop.



    Seems to me this would primarily be a problem only if you wanted to do some work at someone else's office and they didn't have connectors and you forgot yours. This is pretty much always the case and always has been.
  • Reply 11 of 103
    hattighattig Posts: 830member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by ltcommander.data View Post


    I has been reported that the speakers don't activate unless the USB is connected. It's probably USB audio.



    An official comment on whether mini-DP supports audio would be nice. That may well be the sacrifice they made to get the port size down.



    DisplayPort can tunnel HDMI, which includes audio. DisplayPort 1.1 can also do HDCP, I expect that this is the version that Apple are including.



    I expect that the lack of audio over DP is because the drivers aren't ready rather than because it can't do it. Or it could be a limitation in the monitor itself. WIkipedia says DisplayPort can carry audio but doesn't go into detail.
  • Reply 12 of 103
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by PXT View Post


    In a possible near future when DisplayPort is the dominant connector, Mac users will still have to carry around adapter cables because Apple have used a non-standard 'mini' DisplayPort connector.



    Being in an office, or at someone's house, there always be that moment of "Oh no, I've left the cable in my other bag, so now I can't connect because my Mac is incompatible with the whole world".



    DisplayPort, yes, maybe the future.

    mini DisplayPort, no, totally isolated.



    Just for your information, I checked on the vesa site. The full-sized display-port connector is 4 cm wide (I let you convert that in inches if you need).



    With a full-sized display port, you wouldn't get neither USB nor Ethernet. That's as simple as that.
  • Reply 13 of 103
    pxtpxt Posts: 683member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Virgil-TB2 View Post


    There are many more ways of getting someone to see the content besides plugging it into a TV set. While this may be a problem of sorts (if you forget your connector), it's not like there aren't a dozen ways around it if you want to show people content that is on your laptop.



    Seems to me this would primarily be a problem only if you wanted to do some work at someone else's office and they didn't have connectors and you forgot yours. This is pretty much always the case and always has been.



    Hi Virgil-TB2,



    In the standard business discussion, everyone is around a table with their windows PCs and there's a projector and they can ALWAYS connect - no cables needed. If a company was using a projector with a new cable, they would already have some adaptor, in anticipation. All the PC users would be able to connect, only the Mac user would not. Business users never walk around an office with a pocket full of cables.



    I am concerned because I want Apple to succeed in business since OSX is clearly superior to Windows. But when everyone is looking at the Mac guy with pity, it really does not help.



    P.
  • Reply 14 of 103
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by PXT View Post


    Hi Virgil-TB2,



    In the standard business discussion, everyone is around a table with their windows PCs and there's a projector and they can ALWAYS connect - no cables needed. If a company was using a projector with a new cable, they would already have some adaptor, in anticipation. All the PC users would be able to connect, only the Mac user would not. Business users never walk around an office with a pocket full of cables...



    Okay. It wasn't clear earlier what the scenario was.



    I would still argue that this is not really different from the current state of affairs. I've been setting up projectors for these kinds of meetings for years and years and *mostly* all the projectors still have VGA connectors only, even today, so there is almost always a need for an adapter if the laptop doesn't have VGA output.



    It's really up to the person with the laptop to have their connector with them and this new connector will be no different. It's desirable for the presentation centre or office IT guys to have connectors for all different laptops of course, in case the visitor forgets theirs which is alarmingly common for sure. In my experience however, most places don't carry connectors for Macs (because they are frowned upon by the Windows guys), so there is even more reason for the visitor with the mac to bring their own adapter.



    This whole situation is regrettable of course, but still not so different with this new connector than with any of the old ones. The only way it will ever be solved is if computer manufacturers agree on a standard, which is exactly what Apple's move to the display port is all about. The new mini version is (currently) "non-standard" but still within the open spec as far as I understand, so there is hope that it will be picked up by other manufacturers also.



    The real bottom line on the source of these kinds of problems though is the slowness of WinTel manufacturers to get on board with new standards and their reluctance to support standards.



    I guess in the end it just bothers me a bit that Apple, who's behaviour in supporting and promoting new and open standards in these areas, can only be described as "exemplary" is getting heat for trying to do the right thing.
  • Reply 15 of 103
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Hattig View Post


    DisplayPort can tunnel HDMI, which includes audio. DisplayPort 1.1 can also do HDCP, I expect that this is the version that Apple are including.



    I expect that the lack of audio over DP is because the drivers aren't ready rather than because it can't do it. Or it could be a limitation in the monitor itself. WIkipedia says DisplayPort can carry audio but doesn't go into detail.



    I believe that audio over DP is an optional part of the standard. So Apple could have designed mini-DP without audio support and still claim full compatibility.
  • Reply 16 of 103
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Virgil-TB2 View Post


    Okay. It wasn't clear earlier what the scenario was.



    I would still argue that this is not really different from the current state of affairs. I've been setting up projectors for these kinds of meetings for years and years and *mostly* all the projectors still have VGA connectors only, even today, so there is almost always a need for an adapter if the laptop doesn't have VGA output.



    It's really up to the person with the laptop to have their connector with them and this new connector will be no different. It's desirable for the presentation centre or office IT guys to have connectors for all different laptops of course, in case the visitor forgets theirs which is alarmingly common for sure. In my experience however, most places don't carry connectors for Macs (because they are frowned upon by the Windows guys), so there is even more reason for the visitor with the mac to bring their own adapter.



    This whole situation is regrettable of course, but still not so different with this new connector than with any of the old ones. The only way it will ever be solved is if computer manufacturers agree on a standard, which is exactly what Apple's move to the display port is all about. The new mini version is (currently) "non-standard" but still within the open spec as far as I understand, so there is hope that it will be picked up by other manufacturers also.



    The real bottom line on the source of these kinds of problems though is the slowness of WinTel manufacturers to get on board with new standards and their reluctance to support standards.



    I guess in the end it just bothers me a bit that Apple, who's behaviour in supporting and promoting new and open standards in these areas, can only be described as "exemplary" is getting heat for trying to do the right thing.



    No, the problem is Apple using ports other than DVI or VGA - those are common, mini DVI/VGA or mini Displayport are not. Most of the business world runs on Windows, and most projectors have a VGA cable, but if your laptop has DVI or HDMI, you'll just have to remember to bring the right cable/adapter. It's simple as that.



    And as it stands, there are only a handful of PC video cards that even have Displayports. It's not much of a standard when hardly anyone supports it ATM.



    Apple is doing it to make their laptops smaller, which is fine but if they wanted to do the 'right thing', they would be including those adapters in the box, rather than charging $29 for them.
  • Reply 17 of 103
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Virgil-TB2 View Post


    The real bottom line on the source of these kinds of problems though is the slowness of WinTel manufacturers to get on board with new standards and their reluctance to support standards.



    I guess in the end it just bothers me a bit that Apple, who's behaviour in supporting and promoting new and open standards in these areas, can only be described as "exemplary" is getting heat for trying to do the right thing.



    Dell, Toshiba, Sony, HP, started introducing Display Ports into their products months before the new Macs were introduced, so I wouldn't go putting Apple on a pedestal, they're following not leading. You just didn't hear much of an outcry, because the other manufacturers continued to include VGA/DVI/HDMI as options. So great news for Display Port, and the business/conference/IT guys will start to acquire the Display Port cables as more and more PC people start asking for them. But even when that happens, Apple's decision to go with a physically proprietary Display Port leaves Mac users in the dust. Yeah thanks Apple, think different, not think stupid.
  • Reply 18 of 103
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by PXT View Post


    I am concerned because I want Apple to succeed in business since OSX is clearly superior to Windows. But when everyone is looking at the Mac guy with pity, it really does not help.



    P.



    I have had presentations in many meetings/boardrooms with my Mac and I can tell you that I have yet to see any PC user looking at me with pity, rather than with envy.

    Apart from having more sophisticated presentations via Keynote, connectivity was truly secondary.



    You are right, most PC users did have the typical 30+ years old VGA port on their laptops that connect to the usual projectors, but while I needed an adapter, I also had my Mac running the projector in no time.

    The biggest struggle I have seen PC users deal with is to get the external projector be recognized as a second/mirrored display.



    And missing adapter will make you appear unprepared, but not clueless in front of a group
  • Reply 19 of 103
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by guinness View Post


    Apple is doing it to make their laptops smaller, which is fine but if they wanted to do the 'right thing', they would be including those adapters in the box, rather than charging $29 for them.



    I second that. Unfortunately, this has been Apple's practice to achieve lower appearing price points.



    But keep in mind that this is a normal retail practice and is generally preferred by retailers (not by customers).

    Just think of many consumer electronics & printers with missing USB or HDMI cables. Stores are happy to sell you high-margin aftermarket Monster or Belkin cables just to get your new purchase working.



    The problem is that Apple is not consistent and often starts removing accessories through its product revisions, so you feel that you get less than you did before. iPod accessories or Apple remotes are perfect examples.
  • Reply 20 of 103
    19841984 Posts: 955member
    I noticed there is no miniDisplayPort to Composite/S-Video adapter either.
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