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Apple prepping first Macs with HDMI - sources

Apple plans to introduce HDMI connectivity on some of its personal computers this year, embracing an emerging trend that has seen the high-definition audio/video interface crop up on an increasing number of systems from rival PC manufacturers, AppleInsider has learned.

HDMI spotted on Mac mini

More specifically, prototypes of a new Mac mini — Apple's smallest and most affordable system, commonly employed by tech savvy Mac users as an ad-hoc living room media server, has been making the rounds with an HDMI port in place of its legacy DVI connector, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The port sits besides mini DisplayPort connector and marks the first instance of full-featured HDMI connectivity on a Mac. It also represents only the second Apple product to feature the port outside of the company's fledgeling Apple TV streaming media device. Cosmetically, the Mac mini is otherwise said to look identical to existing models, with no other visible changes to its enclosure.

A bit about HDMI and Macs

HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) is a cabling standard intended for home theater uses, built on top of the computer-oriented DVI (Digital Video Interface) specification. It uses a compact flat connector instead of the relatively large one used for DVI. Because it's backwardly compatible with DVI on an electronic signaling level, computers with DVI output can drive an HDMI display such as an HDTV using only a physical adapter dongle.

Apple's recent Macs all supply either a standard DVI port or a Mini DisplayPort connector that is also designed to provide DVI signals in addition to DisplayPort, a newer, incompatible video signaling protocol. This makes it simple to connect either port to an HDMI display for video output using a simple converter dongle.

However, the HDMI specification also provides support for audio, something DVI does not. Since there are no audio signals presented on Mac (or PC) DVI (or, apparently, existing Mac Mini DisplayPort) connectors, there's currently no way to deliver both audio and video from a Mac to an HDMI TV over a simple, single cable.

Apple's existing Mac mini offers users the choice of DVI or mini DisplayPort for video output.

Only Apple TV provides an HDMI connector capable of delivering both audio and video signals to an HDMI display. Including HDMI video connectors on new Mac models would enable users to connect their computer to an HDTV via one cable, rather than needing a separate audio connection or complex cable.

Mac mini
An unannounced version of the Mac mini has been spotted with an HDMI connector instead of a DVI.

Mac mini prototype with Nvidia's MCP89

At least one of the Mac mini prototypes described by those privy to the hardware is said to include Nvidia's MCP89 chipset, which is the successor to the existing MCP79 (or GeForce 9400M)  chipset found alongside Intel's Core 2 Duo processors across the majority of Apple's existing Mac product line.

However, Intel's ongoing licensing dispute with Nvidia will prevent Apple (and other PC makers) from using the MCP89 supporting chipset alongside its latest generation of Nehalem-based Core i3, i5 and i7 processors. Therefore, this suggests that Apple may continue to rely on existing Core 2 Duo (pre-Nehalem) processors as part of its upcoming Mac mini revision.

Alternatively, the Mac mini prototype in question could have been in development before Intel's disagreement with Nvidia came to a head, meaning successive prototype revisions that forgo the new Nvidia chipset in favor of Intel's may have since emerged, though there's no evidence thus far to support that theory.

HDMI for other Macs

While adding an HDMI port to the Mac mini is fairly trivial with few tradeoffs, the same can't necessarily be said in regards to Apple's notebook lines, which sport a much smaller footprint and limited real estate for additions to its I/O port makeup.

However, another product floating around Apple's labs is a proprietary mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter that the Mac maker had originally developed and intended to ship alongside its most recent iMac revision, according to people with knowledge of the situation. It's said to include technology that would allows Macs shipping with an updated mini DisplayPort spec to channel both video and audio through the mini Display port to the HDMI adapter, rather than just video.

Mac mini
One of the various mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapters on the market that doesn't carry audio signals.

Ideally, the adapter was to accompany Apple's move to include Blu-ray drives in the high-end iMac (and offer them as build-to-order options on the rest of the line), allowing the all-in-one desktops to connect to big-screen HDTVs that would leverage their Blu-ray drives and high-def iTunes video content. But a near last-minute decision by Apple to scrap Blu-ray from the iMac line this past fall kept the adapter under wraps. It's therefore possible that it could still emerge as a solution that could accompany a future update to the company's notebook lines.

Blu-ray blues

Apple's move to ax Blu-ray from the iMac line (and several other Macs that were undergoing Q&A testing) was reportedly due to a number of factors. One issue, according to people familiar with the matter, was that Apple management — including Jobs — felt Blu-ray licensing fees were too steep for the length of time they believed the technology would remain relevant in the market place. There were also reportedly both software and hardware related issues that would have demanded too much engineer effort to overcome.

If you missed it

In related news, AppleInsider reported earlier this month on Apple's efforts to usher advanced automatic graphics switching into its professional MacBook Pro line sometime this year.