External display issues

Quickly enough, I wanted to plug the Mac on an external display. First, I would get a bigger screen. Then I would be able to use a fully-functional keyboard with working F1-F10, Alt/Option and Escape keys, in front of my external monitor, rather than having to lean my head constantly towards the far-away laptop, to control it with an external keyboard/mouse.

Physical connection

I quickly found out the good new: that October 2006 MacBook Pro (discovered exact model using MacTracker this morning) has a real full-sized DVI output port! This is not the pseky mini-DVI requiring almost-Apple-specific adapters, even not the newest mini-DisplayPort. No, a real DVI port! Ok, I have a DVI to HDMI adapter for that!


Well I realized with surprise that the DVI end of this adapter didn’t fit into the DVI port of the Mac. The exact reason why is still to be determined. However, I tried with a DVI to HDMI cable I had and the DVI end fitted. The DVI end of a DVI to DVI cable also fitted.

I was thus able to hook up the Macbook Pro to my Dell 23″ touch screen through DVI->HDMI. But the touch interface, provided by a separate USB connection, didn’t work, only the keyboard and mouse worked through the USB hub built into the display. I also successfully hooked up the Mac to my old 22″ LG LCD. Ideally, I would have put the machine and old LCD on a dedicated desk/table, with its own keyboard and mouse (ideally an Apple keyboard, if I can get my hands on one), but I don’t have a large enough table for this to fit comfortably.

The problem with my new Dell LCD is that connecting the cables is hard. The space behind is kind of too tight. I thus try to leave cables connected in the monitor’s end and just plug/unplug the device ends. There is one loose HDMI cable hanging on my desk. I can plug something directly if it has an HDMI output, or use an adapter to turn this HDMI into a mini-DisplayPort (really, I purchased this adapter for a Dell ultrabook provided by Nuance, the company where I am working), a DVI, a mini-HDMI or micro-HDMI.

The fact that the HDMI to DVI adapter didn’t work was kind of problematic for my monitor setup. I thought about several solutions:

  • An HDMI male to female cable. Most cables are male to male. It is a bit uncommon to have one female end.
  • A female to female HDMI coupler that would allow me to link to cables with an HDMI male end together.
  • An HDMI to DisplayPort cable. My Dell LCD has a DisplayPort port which is unused. I could try to use it instead of the HDMI port for connection with HDMI and mini-DisplayPort laptops. But I may have to purchase an additional mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort adapter, not sure it would work with mini-DisplayPort/HDMI/DisplayPort.
  • A DVI to DisplayPort cable. May work, but I end up having to try my luck with another DVI end which may not fit into the Mac’s port, unless of course I purchase the damned cable twice the price at an Apple store!
  • A new LCD with easier to access connectors. I may have to sacrifice the touch ability, which is totally unacceptable!

Yesterday afternoon, I tried to get the HDMI male to female cable from a local computer store. I thought I had it, but looking further at it, I found out it was a somewhat weird HDMI to VGA cable. The ends are shown on the picture below.


I was quite depressed and exasperated when I noticed that. How wiill I be able to get my hands on the needed cable if I cannot rely on anybody to help me out with finding it. I will have to wait forever for somebody sighted and versed into computer science to come with me and check, or try ordering the thing online.

But wait. I do have what I need!!! On my way to the gym yesterday, I remembered about the HDMI switch I was using with my old LCD monitor to duplicate the digital inputs (it has just one DVI and one VGA port). This is exactly the HDMI female to female coupler I needed, with just extra HDMI inputs I just don’t need for this particular uncommon use case. Back at home yesterday, I did the connection and it worked!


Lack of flexibility

Quickly enough, I found out that Mac OS X would not display 1920×1080 to my LCD. It was matching with the internal display’s resolution. I went into the Monitors preferences and bumped up the resolution, but Mac OS X stubbornly added black vertical bars, truncating the image. This looks similar to picture below.


I searched and found no solution, except closing the lid. Argh! That will prevent me from accessing the internal keyboard, if I need to change sound volume and the machine may become hot. Ok, let’s do it.

But that didn’t help! The laptop, instead of shutting off its internal display and sending video just to external, went into suspend mode! It was hooked up to AC power. It needs to be, because the battery exploded a while ago (before my brother’s girlfriend gave me the machine), so there is no battery at all!


The first time I did this, after almost thirty seconds, my Dell LCD turned back on and I had 1080p.


However, fonts were so tiny that I almost went mentally ill! Moreover, after that, internal display wouldn’t turn on again.

I don’t know exactly why, but I had to reboot the Mac later on, which reverted to the two-screen mode. Then closing the lid just suspended the Mac, not turning the external display anymore. However, it was a bit easier to work with the two displays, because the truncated display gave a bit larger fonts than fully 1080p display.

At some point, I reached the dead end with font size and finally lowered the resolution, but that didn’t help much. It just truncates the menu bar and things are not really bigger.

How about the « extended » display mode? Hitting F7 toggles between mirrored and extended modes. In mirrored mode, the two displays show the same thing. In extended mode, they act like a large screen. Extended mode didn’t work well for me, because the menu bar only showed up on the internal laptop LCD and each time I was trying to bring my lost mouse pointer to the top most corner, it was disappearing into the internal display!

The mystery of the closed lid

I think I found the way to have only external display. After the laptop suspended when lid is closed, I should have move the mouse or pressed a key on the keyboard, which would wake up the machine and force it to use just the external display. I read that somewhere during never-ending searches about other issues.

Getting back to internal display is a matter of disconnecting the external display, closing the lid and reopening it.