Apple’s Lightning Digital AV Adapter is a Full Computer with ARM Chip & 256MB of RAM

By on March 2, 2013

Panic, the developers behind some remarkable apps like Coda and Transmit, just tears down the Apple’s Lightning Digital AV cable that lets iOS devices like the iPad mini and the iPhone 5 to output HDMI signal to televisions.

digital av-apple

The company discovered that, like Apple’s Lightning to 30-pin brethren, the Digital AV adapter is significantly more knotty than it would appear. Panic also revealed that the Digital AV adapter has an ARM chip and 256MB of RAM inside.

There are a lot of questions. What OS does it boot? @jmreid thinks the adapter copies over a “mini iOS” (!) from the device and boots it in a few seconds every time it’s connected, which would explain the fairly lengthy startup time for video out. Why do this crazy thing at all? 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.

Panic speculates that due to some hidden technicalities the Lightning port isn’t capable of pushing out the raw HDMI signals-required for a particularly high quality image – instead it uses a form of AirPlay to output video, transporting a lower quality video signal.

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