Mac mini-HDTV connection guide

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Panasonic TH-42PX60U 42-inch plasma TV: Christopher Breen

When I first looked at the Intel-based Mac mini as a media center, I did so with a standard definition CRT television. While it was possible to view DVDs—and, to a pretty marginal extent, the Mac’s desktop—on my Sony WEGA TV, it was time to see how the mini looked in Hi-Def.

I bought Panasonic’s TH-42PX60U 42-inch plasma TV based on reviews, recommendations from friends, and its price. The TV is equipped with multiple inputs—three composite, three S-Video, two component, and two HDMI.

The Mac mini includes a DVI video connector, and a DVI-to-VGA adapter comes in the box. To connect the mini to my CRT I’d used Apple’s DVI to Video Adapter, stringing an S-Vide cable between the adapter and my TV. With the plethora of higher-resolution inputs available on the plasma display, I knew I could do better.

I did so with a DVI-to-HDMI cable purchased from my local Radio Shack. The clerk initially directed me to Monster’s $100 3.3-foot Monster HDMI-to-DVI Cable. Put off by the cable’s high price I rooted around in the store’s home-grown cable section and unearthed the $25 Radio Shack 12-foot DHMI-DVI Cable. The Monster cable may have offered better-looking video but I wasn’t willing to spend an extra $75 to find out.

I connected the mini to my TV with this cable, chose the HDMI 1 input, and fired up the Mac. The gray screen and Apple logo appeared in glorious widescreen.

Checking the Displays system preference on my mini, the picture automatically resolved to 1,600-by-900 pixels at 60Hertz. I tried some greater and lesser resolutions—producing text that was either too hard to read or too bloated--and decided that the Mac had made the correct choice right out of the box.

Clicking the preference’s Color tab revealed a Panasonic TV profile automatically created by the Mac. I peered into the Options tab and found an Overscan option. Switching it on caused the picture to bleed beyond the edges of the display—the bottom portion of the menubar and its commands were still accessible but much of the text was cut off. Switching Overscan off revealed the entire desktop with an inch or so of black space around the edges. I decided to go with overscanning on, figuring that I could see enough of the commands to navigate around the Mac while also enjoying the merits of full-screen playback for movies, slideshows, and the like.

I wasn’t entirely pleased with the color profile. Metal windows displayed a distinctive pink cast and everything was a little too bright. The TV was set to its Standard display profile (rather than the Vivid profile which tends to be too bright) so I resolved to create a more pleasing color profile on the mini.

Clicking the Calibrate button within Displays’ Color tab I ran through the Display Calibrator Assistant and played with the settings. In the Select a Target Gamma portion of the Assistant I tried the 2.2 Television Gamma setting but found it a little too dark. Instead, the key to my Big Screen satisfaction was a setting in the Select a Target White Point area.

That’s where I chose the 9300 setting rather than the default Native setting. The 9300 setting is described as “Cool blueish white—standard for most displays and televisions.” On a computer monitor this setting turns the display far too blue but on the TV is was perfect. The pink cast vanished and everything else on screen became richer without adopting a too-blue demeanor. Clicking through the Assistant’s Continue buttons I finally saved the profile.

Before completing the setup I took note of this warning in the TV manual:

Do not display a still picture for a long time. This causes the image to remain on the plasma screen (“after image”). This is not considered a malfunction and is not covered by the warranty.

The manual helpfully lists Typical Still Images; among them was Computer Image. With that in mind I dashed to the mini’s Desktop & Screensaver system preference and configured the screen saver to kick in after 5 minutes of inactivity. I also asked the Energy Saver system preference to put the display to sleep after an inactive 15 minutes.

The verdict: So, is it worth connecting your Mac to an HDTV? Given that it’s as easy as plunking down a couple of dozen bucks for a DVI-to-HDMI cable and switching on the Mac and TV, absolutely. It’s cool enough that you can watch HBO’s Deadwood and Rome in high resolution. It’s cooler still that with the push of a button that same television becomes a gorgeous 42-inch monitor.

[ Senior Editor Christopher Breen is the author of The iPod and iTunes Pocket Guide (Peachpit Press, 2005). ]

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