Help someone plug a computer into a TV, become a criminal

Digital video is confusing. You get some clear advantages, since signal degradation becomes a thing of the past, but if you’re not someone who works in video for a living, it’s difficult to keep it all straight. And standards are a problem. You can’t just assume that two devices will work together because they’re both “digital.”

One of the problems is physical incompatibility. Some devices have Displayport ports. Some of them have HDMI ports. The solution is easy: get a cable with an HDMI connector on one end and a Displayport connector on the other. Problem solved.

And now the guy who sold it to you is a criminal. (You aren’t necessarily. Possession isn’t illegal, just sale or manufacture. So don’t sell it at your garage sale in 2019.)

This should be a skit on a comedy show, not a news headline.

Filthy contraband. You'd never know unless I said so, would you?

What makes it even more ridiculous is that an Amazon search reveals these contraband cables have been on the market since at least 2004. And Displayport and HDMI are designed to be compatible with each other. Not 100% necessarily, but close enough that they usually work.

Let me tell you a story. In 1985 or 1986, Dad bought a VCR. He probably bought it in St. Louis, and he probably just went to a convenient consumer electronics store near one of the I-55 exits, and he probably just bought whatever reputable brand-name VCR was the cheapest, because that’s what I’d do, and I learned it from someone. Then he brought that VCR home, and realized the VCR had F connectors on the back rather than the usual RCA jacks. In the 1980s, what you did in that situation was drive to the nearest Radio Shack, spend a few dollars on weird cables with the right connectors in the right places, then plug the VCR into your television. Problem solved. The cables probably ate up all he saved (and then some) by buying a weird VCR–and that was probably the reason it was on sale in the first place–but in the end, at least we had something that worked.

Today, since we’re 21st century digital boys, if you run into a situation where you want to plug a Displayport-toting computer into a monitor or TV that has an HDMI connector on it, you can get into trouble. Actually it’s more likely the company that made the cables will be in trouble for selling it to you, but still, it’s ridiculous. Why are some cables and adapters with dissimilar connectors on each end legal, and some aren’t?

It was fine in the 80s. In fact, in the 80s you could violate copyright laws with those cables. Today, those cables don’t even let you do that. So it’s not even an overreaching nanny state thing.

What this means in practical terms is that someone who has a Sony computer and a Sony TV can probably connect the two just fine. But those who dare to want to connect an HP or an Apple computer to a Sony TV probably won’t be able to do it much longer. Why? Who benefits? Just the lawyers, and some of the companies those lawyers represent. But it would be very interesting to get a look at those lawyers’ own home theaters to make sure none of them have any illegal cables.

If I can make my digital gadgets work together, I should be able to do it.

4 thoughts on “Help someone plug a computer into a TV, become a criminal

  • July 14, 2011 at 9:17 am
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    I suspect its the TV and movie studios that don’t want you using that cable. We have a Mac Mini connected to our TV that lets us watch shows and movies through Hulu, the network websites, Netflix, etc. Hulu has quite a bit of content that is marked as online only, meaning that set top boxes like Roku, Boxee, hulu-enabled blu-ray players, etc can’t play some of the content. TV and movie studios don’t like digital distribution. It’s here, but they think that forcing people to watch on the computer will mean that they can continue selling DVDs, Blu-Rays, cable & satellite subscriptions.

    Heather and I represent exactly what the studios don’t like. We don’t have cable or satellite, we rarely rent or buy DVDs anymore, and we don’t own a blu-ray player. We watch everything via antenna or online streaming.

    • July 14, 2011 at 7:13 pm
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      And that makes a ton of sense. I’d have a computer connected to our TV if it wasn’t so difficult to get Ethernet over there. The room with the TV in it is an addition, with three outside-facing walls and no basement underneath. Probably no attic access, either. There won’t be any Ethernet there until we replace the siding and I can get at the walls that way. When we do have the wall open, I’ll probably run 10 wires over there because I probably won’t ever get another chance.

      We use antenna too. I forget how many channels we get over the air, but it’s more than 14, and I’ll bet if I put the antenna in the attic I could get several southern Illinois stations that we don’t get now. We don’t stream, but we get DVDs from the library or from Redbox, which the studios probably hate even more than streaming.

      Cable and satellite are unbelievably overpriced for what you get. Some of my coworkers spend upwards of $100 on it every month, and for that, they get 150 channels they never watch (it’s all reruns they’ve seen before anyway) and maybe 10 channels that they do. I was going to say it makes sense for watching sports, but I could get the MLB package and stream that, even. And then I can watch the teams I’m actually interested in, and not what Fox Sports, ESPN, WGN, WOR, or WTBS happen to be broadcasting, which is usually just the closest team and the big-market teams anyway. Presumably the other professional sports leagues do something similar, but I only pay attention to baseball.

  • July 16, 2011 at 6:47 am
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    A problem I discovered with the online MLB.com subscription is that you’re blocked from watching local teams. I received a Roku (www.roku.com) for Christmas and thought I’d activate MLB for the summer. I quickly discovered that I was blocked from all of the cardinal’s games. That shouldn’t be an issue for you since you’re a KC fan.

    Have you considered a setting up a TV in your back room via wireless NIC? Our old mac mini (the 1st generation to have an Intel CPU) has the wireless card build in (as does the Roku). Rather than running extra cables, I just use wifi now.

  • July 16, 2011 at 12:55 pm
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    For some odd reason, wifi works poorly in that room too, even with a repeater one room over. To get a good network connection over there, I pretty much have to go either wired or powerline networking.

    That’s nuts that MLB won’t give you the local teams online, but I’m not surprised. I guess that’s the one advantage to being a Royals fan in St. Louis.

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