Macbook HDMI Projector Fix

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Apple Lifehack Macbook

TL&DR – pack an HDMI -> USB-C adapter in your bag to help connections to old projectors, even though your Macbook Pro already has an HDMI output port.

macbook hdmi usb-c adapter

Backstory 😰

We had a large extended family birthday party last night, and for the occasion I was put in charge of producing and projecting a slideshow video onto a screen in a rented banquet hall. Connecting to projectors can always be tricky – in that “the demo always fails” kind of way – as learned from many years of assisting and organizing presentations in various office spaces, user groups, and conferences. I was super thankful that we were able to do a test run the day before. My still very new Macbook Pro 2021 running the latest software shouldn’t have much issue connecting to desktop monitors, ApplePlay screen sharing devices, and even iPads. But connecting to random old projectors in halls without the latest tech, while various family members in charge of the event planning anxiously watch for the results, is absolutely the most stressful kind of demo!

No matter how many times we let them know that software engineering has nothing to do with random hardware connections to old devices, it won’t matter because we were picked because “we know computers”. The real answer is we are picked because “engineers are creative at figuring things out” and this is the skill that comes in handy the most often!

So here is my friendly reminder to my future self on how to get through the sticky situation, when I forget 5 years from now how we got things working…


The Problem 😨

I got to the hall, and quickly was happy to see an HDMI connection in the wall that connects to the projector. Plug and play was my hope. (quick aside: remember when plug-n-play meant not having to fiddle with jumpers and IRQ bus channels?)

projector background static

Plugged in the Macbook to the projector, and briefly saw the screen appear on the projector! Success! Everyone doing room setup is super excited! But then, as demos go, the screen went away and became some background static.


The Solution ☺️

I had come prepared for various situations just in case the “don’t worry we have a projector for you ready to go” guarantee didn’t pan out. I brought my own projector, speakers, hdmi cables, and more, just in case. But I really really didn’t want to have to resort to the backup plan. Luckily just then someone in the crowd said, “hey I remember one time with my mac I had to use a dongle for a projector” – which then stirred some long deep memory of having this occur in the past to me too. And as luck would have it, even though I hadn’t planned it, I still had an HDMI -> USB-C adapter in my bag!

macbook hdmi usb-c adapter

This little guy saved the day. I’m still not 100% clear as to “why”. After various google searches, I land on explanations about test signals sent infrequently from the mac, or older projectors wanting more power to come from the hdmi signal than what he modern laptops use. But in the end, the demo (*ahem family video) works and that’s all that matters 😅

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