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Apple Hardware Technology

Apple's Lightning-to-HDMI Dongle Secretly Packed With ARM, Airplay 392

New submitter joelville writes "After noticing artifacts and a 1600 × 900 image in the output from Apple's new Lightning Digital AV Adapter, the Panic Blog sawed it open and found an ARM chip inside. They suspect that video bypasses the cable entirely and instead uses Airplay to stream three inches to make up for the Lightning connector's shortcomings."
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Apple's Lightning-to-HDMI Dongle Secretly Packed With ARM, Airplay

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  • Security? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by durrr ( 1316311 ) on Saturday March 02, 2013 @05:00PM (#43056081)

    So I guess it may be possible to reprogram the ARM chip to maliciously invade the users computer.
    Might it even be possible to turn the adapter into a minion of evil by just connecting it to your computer assuming you have the right software running?

    So borrowing someones AV adapter can now be a security risk?

  • Re:Car analogy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EmagGeek ( 574360 ) <gterich&aol,com> on Saturday March 02, 2013 @05:01PM (#43056087) Journal

    It's like having a 300HP engine in your fancy new sportscar, but all it does is turn an electric generator that delivers 50HP to the electric drive motor.

    Yet, they sell it to you as a 300HP sports car.

  • Re:Security? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by EmagGeek ( 574360 ) <gterich&aol,com> on Saturday March 02, 2013 @05:03PM (#43056099) Journal

    Or, the ARM chip is capturing a frame from time to time and sending it to Apple for analysis, so they know what you watch and when you watch it, and can sell that information to marketers.

    You can bet that if there's a cable between two apple products, there is all kinds of information being exchanged that you don't know about - and if one of those devices has a network connection, that information is ending up in Cupertino.

  • Wireless wire? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SCPRedMage ( 838040 ) on Saturday March 02, 2013 @05:03PM (#43056105)

    Doubtful. More likely that it's streaming encoded digital video via the cable itself, and the components on the connector just decode the stream.

    Perhaps this is a slight step forward, as far as technology is concerned, but it's a big leap back, as far as consumers are concerned...

  • Re:Good engineering? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ninetyninebottles ( 2174630 ) on Saturday March 02, 2013 @05:36PM (#43056279)

    Really, needing a computerized cable is just silly.

    Actually, it's a step forward and it's not the first technology to do this. The basic idea is, make the port a smart interconnect and let a smarter cable be more adaptive. That way a 4 meter cable can be tuned differently than a 2 meter cable and you can use the same port for a cheap copper cable or a long but expensive fiber cable. Regardless of how relatively expensive the cables are, replacing the computer is harder and adding new ports to mobile devices, even most laptops, simply doesn't happen. This makes a nice, future-proofed port for your laptop, phone, peripheral, etc. that will have real longevity.

  • Samsung's modified micro USB connector does fully 1080p HDMI, as well as a variety of other stuff. Cables are dirt cheap andy for sync/charging any standard micro USB cable works.

    This would appear to be a fairly epic failure for Apple because they are now stuck with either artefacts or changing to yet another new connector for all future products.

  • Re:Car analogy (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 02, 2013 @05:56PM (#43056415)

    If you have used both you'd know that from a purely physical point of view the Lightning connector is much better than the Thunderbolt one (and much better than the useless micro-USB and it's micro-USB 3 derivatives (those bloody things always wobble)).

  • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Saturday March 02, 2013 @05:59PM (#43056439) Homepage Journal

    Whoa. Are you saying this is applying HDCP to everything it plays?

    That would be very interesting, since if I made a video of my own and played it through this device, the television would be descrambling a technological measure which limits access, without my authorization. That's circumvention. This device from Apple, would cause the manufacture and sale of all HDMI compliant TVs to become illegal.

  • Re:Security? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Saturday March 02, 2013 @06:14PM (#43056519)

    It does appear, from what the speculation says, that the host device sends the SoC firmware when the adapter is plugged in. Hardly unusual: Propritary firmware blobs have been the curse of linux driver developers for years. RAM is cheaper than custom-masked ROM. If that is the case, then it may be possible to simply send a modified firmware (Unless Apple have done any sort of crypto-signing). The hacked firmware would have no way to communicate back and would be lost upon reset, so you'd need to solder in a tiny battery or ultracap too. Beyond that, though, there is plenty of room in that chip to save a few frames. Hack adaptor, lend to The Boss when he goes into the super-secret HR policy review board meeting, collect it back, extract presentation, get the inside word on who is about to lose their job and who is getting a fat bonus. It's a doable exploit in theory, though the level of difficulty involved - reverse engineering the adapter and the firmware enough to edit an evil version - that anyone capable of doing so probably has no need to. The type of exploit researchers might perfect purely to prove it can be done.

  • Re:Car analogy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 02, 2013 @06:26PM (#43056611)

    The M5 does come from the factory with a 155mph speed limiter, actually.

  • Re:Wireless wire? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BenJury ( 977929 ) on Saturday March 02, 2013 @06:31PM (#43056647)
    I don't under the thinner part. Micro USB is, what, 2mm high? The lightening connector is .5mm smaller, but what appliances would require such a reduced size? The iPhone 5 is 7mm+ high for example.
  • Re:Security? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@wo[ ] ['rld' in gap]> on Saturday March 02, 2013 @07:05PM (#43056865) Homepage Journal

    A while back someone noticed that their battery firmware updates were encrypted but the password was embedded in the updater executable in plaintext. You could replace the battery firmware, and then if you found a hole in the EFI firmware or OS gain control of the computer. I wonder if they have learned from this mistakes.

  • Consider this hypothetical: Movie studios license their works to cable and satellite networks. The studios and networks want to measure to what extent HDMI playback from iDevices competes with cable and satellite TV. (In this case, playback on the internal display of a mobile device is considered complement, not competition.) So they get Apple to add something buried in the protocol between the iDevice and the adapter to measure this. The ARM microcontroller in the adapter measures the screen size of the device on the other end of the HDMI cable and reports it to the iDevice, which sends it to Apple the next time the device connects to iCloud.
  • Re:Car analogy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ZorinLynx ( 31751 ) on Saturday March 02, 2013 @07:53PM (#43057169) Homepage

    This is a silly analogy these days. There are modern automatic transmissions that are basically just automated clutch-equipped gearboxes rather than the standard torque-converter-automatic that saps power like crazy.

    Those transmissions transmit no less power to the wheels than a manual transmission would. Not only that, but they can shift faster than 95% of people can shift a manual transmission, so unless you're a freaking NASCAR driver you're going to get better performance using one of these than on a standard manual tranny.

    Also they often have paddle shifters or similar so if you want to shift manually you still can.

  • Re:Wireless wire? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by adolf ( 21054 ) <> on Saturday March 02, 2013 @08:13PM (#43057289) Journal

    Perhaps you just need a different TV.

    Remember, HDMI is just a superset of DVI, which works generally works fine for a myriad of desktop computers.

    My own Samsung A550 from a few years back does just fine with sync, and works very well with video games. Even with layers of potential latency bolted on (playing Super Mario Bros. on an emulator on a Wii outputting component video which is then turned back into digital video at the television and then scaled), it behaves just as well as I remember it with an NES hooked to a CRT.

    For that matter, both of the DVI-connected monitors on my desk also show zero noticeable latency.

    As to cables, the cheaper the better, in my experience (at normal lengths): I've had expensive HDMI cables with ferrite beads on them, and had no end of problems with them. I eventually emoved the ferrites (with a sharp knife and a hammer), and they've been working perfectly for years... The cheap freebie cables that come in the box with gear or from bottom of the barrel Ebay sales seem to all work fine.

    I have seen some TVs lately that had real, unforgivable latency problems, and they all happened to have been made by Sharp. These needed audio delays added in the AVR to make a movie play correctly, and were essentially unusable as a computer monitor or for video games.

    Whatever the case, blaming HDMI (which really cursed piece of DRM-encumbered shit) for the wiring or latency issues is a non-starter. You're pointing your finger in the wrong direction.

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun