Monday, September 2, 2013

Older TV Streaming & the Apple Composite AV Cable

I am on a mission to find the best way to stream iPad content to my old TV.  The "old" part is the challenge: I currently own a 27" Sony Trinitron.  There are a lot of sexy new ways, such as Apple TV, to display content on new HD TVs.  But how to display iPad and other iOS content on an older TV, not blessed with HDMI connections?

Here I'll review Apple's Composite AV Cable, which seemed feasible, as I have the iPad 3 with the 30-pin connector, the connector used by the Composite AV Cable, and AV connections are fine for most old TVs.  

The type of connector used by your iOS device is in fact critical.  If you have a newer iOS device with the Lightning Connector (e.g. iPhone 5, iPad 4, iPod touch 5th-generation) you cannot use the Composite AV Cable. You might think you could get the  lightning-to-30-pin cable and connect that to the Composite AV Cable. But no.  My testing has shown the  lightning-to-30-pin cable does not support video, as Apple also states on its site.  (Later I'll discuss a possible option for newer iOS lightning devices.)

The Composite AV Cable has the standard set of three AV /RCA cables, colored yellow, red and white. For older TVs, this is often your only option for video and audio in (yellow = video; red/white = stereo audio).  The cable is conveniently long, about 6 feet, and in addition to the three AV cables includes a fourth USB cable, which can be used to power your iPad during use.

From prior experience connecting a laptop PC to my television with an RCA composite cable, I expected to plug the cables into the television, plug the 30 pin connector to my iPad, turn both on and have my iPad screen display on the TV. This is known as "video mirroring".   This is not, repeat not, what you get with the Composite AV Cable.

Instead, I plugged everything in, turned on the iPad 3 and the TV, and got...nothing. All I saw was a blank, grey screen, and I tried this on two TVs just to make sure. I was getting audio, but nothing else. I tried running some apps, Safari, etc. - nothing. It looked like I had a defective video cable.

Luckily, before returning the cable, I decided to try the Netflix app. Lo and behold, up came the familiar red Netflix starting screen, both on my iPad and on the TV! At least at that point I knew the video cable wasn't defective. However, confusingly, on my iPad the red start screen disappeared and went into the normal list of available shows on the app, but this isn't what was on the TV screen. The TV screen continued to only show the red Netflix start screen! What was going on here?

iPad display during Netflix streaming

So I selected a Netflix show in the app and started to play it. Immediately, the iPad screen reverted to the Netflix logo.  However, simultaneously, the video streaming began displaying on the TV, and only on the TV.  Not exactly what I was expecting, but hey, streaming was "working".

Well, not optimal, but at least I knew the score. All I needed to do would be to round up all the various streaming possibilities, Safari or in-app, and I should be good!

Ah, if only it was that easy. It seems whether an app or a website can stream to the TV (at least through the Composite AV Cable) is up to the whim of the developer. Some stream fine, some don't stream at all, and some stream in Safari but not in the app (or vice versa). The variability and unpredictability is frustrating - it's all so Android-like.

CBS iPad display during streaming 
Amazon Video App - no TV streaming

Aside from streaming, not much else will display on your TV. The Apple Photos app will display in slideshow mode, but I tried several prominent game apps without success.

I did not try everything, but below is a summary of my testing with the Apple Composite AV Cable. I expect consistency in the iOS world; it would behoove Apple, which has to sanction all apps, to insist on streaming apps to have TV-out capability.
Testing Results for the Apple Composite AV Cable and iPad 3

As promised, here is a possible solution for connecting the new iOS lightning connector devices to old TVs.  It's ugly (and expensive), but Apple forum user PatrickGaerlan suggests a possible solution for newer iOS Lightning devices:  Apple Lightning Digital AV Adapter + HDMI Cable + Mini HDMI2AV Converter + AV composite cables (any).

Also, I have discovered how to get Apple TV to work on older TVs without an HDMI connection.

Finally, you can check Apple's Composite AV Cable compatability list below if you have compatability questions about your specific device.

Composite AV Cable iOS Device Compatability (per Apple)


  1. Thank you so very much for this list of compatible streaming apps! I looked in threads and google searches for hours before coming across your detailed chart. I ESPECIALLY love the safari website trick ;). I can't thank you enough

  2. Quick Update: I just tried TV Output from an iphone 4s - iOs 7.1.2 with the Amazon Video App to an old CRT TV via the apple composite AV cable and was very pleasantly surprised that BOTH video and audio worked flawlessly (for as much as one can expect on such an old TV). Especially in Germany this is a very interesting if not the only option for a single device on CRT TV (lacking hdmi connection).

  3. If these are the only features you are after then that's great and by all means make the purchase. My only regret would be that there probably is a media streaming device out there at the same price point that will offer more more

  4. There are so many types of AV cables like RCA cables, Coaxial Cables, HD Cables, Computer AV cables etc. The RCA cables are most used AV cables. These cables are used to transmit audio/visual. Best AV accessories

  5. This is exciting, nevertheless it is vital for you to visit this specific url: kündigung

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. The high surface terminal material, likewise called Double Layer Capacitor (DLC).