Following updates to iOS, one of the key strengths Apple has right now is its rich support for video output. (See, for instance, our look at VGA output from the spring.) Video out is a standard, supported, public, documented option for developers, at least if you’re on the newest devices and OS. And that includes both mirroring and the use of the output as a separate display, making the iPad a perfectly viable source for visuals, not just a controller (though it does that, as well).

So, what about the increasing variety of Android gadgets on the market? The Android platform does have more handsets to support, with multiple vendors. At the moment, that means there isn’t an equivalent API – it just isn’t in the platform, from what I can see, and certainly not in a documented or usable form.

The difference now versus this time last year is that we are seeing handsets with output capabilities. Recent entries from HTC, Samsung, and Motorola all include HDMI outputs. The trick is how to get at that output. Handset makers are the ones responsible for drivers for the output, and so far, their strategy has been to keep that support to themselves. That means you get output support in a handful of applications shipped by the device vendor with the phone (like stock gallery and video player apps).

One bright spot is that Samsung Galaxy S, which actually has analog video support. (Analog!) Android and Me have done a great job of documenting how this works:
Samsung Captivate (Galaxy S) video out demonstration

What’s great about it is that it mirrors everything. So, load Processing for Android on a phone, hook up a cable to connect a mixer, and you’re ready to go – brilliant. It’s a shame that for now the Galaxy S seems to be one of a kind.

One other interesting option on these devices is also wireless DLNA support; I could imagine devices as roaming camera sources at live events. (If you’re willing to roll your own streaming over wifi, actually, you could wire this up with any smartphone today.)

It’s a fairly safe bet that this situation will improve. Android is more complex than iOS in that it has this additional layer of device vendors and their drivers; Apple likewise uses a number of off-the-shelf components, but they are both platform vendor and device maker. But I’ve heard off the record that wrapping around these vendor implementations is possible. The better, long-term solution will be some sort of platform-wide support for video. Once that’s in place, it’ll be a no-brainer for device makers to support the implementation, since companies like Samsung like to tout this feature. (Doubly so when you’re Samsung and want to sell people more TVs.)

I can sum up in two words why you can bet Android will have some kind of platform support: there’s this little thing called Google TV. Even for set-top boxes, though, that developer option won’t be available until early 2011. The tablet picture is likewise a question mark – for now.

I have a simple bias: I want video out everywhere. Android is likely to require some waiting, but it’s a situation we’ll monitor. Mixing an iPad and an Android phone via an HDMI mixer, someday? Bring it on.

  • michael wilson

    Nokia smartphones have had analogue tv out for years e.g n93 (august 2006) and the good old n95.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Michael: Excellent, nice. Of course, partly I'm biased toward these other platforms as it's easier to make visual apps for them than the N93/N95 – fantastic hardware, but a pain for coders. I don't mention MeeGo here, but I think it's likely we could see some tasty options from Nokia running that OS, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised given Nokia's history if both the output option in hardware and APIs to access it were more open.

  • michael wilson

    @Peter: True, I just thought I'd point it out. Anyway I never found much of a use for it on my old n82 – it's tethering a non-portable screen to a portable device, and when the only apps that might benefit are a video player and games (for which you can use something a bit better like a dvd player, or a ps3…) there really isn't much point considering you have to carry the cable round with you everywhere if you want to use it outside your home. As far as I'm concerned it's a solution without a problem. Waiting for something to prove me wrong of course!

  • Peter Kirn

    Well, I can think of some problems more portable video outputs could solve…. installations, galleries, interactive pieces, visualizers for music that you might want to hook up to your TV, the ability to carry a selection of Processing sketches around in your pocket… And provided that you had a mixer, having another video source to mix in a live set could be really terrific. I think we're spoiled by the ability to do that in the music world — any number of devices can be sources.

    To flip it around, imagine if the music world worked the way video does. Half your devices wouldn't even do audio output. Basic two-channel mixers would cost $12000 (thinking the equivalent of VGA-grade mixing). I think this stuff will change. And if they do, the appeal of making visuals in this fashion could go way up.

    Of course, in the meantime, there's traditional analog gear.

  • yoo

    I have a N900 it has analogue tv out. I'm dual booting android too its still abit slow due to the lack of GPU acceleration but that should be coming soon. So best of both worlds really especially when Meego comes out.

  • michael wilson

    Ok…I agree with you generally about the audio analogy, and anyway I'm sure it will be the future once phones get to the next level of cpu/gpu power (probably not there yet…) Besides I'm as much of a geek as anyone and will always find the idea of it cool.

    But take your first two examples – installations and galleries: these are exactly the places you generally don't need portability, because they are left up and running for days/weeks on end (hence "installation" surely).

    For a small VJ set or something, then a laptop is already portable enough, and far more flexible and powerful. Let's face it, how many random VJ opportunities do most people get? You generally know when you're supposed to be doing a gig, so you bring the laptop!

    Now when they start producing really properly bright pico projectors, making the whole lot super-portable, then you're talking…that WILL be fun.

  • stulloyd

    I have used my n96 like this for a while, fairly easy with mobile processing.

    I use it in a club where I have no room but for a KPE an n96 and n95!

  • 3DJ DO_Ray


    cable is standard DVcam cable BTW.

    I have a Nokia N97 which has video-out.

    i connected it to a VUZIX 920. << 3D glasses

    From now on i transmit my 3DJ (that is 3D VJ-show) through WiFI so the public can receive the show on their mobile and see it in genuine 3D.

    CYA in a 3Dshow near you !


  • momo the monster

    I'm loving the composite-video out on my HTC Incredible. Coupled with a Pico Projector, I've got a pocketable interactive video setup. The frame rate suffers for it, at the moment, but one can design around that…

  • JK

    low quality video because of the cable? so are you one of those types who need monster cable quality, lol.