Of the various several portable devices that I regularly hook up to my TV using a standard 1/8th-inch to RCA cable, only the iPod uses a non-standard output configuration. It produces a video signal through what is normally the right audio channel. A few months ago on MacDevCenter, I wrote about connecting Video iPods to a television set by swapping around the RCA connectors. While this works perfectly well, it’s a pain to reach behind the set and switch connectors every time I want to watch iPod video on the TV. So I built a converter cable instead.
This article describes the parts I used and the steps I took to put together this cable. From beginning to end, the project took about twenty minutes to construct and test. It cost about $4. It’s slightly more if you count in the shipping and handling from parts supplier Mouser, even divided as it was among several projects. It’s less if you’ve got a spare USB cable lying around the house.
Want to build this yourself? Make sure you’re reasonably confident at wire-stripping and soldering. Those are really the only two skills involved.
Here are the parts you’ll need in order to get started:
4-Connector Plug, 4 Connector Jack. These two items carry the right and left audio, video and ground signals needed to output video from your iPod. The Mouser.com parts are 161-6435-EX (4-connector jack, $1.10) and 171-7435 (4-connector plug, $1.53). You’ll need one plug and one jack.
The four-connector plugs and jacks carry audio channels, video and ground.
Four-wire Cable (approx 4″-8″) You can usually find four-wired USB cables at your local dollar store although any 4-wire cable will work.
USB cable wire is cheap, ubiquitous and works great for this project.
You’ll also need: soldering equipment, a multimeter and a standard (not iPod compatible) 3-RCA-plug-to-3-banded-1/8th-inch A/V cable for testing.
Constructing The Wire
The following steps guide you through the process of connecting a jack and plug to your cable. Take time as suggested to test your connections with a multimeter to be sure you’ve put everything together properly
- Disassemble the jack and plug. Unscrew the covers from the jack and the plug. To do this, hold onto either the metal plug or gray plastic portion of the jack and unscrew the black plastic cover.
- Thread the covers onto the cable. The two covers are interchangeable, so you don’t have to worry about which end will be which. Make sure that the thinner part of the covers point towards the middle of the cable. If your cable is too thick for the covers, you may cut off the constrictive rear sections with scissors or a wire cutter. The finished cable looks a lot better when you don’t, so when sliding the covers onto the cable use a little thoughtful and cautious coercion.
- Strip the wires. Use wire strippers to remove the outer covering from both ends of your cable. Then strip the ends of each individual wire.
- Identify the jack connectors. The jack uses 4 connectors, three short rectangles in a row, and a larger upside-down-T-shaped connector behind them. From left to right, these three are left audio, ground, and video. The big connector is right audio. Test the connectors for yourself with your multimeter by plugging in a normal A/V cable to the jack and measuring resistance between each RCA plug and each connector.
- Identify the plug connectors. The plug also uses 4 connectors, but with a different configuration. Figure 5 shows the plug using iPod terms. This is not the standard setup. A short connector hangs off to the left. This is ground. A small plug in the center contains two contact areas for the two audio channels, above and below the black line. The large upside-down-T-shaped connector carries video.
- Solder the jack to the cable. Assuming you’re using USB wire coloring:
- Connect the white wire to the left audio connector.
- Connect the black wire to ground.
- Connect the green wire to the video connector.
- Connect the red wire to the large right audio connector.
- Test your connections. Plug in your normal A/V cable and confirm that the white wire connects to the white RCA plug, the red to the red, the green to the yellow and the black to the ground (the large circular part that surrounds each plug). If you’ve misconnected, go back and resolder as needed.
- Cover the jack. Carefully but firmly, shift the black cover off the cable and screw it back onto the jack.
- Solder the plug to the cable. Again, assuming USB wire colors:
- Connect the black wire to ground.
- Connect the green wire to the large video connector.
- Connect the white and red wires to the two audio connectors, one wire per connector. (This is the trickiest part, as the two connectors are so small and close together.)
- Attach the plug cover. As you did with the jack, shift the black cover off the wire and screw it onto the plug. That’s it. You’re finished and ready to test.
- Test. Connect your A/V cable to your television with the RCA plugs in their normal and usual configuration: yellow plugged into yellow, red into red and white into white. Connect the 1/8th-inch plug end of the A/V cable to the jack in your new converter cable and plug the cable into your iPod. Play a video out to your television. The audio and sound should match the quality you experience directly from your iPod.
All four wires really are there to the right; I just didn’t pull them apart. The unscrewed jack (left) and plug (right) are below, facing in their final directions.
The jack connectors.
The plug connectors in iPod terms.
Test your jack’s wiring before starting work on the plug.
The final product should look clean and professional
If you connect a lot of gadgets up to your TV, this simple cable cuts out a lot of annoying overhead. Use this adapter instead of reconfiguring your TV every time you watch iPod video. If you can strip wires and solder, you can easily build this project: it won’t cost a bundle and it won’t take a lot of your time.