The hacked apart cable costs as much as a Roku because it has the same kind of horsepower
The fine software developers over at Panic are working on some new AV software, and they are investigating Apple’s new-ish Lightning Digital AV Adapter. What they found is that unlike the earlier 30-pin module, the Lightning adapter doesn’t carry a native 1080p signal. In fact, when mirroring, Apple says the optimum resolution is 1,600-by-900, and, when that signal is shown on a 1080p display, it is likely up-converted, showing artifacts consistent with streaming and uncompressing video data
What’s more interesting is that they split open the cable and found a full ARM processor with 256MB of RAM to process video signals inside the adapter cable. We knew way back in September that the 8-pin adapter wouldn’t carry video natively, but Apple was able to build a cable. How? Panic thinks that it is actually streaming an AirPlay network signal through the cable, and the ARM processor is decoding it.
Why would Apple do this? It’s likely Apple wants to move people to AirPlay wireless streaming to Apple TV, so this is just a stopgap solution. Rather than making a larger Lightning cable, it sacrificed on wired video-out quality and HDMI (And VGA?) cable costs.
Update: Our friends at Braeburn and an anonymous Apple Engineer sent along their takes on the situation below: