How to Turn a 27″ iMac into a Game Console Display

published Aug 16, 2010
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If you’re a console gamer who’s fortunate enough to have the pleasure of owning a 27″ iMac, at one point or another you’ve probably leaned back in your swivel chair, taken a look at your massive screen, and wondered what it would be like to play some Modern Warfare 2 on that bad boy. Or perhaps you’re a college student/gamer moving into a tiny dorm room, looking for a way to save some space. If these scenarios sounds familiar and you’ve had no luck scouring the Apple forums, then this is the how-to is for you. (*Note that this how-to only applies to the 27″ iMac and Xbox 360. However, this project will work with any game console that outputs to HDMI).

With the introduction of the 27″ iMac, Apple introduced a new target display mode that would allow consumers to use the iMac’s mini display port as an input. However, in order to use it with anything besides Apple’s own laptops, you’d need an HDMI to Mini Display port adaptor. There are plenty of manufacturers that make these adapters, and they all basically work the same way—an adapter with a mini display port on one end, and an HDMI port on the other. Unfortunately, there is a drawback—these adapters only output to 720p on the iMac. It’d be fine if one were pumping this out to a standard 1920 x 1080 HDTV, but the 27″ iMac has a 2560 x 1440 resolution. The result can be quite pixelated.

On the bright side, the problem seems to be an iMac software issue rather than an issue with the adapter. If the iMac software were to be updated, the adapter could support up to 1920 x 1200. Regardless of these hopefully temporary issues, this is a unique hack that your geeky gamer friends are sure to be impressed by. So let’s get started!

First thing you’ll need is the adapter. Amazon makes one, as does Lenovo and Thunderbolt. Audio and video accessory maker Atlona also makes an HDMI to Mini Display Port coverter that is USB-powered. Most of these adapter kits already come with all the necessary cables.

  1. First, you’ll need to setup your Xbox 360 by connecting it to a regular HDTV. Once you’ve turned on your Xbox, go into System Settings / Console Settings / Display / HDTV Settings. Once you’re in HDTV Settings, select 720p. This first step is crucial! If you don’t set the resolution to 720p beforehand, you’ll find that your iMac will not display anything even after you setup everything else correctly.
  2. Connect one end of the provided HDMI cable to Xbox, and the other end to the adapter.
  3. Connect the provided display port adapter into the iMac.
  4. Make sure the power source to the adapter is plugged in. Turn on your Xbox.
  5. On your iMac, press Command + F2 to enter Target Display Mode.

And you’re done!

For more space saving desk solutions, see our post on Ten Best Space Saving Floating Desks. For dorm room tech, check out The Perfect Dorm Room: Tech Any Student Would Love.