One of the compromises that had to be made in designing the Raspberry Pi to be so small and so cheap was the decision to exclude a VGA connection. The BCM system on a chip already has HDMI and composite onboard. Adding VGA capability would have needed additional hardware in the form of a VGA chip and a VGA port. VGA ports are quite chunky too. Adding one would take up as much “edge space” on the board as both HDMI and composite ports together. Have a look at this photo…
I took this VGA port from the motherboard of an old PC. You can have a lot of fun with an old PC, a pair of pliers and a blowtorch. ;) That’s probably material for a video one day. :)
From what I’ve read in the Pi Forums, omitting VGA wasn’t a very difficult decision because it would have added about $10 to the cost of the Pi, and VGA is obsolete. It would also have required making the board bigger and reduced the number of available GPIO ports, as some of those lines would have been needed to control VGA.
But what about my VGA monitor/projector?
The flipside of the argument is that many schools have IT suites with VGA monitors and no DVI-D or HDMI. Without an additional device, these monitors are not usable with the Pi. The same goes for a lot of projectors.
This week, I wanted to show my year 5 ICT class some of Chris Bishop’s excellent Royal Institute lecture series from 2008. I had to lug my laptop along to connect to the VGA projector. I decided it was time to buy one of these, so that next time, I’ll be able to show a video with the Pi…
It comes with a UK mains adaptor…
The power supply sticker says Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd on it. It’s a fairly standard looking 2 Amp, 5 Volt switching power supply.
Not just video – good quality audio too
One of this device’s main plus points is that it breaks out the high quality digital sound from HDMI and converts it to analogue, so you can plug your speakers in too via the 3.5mm jack on the back.
I did originally buy a Neewer HDMI adaptor, for ~£12, which does picture but not sound. I later found out that they weren’t well designed and could lead to problems, so I stopped using it. I blogged about this a while back, but was surprised to see recently that Farnell are now selling these specifically as a Raspberry Pi accessory. Has the Rev 2 board solved the issues or is it less of an issue than we thought? Or have they just made a mistake?
OK, so is it any good?
In a word YES! :) I watched Big Buck Bunny in full HD on my 23″ Samsung screen, which has both HDMI and VGA (and analog sound input). I couldn’t tell the difference between HDMI and VGA with analog sound.
So, fully satisfied with the performance of watching an HD film, I decided to try out the GUI.
The GUI display doesn’t quite fill the screen, leaving a black margin ~1.5cm left and right and ~3cm top and bottom. But the aspect ratio looks right and not distorted. I don’t know if this could be changed by tweaking settings, but I rarely use the GUI – just thought I’d test it out with this adaptor.
One thing though, the quality of the VGA picture in the GUI seems better than through direct HDMI. This needs closer examination. I routinely use my Pis headless (no screen directly attached) logging in via ssh or tightvnc from my main computer. So I haven’t tweaked the video settings on my Pis for optimum display.
Has it got any quirks?
The HDMI/VGA 1080 Ultimate has to be powered up before you power up the Pi, otherwise the Pi will send video to composite, not HDMI. But that’s the same for a monitor too.
Where did you buy it and how much?
I bought mine from Amazon. It cost me £21 delivered and took 2 days to get here. Here’s a link to the item
The Amazon Marketplace vendor was Innoo Tech (fulfilled by Amazon.co.uk). It came in a proper box, with a proper UK power supply and, so far, it meets my requirements very well. If you read the Amazon reviews, many people moan about packaging, power supplies etc, which is why I’ve specified who the vendor was.
I’ve got some further investigation to do with this adaptor…
- see if I can get it to go full-screen in GUI by tweaking settings
- do some side by side comparison photos of GUI with VGA and HDMI modes
- check it out with an older monitor (not wide screen) and see how it copes
- use it with the VGA projector at school to see if it does what I actually bought it for ;)
- try it with a MHL adaptor to see if I can show a video from my phone to a VGA screen (getting silly now, but why not?)
I’ll look into these and publish part two in a week or two. :) But so far, I’m very happy with it.