gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

StarTech USB-C Travel AV Adapter Reviewed

As laptops get thinner we see more and more ports left by the wayside in the quest for lighter and smaller. Video out ports have been some of the hardest hit, but they’ve always been replaced with something better. Some of the first to go were DVI and VGA, caving in to mini DisplayPort and HDMI, but now even HDMI is under threat. I’m not worried. Why? USB Type-C’s video-out alternate modes are, simply, better.

The beauty of a port which can perform any one of a number of functions is that those functions can be re-located at will. Have you ever wished that HDMI port was on the other side of your laptop? That’s possible if all your ports are USB Type-C. While the adapter chaos is proving to be a another painful transition, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks and the proliferation of USB-C to HDMI and similar cables will soon bring us back to a status quo. That is until everything finally goes wireless.

So what can you do in the short term? You’re travelling with a USB Type-C equipped laptop that has no VGA and, these days, quite probably even no HDMI such as the new MacBook Pro, or a Dell XPS 13. You might need to connect to a projector or display using any one of a number of connector types. The idea of carrying several different cables around and having them descend into an unmanageable tangled mess frankly offends you. What can you do?

StarTech propose an answer to this conundrum with the – not unusually, verbosely named – “Aluminum Travel A/V Adapter: 4-in-1 USB-C to VGA, DVI, HDMI or mDP – 4K” or “CDPVGDVHDMDP”. As you might have guessed from the name, it includes 4 different video output connectors: VGA, DVI, HDMI and Mini DiplayPort and, of course, a USB Type-C connector.

It’s important to note that only one of these connections will work at any one time. Internally the adapter most probably uses the DisplayPort alternate mode of USB Type-C and actively converts to VGA, and HDMI where applicable. USB Type-C, unlike classic USB, also has the ability to deliver enough power to avoid the need for a separate power cable. This is thanks to the much, much higher current limit of USB 3.1 which can supply up to 2A at 5v.

The adaptor is well built and fashioned from StarTech’s signature aluminium. The aluminium is clearly machined or cast rather than just extruded. This may explain, in part, the high price of this adapter. It’s built to last! The HDMI and USB-C cable face out of opposite ends. The other two sides are given over to the VGA, Mini DisplayPort and DVI and a storage groove for the USB Type-C cable. The end of the cable magnetically clasps to the side of the enclosure keeping it tidy and secure for transport which is a nice little touch.

The big downside of the cable is its length- it’s short enough that all but the most conveniently placed USB Type-C ports might leave it stuck awkwardly in your mousing area. With the awkwardly placed port on my Blade the adaptor wont quite sit behind my laptop, although it’s just long enough to keep it out of the way. Fortunately the reversible nature of USB-C means the adapter can be flipped depending on the side of your laptop you plug it into, keeping all the ports facing out away from your work area. Generally, though, this is an on-the-go adapter and you’ll probably want a nice tidy dock for your work desk.

As with many StarTech products the build quality is incredibly solid, and it’ll definitely travel well. With few plastic or rubberised surfaces it’ll also be free of degradation- I have a couple of old rubberised adaptors which haven’t particularly been abused, but have succumbed to the stickiness issue you might have come across on similar products. Aluminium, of course, will not suffer this problem.

The cable and all four of the ports are all keyed to the same shade of white which is a really nice touch. It’s easy to source the cheapest part in whatever colour it happens to be and toss it into a BOM. I respect StarTech for paying attention to the details in their products.

So what about video out? I don’t have many legacy displays to test this adaptor with, but my ancient Dell LCD worked great over DVI, my ancient LG TV worked great with VGA, and HDMI works exactly as you’d expect an internal HDMI port to. The Mini DisplayPort connector didn’t seem to work with my iWires mini DisplayPort to HDMI adaptor. This same adaptor works when plugged directly into a mini DisplayPort connector on an Intel NUC so there’s something awry here. Obviously the need for a mini DisplayPort to anything adaptor is somewhat mitigated by having an HDMI, VGA and DVI port available so this is definitely more a casual observation than anything I’d count against StarTech’s adapter.

Overall this is a great product that’s built to last, spares no expense and should connect the travelling presentation jockey up to pretty much any display they might need to use.

If you’re sure you’ll never need the Mini DisplayPort connection, you can save some cash and pick up the 3-in-1 version of this adaptor, dubbed the “Travel A/V Adapter: 3-in-1 USB-C to VGA, DVI or HDMI – 4K” / CDPVGDVHDB.

Saturday, December 9th, 2017, Computer Gaming, Featured, MacBook Pro, Personal Computing, USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3.