HDMI presentation setup on Linux, video and audio: Part I (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Tue, 27 Oct 2015

HDMI presentation setup on Linux, video and audio: Part I

For about a decade now I've been happily connecting to projectors to give talks. xrandr --output VGA1 --mode 1024x768 switches on the laptop's external VGA port, and xrandr --auto turns it off again after I'm disconnected. No fuss.

But increasingly, local venues are eschewing video projectors and instead using big-screen TVs, some of which offer only an HDMI port, no VGA. I thought I'd better figure out how to present a talk over HDMI now, so I'll be ready when I need to know.

Fortunately, my newest laptop does have an HDMI port. But in case it ever goes on the fritz and I have to use an older laptop, I discovered you can buy VGA to HDMI adaptors rather cheaply (about $10) on ebay. I bought one of those, tested it on my TV at home and it at least worked there. Be careful when shopping: you want to make sure you're getting something that takes VGA in and outputs HDMI, rather than the reverse. Ebay descriptions aren't always 100% clear on that, but if you check the gender of the connector in the photo and make sure it's right to plug into the socket on your laptop, you should be all right.

Once you're plugged in (whether via an adaptor, or native HDMI built into your laptop), connecting is easy, just like connecting with VGA:

xrandr --output HDMI1 --mode 1024x768

Of course, you can modify the resolution as you see fit. I plan to continue to design my presentations for a 1024x768 resolution for the forseeable future. Since my laptop is 1366x1024, I can use the remaining 342-pixel-wide swath for my speaker notes and leave them invisible to the audience.

But for GIMP presentations, I'll probably want to use the full width of my laptop screen. --mode 1366x768 didn't work -- that resolution wasn't available -- but running xrandr with no arguments got me a list of available resolutions, which included 1360x768. That worked fine and is what I'll use for GIMP talks and other live demos where I want more screen space.

Sound over HDMI

My Toastmasters club had a tech session where a few of us tried out the new monitor in our meeting room to make sure we could use it. One person was playing a video with sound. I've never used sound in a talk, but I've always wanted to find an excuse to try it. Alas, it didn't "just work" -- xrandr's video settings have nothing to do with ALSA's audio settings. So I had to wait until I got home so I could do web searches and piece together the answer.

First, run aplay -l , which should show something like this:

$ aplay -l
**** List of PLAYBACK Hardware Devices ****
card 0: Intel [HDA Intel], device 0: STAC92xx Analog [STAC92xx Analog]
  Subdevices: 0/1
  Subdevice #0: subdevice #0
card 0: Intel [HDA Intel], device 3: HDMI 0 [HDMI 0]
  Subdevices: 1/1
  Subdevice #0: subdevice #0

Find the device number for the HDMI device, which I've highlighted here: in this case, it's 3 (which seems to be common on Intel chipsets).

Now you can run a test:

$ aplay -D plughw:0,3 /usr/share/sounds/alsa/Front_Center.wav
Playing WAVE '/usr/share/sounds/alsa/Front_Center.wav' : Signed 16 bit Little Endian, Rate 48000 Hz, Mono
If you don't hear anything, don't worry: the HDMI channel is probably muted if you've never used it before. Run either alsamixer or alsamixergui.

[alsamixergui with HDMI muted] [alsamixer] Now find the channel representing your HDMI connection. (HDMI must be plugged in for this to work.) In alsamixer, it's called S/PDIF; in alsamixergui, it's called IEC958. If you look up either of those terms, Wikipedia S/PDIF will tell you that S/PDIF is the Sony/Philips Digital Interconnect Format, a data protocol and a set of physical specifications. Those physical specifications appear to have nothing to do with video, and use connectors that are nothing like HDMI. So it doesn't make much sense. Just remember that if you see IEC958 or S/PDIF in ALSA, that's probably your HDMI channel.

In the alsamixergui screenshot, IEC958 is muted: you can tell because the little speaker icon at the top of the column is bright white. If it were unmuted, the speaker icon would be grey like most of the others. Yes, this seems backward. It's Linux audio: get used to obscure user interfaces.

In the alsamixer screenshot, the mutes are at the bottom of each column, and MM indicates a channel is muted (like the Beep channel in the screenshot). S/PDIF is not muted here, though it appears to be at zero volume. (The 00 doesn't tell you it's at zero volume; 00 means it's not muted. What did I say about Linux audio?) ALSA apparently doesn't let you adjust the volume of HDMI output: presumably they expect that your HDMI monitor will have its own volume control. If your S/PDIF is muted, you can use your right-arrow key to arrow over to the S/PDIF channel, then type m to toggle muting. You can exit alsamixer with Ctrl-C (Q and Ctrl-Q don't work).

Now try that aplay -D command again and see if it works. With any luck, it will (loudly).

A couple of other tests you might want to try:
speaker-test -t sine -f 440 -c 2 -s 1 -D hw:0,3
plays a sine wave. speaker-test -c 2 -r 48000 -D hw:0,3
runs a general speaker test sequence.

In Part II of Linux HDMI Presentations, I'll cover some problems I had, and how to write an alias to make it easy to turn HDMI audio on and off.

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[ 14:36 Oct 27, 2015    More linux/laptop | permalink to this entry | comments ]
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