Using the Apple Digital AV Adapter for HDMI in a 2018 Honda Odyssey

We’ve owned a 2018 Honda Odyssey that includes the Rear Entertainment System (RES) for awhile now, but have only used it a handful of times because the built-in functionality is pretty much garbage. Starting a Blu-Ray requires craning your neck from the front seat to see the disc menu while trying to navigate the awful remote or front touchscreen by feel, and even worse — the discs don’t retain their playback position when you turn the car off, so you have to do this impossible exercise every single time you get in the car (“Hey kids, no bathrooms breaks today!”) There are also a few built-in streaming apps you can try, but they’re probably not worth using unless you add the car as a mobile device to your wireless plan because getting the car to tether over Bluetooth or as a wireless hotspot guest always takes an extra couple minutes.

In search of a better way I started to investigate using an Apple Digital AV adapter connected to an old iPad mini that we’ve already repurposed for kid use at home. I found a lot of conflicting information out there about HDCP and offline playback issues that almost made me reconsider purchasing the adapter (Apple criminally charges $49 for it), but the connection has worked flawlessly for us so far. The RES screen resolution is limited to 720p, but it scales down and displays any content encoded at a higher resolution without issue.

I tested Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and iTunes movies both in online and offline playback modes with no issues, so the kids were able to queue up a bunch of movies and shows while still at home and then watch them on the road without any Internet connection. I ran each case with iOS 11.4.1 on both an iPad Mini 4 and iPhone 8 to see if the device hardware age had any effect on the adapter results, but the two devices behaved identically. Unsurprisingly, all the discs we’ve converted to MP4 via Handbrake and stored on the devices also worked just fine.

While this approach works really well once you’re on the go, there are three downsides (four if you count Apple’s price gouging for the adapter):

  1. Cable management is frustrating. The HDMI port for the RES sits behind the center console and since there is no rear-opening to the console interior, your HDMI and Lightning cables are very visible and prone to being kicked by kids. We stuffed the iPad + adapter in the back pocket of the passenger seat, but it’s ugly.
     
  2. CarPlay and device mirroring are mutually exclusive. If you’re using the adapter to show content on the RES, you can’t use the same iOS device with CarPlay. This wasn’t a big deal for us since we had the extra iPad, but be careful if you’re thinking that you can simultaneously use your phone for CarPlay navigation or audio for the front seat.
     
  3. You have to carry an extra device around. I suppose you could leave an old iPad or iPhone in the car for this functionality, but it’s probably not a great idea if you live in a climate that gets hot or cold.

Hope this helps some other poor souls who have begrudgingly ventured into the magical land of owning a minivan.