Using a Motorola Atrix Lapdock as a HDMI Monitor and USB Keyboard / Mouse

A coworker of mine briefly had a Motorola Atrix 4G about a year ago, along with the “lapdock” accessory that turned it into more of a “full fledged” laptop or netbook with a regular Firefox web browser and a more desktop-like environment. I got to play with the setup for a bit, and thought it was a great idea, but with flawed execution (especially at the initial $400+ price for the lapdock alone).

About three weeks ago, I ran across the lapdocks being sold very cheaply through 1SaleADay. After some research, I ordered four of them, then ordered various cables and adapters from a couple of different online vendors after figuring out what I needed. The last part of my orders finally arrived tonight, and I’m glad to say that my idea was a success.

First, I have to give credit to this XDA-Developers thread for the idea. The ports on the Lapdock are really nothing more than a male Micro-HDMI and a male Micro-USB, in the right layout to plug directly into the ports on the Atrix. The only other ports are two normal female USB ports (for thumb drives, etc) and the power jack for the AC-to-DC wall wart.

Here’s the adapters and cables I ordered:

Micro HDMI socket Female to HDMI Male adapter convertor, $4.64
Generic Hdmi Coupler (Female To Female), $1.51
Normal HDMI Male-to-Male cable, I had one already, they can be found for $1-2

USB Mini-B Male to Micro-B Female Extension cable, $8.85
USB Gender Changer – A Male/Mini-B Female, $5.00
USB 2.0 Extension Cable – Black, $2.92

First, I had to trim down the plastic molding around the Micro HDMI adapter so that it would fit down on the male Micro HDMI plug in the fold-out “tray” on the Lapdock. For this first one I just used my pocket knife, but now that I know what’s needed, I’ll use a Dremel tool for the other three. The lapdock won’t work without a HDMI video signal, so once the adapter fit properly on the plug, I hooked up the power, plugged a HDMI female-to-female coupler on the adapter, and then connected the lapdock to the HDMI video out on a Windows system.

(6/14/12 update: The Atrix 4G Upgrade Kit consists of short male-to-female MicroUSB and MicroHDMI extension cables that prevent having to physically modify any adapter plugs, but I’ve not found a source for it that doesn’t charge at least $30!)

Here’s what the adapter, coupler, and cable looks like when plugged in:

And here’s the result! My system saw it as a second monitor, and I was able to use the normal keyboard and mouse to drag a browser onto that screen.

Getting the USB cable (using the Micro-B-Female-to-Mini-B-Male cable, plugged into a Mini-B-Female-to-A-Male gender changer, then to a normal USB A-type extension cable) to fit next to the HDMI plug required a bit more shaving and trimming down of the plastic molding around both plugs. I finally got both to where they would fit without blocking each other.

NOTE: I stripped the insulation off a portion of the USB extension cable and *cut the red wire*. That wire/pin carries +5 volts, and is normally used to charge the Atrix phone from the lapdock. Since we only want to use the keyboard and trackpad as input devices, we don’t want to feed +5V back into the USB port we plug into. So, I cut the red wire and re-insulated that part of the extension cable with some silicone tape.

I plugged the other end of the USB cable into a spare port on my PC. Windows 7 detected the keyboard and mouse, installed some drivers, and bingo! I was able to use the keyboard and trackpad on the lapdock itself to drag a browser window onto the “second monitor” that was the lapdock’s LCD screen, and type normally to pull up a web page.

I’m happy with the results so far; the hard part is done. These lapdocks will be used as consoles for systems where I don’t want to “waste” a full LCD monitor and keyboard on a rarely-used console. My next experiment will be trying out a VGA-to-HDMI adapter box that I bought for $30 off Amazon, to see if I can make one of these work with my USB-and-VGA KVM unit.

These will also work wonderfully with my Beagleboard, BeagleBone w/HDMI add-on, or the Raspberry Pi boards if mine finally ship at the end of this month.

Project Completed – DIY Berkey Water Filter

Finished another weekend project – a DIY water filtration/purification system using Black Berkey filter elements. I like the Berkey filters, but $200+ for a Berkey Light system is a bit much. However, you can buy the filter elements separately and make your own water containment units.

I followed a procedure pretty close to what is detailed here, except I drilled four holes and used two nylon bolts with rubber washers and wingnuts to hold the lid to the bottom of the top bucket, instead of relying solely on the elements and their plastic wingnuts to do it.

Total cost: right around $125.

Spreading the Media Player Love

Willa (my current ladyfriend) has been using an old decrepit laptop with a bad keyboard hooked up to her TV at home to watch NetFlix instant-streaming movies. I took pity on her as the “geeky boyfriend” and bought her a Roku HD Player (e.g., “NetFlix Box”) a few days ago.

We just finished doing the initial setup and account connections via my TV and Internet connections here, and she’ll take it home with her to try out tomorrow.

My XBMC Media Centers

A few weeks ago, I built an XBMC-based media player to use with the 32″ TV in the living room:

XBMC Home Screen

I decided to make another system using an original XBox for the bedroom, since I don’t need to play HD content on the 19″ TV in there. I bought a refurbished XBox from Gamestop for $54 shipped, and picked up the rest of the pieces I needed (XBox-to-USB cables, an 8M memory card) off eBay and from a local shop. I used a 10″ LCD TV while setting it up, so I didn’t have to run back and forth to the bedroom.

Here’s the XBox after doing a “softmod” to install Linux and the UnleashX dashboard:

Softmodded XBox

Here it is with XBMC installed, running the default “PM3” theme:

XBMC installed on the XBox

And here’s the final setup. Hooked up to the 19″ TV, running the same Confluence theme as the system in the living room, with the XBox DVD Playback kit plugged in so I can use a remote instead of a wired controller.

XBMC XBox Done

Am really happy with both systems; the living room unit cost me around $200 total while the bedroom XBox setup cost me $90.

Adapt and Overcome

I’ve got a big box containing at least 350-400 slides from Gray Lodge #329 that I need to scan.

One problem – my scanner (an old HP Scanjet 6200C) does not have a transparency adapter.

One trip to Ace Hardware later, things are working fine.

Six paint stirrer sticks (free), cut to appropriate lengths, taped to the scanner body over the glass with blue painter’s tape. These serve as guides to keep the slides straight; I can only put three slides on the glass at once.

One 18″ long, 15-watt flourescent light fixture with bulb. Once the slides are on the scanner glass, I position the light shining down through them down into the body of the scanner.

VueScan scanner software, running on my MacBook Core Duo (recently reinstalled with OSX 10.6.1 “Snow Leopard”). This supports the HP (and damn near every other scanner on the planet), and lets me put it into “transparency mode” where the built-in light on the scanner head is turned off. I’ve been using VueScan since 2001 and have never found anything better.

The scans are only ending up being around 800×600 since the maximum resolution of my scanner is 600dpi. However, this is fine for now; I’ll eventually buy a new scanner (whenever I’m able to sell some of Amy’s purse collection) and redo the scans at 1200dpi.

Update: A dedicated $40 slide scanner works great, although I still need to clean up the output a bit.