Hands-On with the Microsoft Surface USB-C to HDMI 2.0 Adapter

Posted on December 11, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Microsoft Surface with 2 Comments

Hands-On with the Microsoft Surface USB-C to HDMI 2.0 Adapter

Perhaps stung by my overly-fawning review of the Google Headphone Adapter, Microsoft has sent an adapter of their own.

I’ll take this one a bit more seriously.

As you may know, the Surface Book 2—in both 13.5-inch and 15-inch forms—drops the miniDisplayPort port used by previous models and replaces it with a new USB-C port. This port is more versatile than the port that it replaces, in that you can use it for USB-C peripherals like hard drives and Ethernet adapters, and even for power if you have a powerful enough (up to 95W) adapter that supports Power Delivery 2.0 or higher. But this port also duplicates the video-out capabilities of its predecessor, and that is probably how it will be used most often.

(To be clear, the USB-C port on Surface Book 2 does not support Thunderbolt 3, meaning that it can drive a single 4K display at 60 FPS, the same as with the previous-generation miniDisplayPort port. If you connect two displays to Surface Book 2, most likely by using Surface Dock, the device is still limited to 4K at 30 FPS, just like the original generation Surface Books.

On that note, Microsoft is now selling a Surface USB-C to HDMI 2.0 Adapter, in keeping with its previous miniDisplayPort-based adapters. As its name suggests, this adapter lets you use the Surface Book 2’s USB-C port to drive video on a second, HDMI-based display.

To test the adapter, I looked at three scenarios: A standard 1080p display, a 4K display, and a Windows Mixed Reality headset (which requires both HDMI-out and USB, plus a powerful enough PC).

There were no surprises.

When attached to the 1080p, Surface Book 2 goes immediately into Duplicate display mode, where each display—the internal display and the external 1080p monitor—both display the same desktop, and at the same resolution. Normally, I’d believe that the lowest-resolution device would win out, meaning that both displays would be set to 1920 x 1080. But thanks to new Windows display scaling functionality, both displays took on the Surface Book 2’s aspect ratio. Not ideal, at least on the external display, but it works.

Obviously, you don’t need to keep using Duplicate display mode. So using the Presentation pane (WINKEY + P), I switched to Extend. And this was interesting for scaling reasons, too: The internal display remained as-is (3000 x 2000, 225 percent scale) but the external display switched to 1920 x 1080 at 100 percent scaling, so the icons and other on-screen elements looked small compared to those on the internal display. But it would accept various scaling changes (125 percent to 175 percent), of course.

The 4K display worked similarly. On first connection, Surface Book 2 went into Duplicate display mode and showed the same desktop on both displays. But because my 4K display can show me what resolution it is displaying, I know that it was using its native 3840 x 2160 resolution and Windows was scaling the display, to the Surface Book’s 3:2 aspect ratio and 3000 x 2000 @ 125 percent scaling.

Putting the system into Extend display mode worked differently, however. As before, the Surface Book 2 internal display remained at 3000 x 2000 @ 125 percent scaling. But the 4K display switched to its native resolution (3840 x 2160) at a weird 300 percent scaling. So the icons and other on-screen elements were perhaps overly-big, but very legible.

(On a side-note, I’m told that you cannot use this adapter with the Surface Dock to drive three displays—one via USB-C and two via the Dock—but I’ve not tried that set up.)

The Windows Mixed Reality headset connection was perhaps more interesting: I used the Acer headset and Motion Controllers that I’ve been testing, but I believe that the cabling end is standard across the various headsets. It barely worked: There is one cable snaking off of the headset, and it splits into two ends, one a full-sized USB and one full-sized HDMI. On Surface Book 2, the respective ports are on opposite ends of the device, and it … it just fit without putting any undo stress on either end. A USB extension cable might not be a horrible idea. And if you’re using the Microsoft Xbox Wirelsss Adapter, you’ll need an extender for that too, since that adapter won’t plug in when the other USB port is being used; it’s too wide.

Anyway, with the cables connected, I was able to configure Windows Mixed Reality on Surface Book 2. And to answer the obvious question, yes, this machine is beefy enough to handle a Windows Mixed Reality “Ultra” experience, meaning that the display will offer a 90 Hz framerate, which is friendlier on your eyes. And on your potential nausea.

After stepping through the Setup wizard, in which the Motion Controller pairing is perhaps the most tedious and lengthy step, I configured the headset for sitting rather than room roaming, and centered the headset on the Surface Book 2. Then I stepped through the Cortana-based introduction wizard, where you learn to use the headset and controllers.

And it works great, albeit with a ton of hissing from Surface Book 2’s cooling system, which has to keep up with a powerful CPU and dGPU. My desktop gaming rig doesn’t seem to get this stressed using Windows Mixed Reality. But that will be part of my eventual Surface Book 2 review. Maybe this week.

Overall, the Microsoft Surface USB-C to HDMI 2.0 Adapter works as expected, and if you do own a Surface Book 2, you’ll want to grab one. It costs $39.99 at Amazon or the Microsoft Store.

 

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