Hacking (Literally) the Xbox 360 for HDMI with Optical Digital Audio

I actually like Microsoft. Microsoft, for example, brought affordable computer networks to the masses, dramatically improving productivity (and gaming). Vista, like Windows ME before it, is a complete pile of very unpleasant substances, but in the meantime we have Windows XP, the best Windows-based operating system to ever grace the planet. (Now, don’t get all tech-bashy on me; I like the look of OS X as well, use Linux systems on occasion, and program in Java.)

However, in a capitalist society, caveat emptor is still worthy of being heeded. Such is the case with the newer Xbox 360s and HDMI output that uses digital optical for audio.

In a perfect world, one wouldn’t need to output both digital audio and HDMI. HDMI includes digital audio output. One would just plug the HDMI cable into a receiver, run the receiver HDMI output to the television, and the receiver would take care of everything, including the video switching. Sadly, such a perfect world requires far more pictures of dead Presidents than I am willing to part with, especially since it would involve replacing a receiver that I am very happy with.

Xbox 360 back panel, showing the A/V port and HDMI port.

The standard Microsoft Xbox 360 currently ships with a component video cable for HDTV or standard TV that also outputs surround-separated stereo. That cable also has a plug for digital optical audio output, which is ideal. Unfortunately, if one plugs in the supplied cable, due to its size and shape it completely covers the HDMI port on the 360, which precludes using HDMI for video at the same time as optical 5.1 Dolby Digital. (Note that some older 360s do not have an on-board HDMI port, but that any recently purchased one should.)

Enter the product pictured above. This $45 item is designed to provide the ability to output both HDMI and digital optical out simultaneously. Problem solved! Beautiful, isn’t it? It would be, if it weren’t a case of manipulative engineering. (I am reminded of an old “Monkees” episode, in which a computer designs toys to break almost immediately, so parents will enrich the toy company by continually buying replacements.)

If both an HDMI and the A/V cable could be plugged in simultaneously, there would be no need for this extra cable.

A little work with a hack saw, and a consumer can easily save $45 or more.

Enter the hack saw, and a pair of needle-nosed pliers. (A better way to do this would be to use a Dremel tool, but I do not happen to own one.) By carefully cutting into and removing the plastic on the Xbox 360’s included adapter, one can easily make enough room to plug in an HDMI cable. It will be a snug fit, but it should work without any difficulty. Embedded in the A/V cable’s plastic body is a metal shield that protects the connector and helps eliminate electromagnetic interference. Although it is acceptable to scratch it, be careful not to cut through it. Also watch out for the cord itself. The picture above should provide all the guidance you need.

As one might expect, there’s always the slight risk that you’ll damage the A/V cable while cutting it, in which case, you’re going to be spending that $45 anyway. Hey, I told you to be careful.


7 Replies to “Hacking (Literally) the Xbox 360 for HDMI with Optical Digital Audio”

  1. Great job! It’s ridiculous that they made the AV plug in a way that it covers the HDMI socket. Would it also be an idea to cut the cable from the AV plug? (assuming you’re no using the other plugs anyway)

  2. If you weren’t using the cable from the A/V plug, then you could cut them off. I wouldn’t do that, though, as they don’t harm anything, and you never know when you might need them.

  3. Very helpful man…although i bought the adapter (got it on amazon for $8) i still needed a way to find another video output for recording my play…this is going to take away my need for splitters and still get to play in HD without recording in HD..thanks a bunch

  4. Thanks very much for the help. I have a Dremel. I got rid of the blockage and picked up a $3 connector. Works great!

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