Apple's new iPad 2 has the ability to mirror its video output on an HDMI display, when paired with the $39 Apple Digital AV Adapter, also on sale this week. And it's going to change iPad gaming in the living room in a big way.
The Digital AV Adapter is a short dongle that has a 30-pin pass-through dock connector and an HDMI video port suitable for connecting to your big-screen HDTV. When attached to an iPad 2, all the iPad 2's video content is mirrored on the big screen. (This feature isn't unique to the iPad 2 - you can also mirror HDMI video on Motorola's Xoom tablet.)
The device also works with older iPads (and iPhones and iPod touches), though only for video output like movies and TV shows, not for video mirroring.
The mirroring is automatic; as soon as the iPad senses the device is connected, you'll see the image sync on your TV. From there, any app you run appears on your TV screen exactly the same way it appears on your iPad screen, and the video output will even rotate depending on the orientation of your iPad.
The applications for this are pretty broad, but it turns the iPad 2 into a fantastic presentation device for any kind of still or video content - slideshows, movies, application walkthroughs - anything you can imagine. I suspect we'll see even more universities and K-12 schools using iPads thanks to this feature, once the iPad 2 makes its way out into the world.
Now, at 1024 x 768 resolution - the native resolution of the iPad - you're not going to see graphics at the same resolution you might expect out of a PlayStation 3 or an Xbox 360 - it doesn't spread from edge to edge either, since the aspect ratio of your TV and iPad 2 are different - but gaming is hilariously fun on the new device.
Where it really shines is in games that use the whole iPad 2 for an interface. A great example is Firemint's Real Racing 2 HD, which has been optimized for the iPad 2, and has support for the device's accelerometer and gyroscoping capabilities. You can use your whole iPad 2 as a steering wheel, which keeps your eyes glued to the TV as you make your way around different racing tracks, racing dozens of different real-world cars against computer-controlled opponents or against other players over Wi-Fi or the Internet.
Real Racing 2 HD on the iPad 2
I also gave a few other games a try - Rovio's ubiquitous Angry Birds, of course; Chair Entertainment's swordfighting masterpiece Infinity Blade; and EA's hardcore shooter Dead Rising HD. All of them looked and played great on the TV, and while different control schemes required me to look at the iPad 2's display more than the TV, having the image on the TV gave me an instant cheering section in the form of my family, who were able to watch the on-screen action without having to crowd over my shoulder.
Obviously, having an HDMI cable sticking out of one end of your iPad 2 isn't an optimal use experience all the time - it's bulky and a bit awkward. But Apple has expanded AirPlay video support in the release of iOS included with the iPad 2 (and available for free download for other iOS devices), and that lets you stream video from other applications to Apple TV and other devices that support AirPlay (like forthcoming Pioneer A/V receivers, for example).
Infinity Blade on iPad 2
AirPlay doesn't mirror video in all applications - at least not yet - but it'd be a home run if Apple exposed that feature in a future iOS update or on a future iOS device. Then you could play games from across the living room and show them on the HDTV without any wires to get in the way.
Right now this functionality is incidental. It's a nifty hack, but it really isn't integral to the gaming experience on the iPad 2, because it's a brand-new feature. But I'm looking forward to seeing what game developers do with it. It's another step towards making the iPad 2 and other emerging tablet devices premiere gaming platforms.