[In my latest piece over at The Mac Observer, I look at very cool adapter from Newer Technology that lets you hook up your Mac’s video (and audio!) to an HTDV. I examine it mostly from a road warrior angle, but it’s also got some great applications as a home theater solution (as an alternative to an Apple TV) or a presentation tool. The full review is at TMO, along with my final “star” rating.]

I spend a fair amount of time in hotel rooms these days, and lately, I’ve noticed a couple of trends in in-room entertainment. No, not that kind of entertainment — I’m talking about the increasing frequency of HDTVs and the decreasing quality of the programming available for them. I mean, how many different ways can you mash up reality TV concepts? What’s left — “The Real Housewives of the Jersey Shore Apprentice for Survivor Runway Designers?”

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No, between Hulu and burning my own DVDs onto my MacBook Pro I rarely want for something good to watch. But viewing all that content on a 15” laptop when there’s a perfectly good 42” LCD screen blankly staring at me from the wall is not my idea of an efficient use of technology.

Since I usually have a projector cable and a Mini DisplayPort adapter with me, I can get a pretty good picture, but I’m stuck with laptop sound, since I’ve never been able to get the audio in on those sets to work with the video from the projector cable. Besides, when it comes to video-input acronyms, I’d rather go with HDMI than SVGA any day. On a more business-related note, I’ve come to love running through my presentations on a big screen. I find it a much more natural way to practice the delivery and pacing of a talk.

Suffice it to say that when I learned about Newer Technology’s Mini DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter, my interest was piqued — especially when I learned it carried stereo audio to the HDMI port as well as video.

Like most of Newer Technology’s products I’ve tried, it’s a clever and thoughtful concept, well executed. The male Mini DisplayPort jack ends in a female HDMI port, which has pluses and minuses. On the downside, it means you’ll have to supply your own HDMI cable — which means cannibalizing one from another source whenever you need it, or buying a dedicated cable — which adds to the total cost of your solution. On the plus side, it means you can choose whatever length of cable suits your needs; it also presumably keeps the adapter’s overall cost down. I suppose it’s a pay-one-way-or-another situation, and with a little online digging, you might even find a separate cable for less than what an integrated adds to the price of the adapter.

Audio is supplied through your computer’s USB port, which the adapter integrates into its HDMI port. It’s a nice solution, which provides an uncompressed stereo signal through an integrated USB audio decoding chip.

In practice, the adapter couldn’t be simpler to use. Just plug the adapter’s two cables into your Mac (Mini DisplayPort and USB), plug one end of your own HDMI cable into the adapter on one end and the TV on the other. Make sure your TV is tuned to the right input and you should be all set. If your Mac doesn’t recognize the new display on its own (mine did every time), just fire up your System Preferences’ Displays pane and choose it. You can choose to use your TV as a second monitor or a mirror of your Mac’s screen. Audio volume is controlled the same way as your Mac’s speaker — either through software controls or the keyboard. Although the Newer Technology adapter is capable of displaying full 1020p high definition video, what you’ll actually get depends on the source. But in all resolutions I tried, the output was pristine, with no jittering or artifacts. Sound quality was equally good, although I tested it using the TV’s internal speakers and not a high quality sound system.

My only quibbles with the adapter are small ones. First, the plastic housing of the adapter felt slightly “soft” to me, which I at first attributed to a lower quality. After some fairly rough testing, though, the adapter was still in great shape, and I began to think that had the housing been more rigid, it would have been more likely to break. The softness, I suspect, provides more give to withstand the rigors of a travel bag.

Second, at $49.99, I thought it seemed expensive. Searching online, though, it seems in line with or less than similar adapters I found. The only significantly cheaper alternatives only work on a select few newer Macs, and Newer Technology offers those, too.)

So then, the real question is what value to you put on the ability to turn an HDTV into a big, beautiful monitor and speaker for your Mac? While the occasional traveler might be inclined to make do with that small screen, the seasoned road warrior is sure to want Newer’s HDMI adapter for his or her arsenal.

One thing’s for sure: you’ll never be happier to find an HDTV in your next hotel room than you will when you have the Newer HDMI adapter in your travel bag. And you’ll never have to settle for hotel programming again.