App iOS & Mac

This app turns your iPad into a portable HDMI monitor

Apple rolled out the iPadOS 17 software update earlier this month, but for the most part, it’s just catching up on the advances it’s brought to iOS so far. But a small tweak in iPadOS 17 adds USB Video Class (UVC) support to most built-in USB-C ports on the latest iPads, opening up a realm of possibilities for his I/O devices on the iPad. Ta. It was first confirmed that the iPad could use its UVC support for external webcams in the underlying iPadOS 17 API, but it was later discovered that the iPad could also be a full-featured HDMI monitor.

This kind of functionality has already worked in iPadOS in the past. Sidecar allowed me to extend my Mac’s display using my iPad. This essentially made it a portable monitor, but only compatible with Macs and iPads. You don’t need a Windows PC or a gaming console to get the same experience. Additionally, a Mac computer can act as his AirPlay receiver for an iPhone, but the iPad doesn’t have that feature yet. This leaves a gap, which the Orion video system fills with UVC support. This is an app that turns your iPad into an unlimited external display. We tried it out and it’s a great solution for iPad owners.

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How the Orion app works

The Orion Video System is the brainchild of Lux Optics Inc., the creators of Halide, the popular professional camera app for iOS. Basically, it tricks the iPad into thinking the output device, such as a PC or game console, is his webcam. For that you will need an HDMI capture card. This is an inexpensive adapter designed to receive HDMI input instead of outputting it to another external display. There are plenty of USB-C to HDMI adapters that seem to work, but trust me, they don’t. Luckily, if you want to try this out for yourself, there are plenty of affordable options on Amazon. Below is what I used, but you can choose any.

HDMI capture card product tag

Highwings video capture card

This video capture card tricks the iPad into thinking the input device is a webcam. Works with the Orion app to enable full support for using your iPad as an external monitor.

Use your iPad as an external monitor for your PC

An XDA website on a Windows laptop was sent to an iPad using Orion.

Previously, there was Sidecar for using an iPad as an external display for a Mac, but there was no option for Windows. There’s a good chance you’ll be using an iPad and a Windows laptop, as the iPad is still one of the best tablets you can buy. With the Orion app and the right cable, you can finally use your iPad as a portable monitor for your Windows devices. Once you connect everything and start Orion, Windows will detect your iPad as an external display. You can then choose to mirror or extend your display from the Windows settings menu.

Mirror XDA websites to Windows PCs and laptops.

In short, the Orion app allows you to use your iPad as a PC display in a fairly plug-and-play way. However, there are some things to keep in mind. First, the iPad has a 4:3 aspect ratio. This means that if your input device uses a widescreen aspect ratio, you may see black bars. This is a pretty big drawback compared to Apple’s Sidecar, since Apple’s Sidecar feature is tailored to use the entire iPad display. Additionally, the resolutions of your iPad and your input device may not match, which may cause your content to look worse than usual. If so, Orion offers AI upscaling as a premium feature that can be unlocked with a one-time $5 in-app purchase.

Orion isn’t perfect, but the fact that this is possible at all is a credit to the developers behind the app. For users who already own an iPad and want an external display for their Windows device, we think this is a useful alternative to purchasing a dedicated portable monitor.

Orion is built for gaming and content consumption

CRT effects in the Orion app.

Movie played via Orion using CRT effects.

I think the best part about the Orion app is that you can use your iPad for games and content consumption. This will probably be a more common use case. After all, it’s more common for iPad owners to have a gaming device than Windows PC owners. Orion lets you connect your Xbox or Nintendo Switch for a portable or big-screen experience. Compared to expensive monitors designed for the Xbox Series S, using the iPad you already own may be a better alternative. I wasn’t able to try out any games with Orion, but from my experience with the app it seems like a great use. However, be aware that sending video and audio through an HDMI cable, capture card, or iPad is probably not optimal in terms of latency.

iPhone playing audio and video through iPad using Orion.

What I tried was using Orion to play media from my iPhone through my iPad. It was an amazing experience. The video was high quality, my iPhone was able to control her iPad’s media, and Orion basically made my iPad act as his AirPlay display.This will definitely fit why do you want to do this? region. But I can see some reasons in my head. For example, if you don’t have a personal hotspot and need to stream content using your phone’s data, you can use Orion to watch it on the big screen. It’s also great if you have an iPhone with a lot of storage space and store all your media on it.

Beyond that, it’s just fun

I connected my iPhone to my iPad using Orion.

I’ve outlined a few ways in which Orion can be useful in practice, and my time with the app has been extremely helpful. But for me, it doesn’t matter whether the app is a game-changer in terms of productivity or entertainment. This is a simply fun tool and I’m glad it exists on the iPad. If you want to try it out, find Orion in the App Store.

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