Sunday, August 28, 2011

iSight G5 as external monitor with Camera/Mic

Using iMac G5 iSight as external monitor
First I would again like to thank Jean Luc for his assistance with the camera and the microphone.  I had not expected the iMac G5 iSight (which is the 3rd generation of iMac G5s) to be so radically different from the original G5.  For one it is substantially thinner and the entire layout is different.  Unlike the original where the lcd is contained within the front part of the case, the lcd of the iSight is attached to the back of the housing.  This arrangement leaves substantially less room in the case than the original.  This however wasn't a problem as I was using the same approach I had used earlier with the internals of a 20" aluminum apple cinema display.  Thus, all I needed was the LCD controller and inverter to fit behind the monitor.  The added bonus of the cinema display is that it has one cable that breaks off into power, USB and Firewire and gives you 2 powered USB ports.

Using the Apple Cinema Display's components is something I highly recommend.  I realize that it is not the most cost effective solution, but it is not as bad as you may think.  As the cinema display's control board works with both the native 20" iMac G4 and G5 LCDs and the iMac G4's inverter (probably the G5's as well), you really only need the LCD control board, the wires, and the power brick.  With patience I have been able to get Cinema Display's with cracked screens and dented cases (but working internals) for under $50.  Also, the LCD controller itself is only $30.  Its the power brick that is the most annoying.  But, it is an elegant and stable solution for getting the 24V lines needed to power the 20" LCD and simplifies the wiring tremendously.

iSight Camera hooked up to internal USB
Getting the camera to work was quite easy after I found out it was a simple USB camera.  The standard Red, Green, White, and Black cables simply need to be spliced to a USB cable and then the camera is essentially plug and play.

I connected the USB splice to the USB hub of the cinema display which was internalized behind the monitor.

Pictured you can see photo booth running from the camera which is in the top of the bezel.

A USB sound adapter
A "TRS" ausio jack
The existing microphone required a usb adapter.  There are 3 wires which appear to be a TRS (Tip, Ring, Shield) arrangement, like a standard 3.5mm audio jack.   I chose this particular adapter as it stated that it was mac compatible,  though I'm sure plenty will work.  Though I believe this adapter oversimplifies the signal.  The brown wire of the microphone gets connected to the red wire (or ring), while the grey wire gets connected to the shield of the audio cable.  The tip of this (The white wire) was left unconnected.  Plug the audio cable into the USB adapters microphone port and then the adapter into the USB hub and now both the iSight's camera and microphone are operational.

One thing to note is that the existing speakers also can be connected to a TRS cable.  The Right speaker to the Red and Ground and the Left speaker to White and Ground.  This particular USB adapter is not an amplifier so the volume of the speakers was very low when I connected them to the headphone jack/USB adapter.  I am also using the Apple Pro speakers which I am quite happy with.  However, if you do get an amplifier, the existing iMac G5 speakers can certainly be utilized.

As a side note, as you can see in the picture I have mounted the mac mini underneath the right side of the desk.  The mount is great and comes with four USB ports on the front.

Using this version of the iMac G5 is certainly an improvement.  It is smaller, lighter, and easier to maneuver.  The addition of the iSight camera and mic allows me to ditch the logitech camera that did not really match the overall design.  The addition of the drive to the G4 and now the camera to the G5 allow them to be more than just monitors.  Each of them supplies something that is found on all desktop macs except for the mac mini.

There are certainly things I may tweak in the future.  But, to be honest, this is really about it for this project.  I would still like a touch screen option, but until a reliable, affordable, multi touch capable option that DOES NOT sacrifice the design aesthetic becomes available I am not going to pursue this.  It has been so much fun working with these computers, but using them with the new mac mini reminds me why I did this in the first place.  Both of these are beautiful to look at, have great ergonomics, and maybe this is just because of nostalgia - fun to use.

I am not sure what new projects to tackle next, but I'm sure something will come up.  In the mean time, I'm going to turn my attention to writing step by step guides for some of these mods.  But please feel free to ask any questions or leave any comments.  Again, thanks for reading!!


  1. JBerg,
    it is always a pleasure to read your blog. Congratulations to your new mod, which looks very similar to my own - just finished it a few days ago. Instead of you I used an LVDS panel and added a 7-port USB2 Hub for internal and external use.

    A question regarding the USB Soundstick. I tried two cheap versions from ebay but they added very much noise to the microphone signal, so eventually I switched to a more expensive one. This one is brilliant with the internal mic. Is your stick working perfectly?

    One word to the "oversimplifiying": When you take a deeper look at the microphone you find that one of the three cables in the original connection is only a shielding. These electrete mics are actually built of a microphone capsule together with a field effect transistor, which explains the very simple way of connecting them.
    However, I recommend to connect the inner microphone cable (not the one that is solded to the outer ring) to both front connectors of your plug (an the back one to the other cable). This prevents you from having trouble with stereo input processing.

    Currently I am working on a 17" Apple Studio Display. I integrated a touch screen (resistive) and fortunately there is enough space in the housing to make this addition almost invisible. However, together with the CCFL replacement to LED, it absorbs a lot og backlight. So today I decided to replace the backlights on the sides to backlights behind the screen. I don't know if this will ever work, but I will keep you updated of my (hopely) successful steps.
    Best Regards

  2. This seems to be working very well. Ive only tested it with a video chat and a voice memo recording application. The connection was not what I was expecting. I had the microphone/camera/ir cable from the iMac G5 and I cut off the 3 pin connector and spliced this connector onto the 3.5mm cable to ensure I did not damage the microphone with it's short wires. There was a shield, a brown, and grey cable. I figured the shields would connect and then I would just guess which is (+) tip/white and which is (-) ring/red. But neither combination worked. Luckily once I did not fully press the audio jack in and realized it was the tip interfering with the signal and that the unbalanced mono needed only the ring and shield. But now, I will add the additional solder you recommend. I highly recommend this one - It was $11 and it seems to be more than adequate.

    It's amazing - I actually had added a resistive touchscreen to a 17" Studio display for a friend a couple of years ago (minus the LED conversion). Where are you putting the touch controller? Are you considering drilling a hole for the USB out or use the Dispays USB internally. Also with your iMac g5 mod, did you use the native LCD with an lvds controller or replace the entire monitor and if so which model did you choose? Please keep me updated

    JL, I again want to thank you - I am extremely pleased at how this came out and really owe it entirely to you. The newer G5 looks better, takes up less room, and the embedded camera/mic looks so much better than the external. Logitech cam I was using previously. Looking forward to seeing your progress. Jon

  3. JBerg,
    my G5 came without any electronics (only the iSight/mic board was left). So I decided to buy a HD panel with LVDS connector and one of these Shenzen controllers from Njytouch, which at last works perfectly after a few firmware upgrades - I have never seen such a sharp picture in any 17" iMac before :-) I also added a 7-port USB2 controller. The panel is a Samsung LTN170U1-L01, normally found in DELL notebooks.

    As for the touch screen: Of course I never thought of drilling a hole in the monitor :-) Instead I disassembled everything and decided to put the touch controller directly above the panel but under the panel's metal frame. I cut out a small part of the metal frame to avoid damages to the small ribbon cable. And then I put the controller on the backside of the panel between the logic board and the place where the inverter was. I also decided to add a small 4-port USB2 controller instead of that ancient USB1.1 model on the logic board (which did not work anyway in this display).
    So from the outside everything looks as before. But now I have a studio display with two USB2 ports and a touch screen - and a dim backlight, which to improve will be my next project.

    All the best and looking forward to hear from your next project

  4. Hi,
    I have an iMac G5 20" screen that works very well.
    I have an iMac G5 20" iSight with its screen broken.
    Would be possible to install the SCREEN of the G5 20" on the iMac 20" iSight?
    Please help me as I am really desperate .....
    Many thanks in advance for your advices.
    Best regards

    1. I'm not sure if I 100% understand. I think you have a working LCD panel from a non-iSight iMac G5 and you want to put that LCD in place of a broken one in an otherwise working iSight G5. Because I have never done this, I can not say for sure. Things like location of the screw holes, placement of the JAE connector on the back of the LCD can vary. However, I do believe that the LCDs are compatible (as far as the TMDS signal) otherwise. But I do want to stress that I can't guarantee anything I have not doe myself.