Options for Connecting a Display with Mini DisplayPort or DisplayPort input to a Mac with Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C
One problem Apple created while leaving users without an Apple solution is being able to connect an external display to a Mac with Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C. Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter passes data only—not video.
While the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock solves this problem neatly (highly recommended, more on that below), there are cases where all one wants is adaptation for the display.
In particular, in my Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van (see setup), I just want to connect my NEC PA302W wide gamut professional display to the computer; an extra 15 watts for the Thunderbolt 3 Dock makes sense only if I need its other ports, which I do not need on the road, or at least do not need except briefly. So I am loathe to chew up 15 watts just to have the display connected (the display itself takes 90 watts which is bad enough). Aside from cost, that is a key reason why I am using a 2015 MacBook Pro and a 2015 iMac 5K—not the 2017 models which have Thunderbolt 3 ports and no Mini DisplayPort.
There are various products which might provide the necessary adaptation. They are not cheap, but not expensive either (about $80).
B&H Photo has Thunderbolt 3 to DisplayPort adapters as well as various DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort adapters. DisplayPort (or Mini DisplayPort) is just fine for displays like my NEC PA302W, which has both types of ports (signal is the same, it’s just a cable form factor issue). If a display has only a Mini DisplayPort port, there are DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort adapters and/or DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort cables. Be sure to test the cables; compatibility is not guaranteed in my experience.
Some users might be fine with HDMI inputs on a display, but that has some limitations for calibration as I understand it, at least for 10 bit with NEC Spectra View II, so I rule it out for my needs.
Cleanest/best solution for Thunderbolt 3 to Mini DisplayPort
More expensive than the adapters above, but with far more functionality, the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock neatly solves display connectivity issue with its Mini DisplayPort port (1 port), charges the MacBook Pro, and provides gigabit ethernet and other ports, as shown. This is the cleanest and best solution for normal desktop usage.
Philip S writes:
"One problem Apple created while leaving users without an Apple solution is being able to connect an external display to a Mac with Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C. Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter passes data only—not video.”
Perhaps I am misunderstanding what you have written. However I have an Apple Thunderbolt Display connected to my brand-new 5K mid-2017 iMac, using the aforesaid Thunderbolt 3-to-Thunderbolt 2 adapter. It works perfectly.
MPG: I tested the Apple adapter in 2016 and again in 2016 and it does not pass a video signal. Readers confirm the same. So something special is going on with the Apple Thunderbolt display—notable it is a Thunderbolt display, not just a Mini DisplayPort display. The fact that it works is consistent with the fact that NEC displays work fine off the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock.