Smart accessories abound

With the release of the iPad 2, Apple is also releasing several accessories related to the iPad 2, though UK pricing for these add-ons hasn't yet been confirmed.

Most notable is the Smart Cover, available in either leather ($69) or polyurethane ($39). A Smart Cover magnetically adheres to the side of the iPad 2 and protects the front, locking and unlocking the iPad when you open and close the cover. It’s pretty nifty, and it sets the bar pretty high for all future iPad 2 accessories. To read a whole lot more about it, be sure to read my iPad 2 Smart Cover review.

But there are other accessories: the $39 Apple Digital AV adapter finally lets capable iOS devices display HD video on HDTVs, and even lets the iPad 2 mirror its own screen on an external display.

There’s also a new $29 iPad 2 Dock, which I wasn’t able to test. Like the original iPad Dock, it allows you to set your iPad upright in portrait orientation and charge, sync, or even play audio- or video-out. Now the bad news: The iPad 2 and the original iPad’s dock connector are different enough that accessories that tightly fit to the hardware won’t be compatible with the new model, so you probably won’t be able to reuse many of your iPad accessories if you buy an iPad 2. Apple also seems to have discontinued the iPad Keyboard Dock entirely. (No great loss, in my opinion—you’d be better off with a dock or a case and the excellent £57 Apple Wireless Keyboard, a combination that allows you type in either portrait or landscape orientation, rather than the forced portrait orientation of the Keyboard Dock.)

A video breakthrough

The Apple Digital AV Adapter gives the iPad 2 the ability to output HD video and mirror its own screen.

One of the most pleasantly surprising features of the iPad 2 is its improved support for HDTVs and HD video. A combination of iPad 2 hardware upgrades, a new adapter from Apple, and updates to the iOS share the credit, but the end result is great news for both entertainment and education.

On the entertainment side, the new Apple Digital AV Adapter lets the iPad 2 spread its wings. With this adapter, the iPad 2 can output high-definition video at resolutions up to 1080p, as well as Dolby Digital surround sound, all served via a standard HDMI cable that the owner of any HDTV will be familiar with.

I played back several HD video files on several different HDTVs via the iPad 2 and the HDMI adapter, and the video quality was excellent. The inability to output HD video has been a sore spot on the iOS since the release of the original iPad, but now that it’s here, it looks (and sounds) great.

Exclusive to the iPad 2 that will be hailed by educators, presenters, and anyone else who has ever wanted to show off their iPad’s screen to a large crowd: video mirroring. When connected to the HDMI adapter, the iPad 2 will display a duplicate version of the contents of its screen on an external monitor. Want to demo an education app via a projector or HDTV for a classroom full of kids? The iPad 2 makes it possible.

In mirroring mode, the iPad’s interface is crystal clear. It looks great. Because the iPad’s video interface is a 4:3 aspect ratio, you’ll find black bars on the sides of the TV when in mirroring mode. The bars grow even wider if you put the iPad in portrait orientation, but the image of an iPad 2 in portrait mode still looks good—albeit smaller—on an HDTV.

On a few TVs I tried, however, I needed to adjust the video settings in order to display the entire picture. It depends on how your TV set frames HD content; my advice is to fiddle with the video settings until you get a picture that pleases you.

For the record, the iPad 2’s mirroring mode and its video-out mode don’t fight with each other. If an app supports direct video output to an external display, the iPad stops mirroring and switches to that mode. In addition to the Video app, there are lots of other examples: Keynote uses the external display as a presentation screen, for instance.