How to connect your laptop to a TV

Do you enjoy watching TV shows, streaming videos, and movies on your laptop? Why not output that video to a big-screen TV, then? It's easier than you think, and there's even a wireless solution.

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Laptops once used to be the domain of word-processing programs, file databases, and light gaming, but more often than not most people currently use their laptops as makeshift do-it-all interactive televisions. With the abundance of streaming video sites and TV/movie content available, they're often the most versatile entertainment products on the market, pound for pound.

Unfortunately, you're locked in to a screen that often has limited viewing angles and a resolution that's often less than 1080p. There's good news, though: connecting to an HDTV is a lot easier than most people think--provided you have an HDTV, that is.

  • The debut of Intel's Wireless Display technology in some laptops presents an easier, wirefree solution for sending both audio and video to a TV, but there are limitations: Wi-Di won't allow DVD or Blu-ray playback, making it really just a solution for streaming Internet videos to your TV. It also operates at a considerable delay, meaning it won't work as a solution for playing games on a larger screen. We've talked about Intel Wireless Display in detail before when the tech first debuted, and since then it's made an appearance on a handful of assorted laptops. At this moment, however, Wi-Di is still not tech you're likely to own.
  • If you have a Windows laptop, odds are you have an HDMI-out port--if your laptop was made in the last year or so. That's a huge help for TV connectivity. Many laptops simply connect automatically once an HDMI cable is plugged in to a TV, but you may have to adjust your display settings in the Windows control panel or change your TV's picture settings to get the best fit. One important tip: unless you turn off mirroring of your TV and laptop's displays, you won't get full 1080p resolution to take advantage of your big screen (provided your TV is 1080p). Set your laptop to output to whatever display is labeled with the make of your television (Samsung, for instance), hit "apply," and then a full range of resolution settings should open up for you to try. Some may work better than others.
  • If you don't have HDMI-out, there's always VGA. The universal and ever-handy port is featured on a surprising number of HDTVs, and if you have it you can connect VGA-to-VGA with the appropriate cable. VGA only carries the video signal, however: for audio you'll need to go through the laptop's audio-out jack, which in some cases doubles as an optical audio-out port. You can buy a cable splitting off to RCA outputs, or plug an audio cable into an external speaker bar.
  • If you're a Mac user from the days of Mini DisplayPort onward, you have two options. Owners of current Spring 2010 MacBook Pros and MacBooks are in for a pleasant surprise: the tiny Mini DisplayPort jack also carries full 5.1-surround audio as well as video , making it effectively the same as an HDMI-out port. You will, however, need a converter dongle such as the Griffin Video Display Converter. The rest of the setup is similar to what goes on with a Windows laptop- you'll need to adjust settings in Apple's control panel for the monitor resolution. If you have an older MacBook Pro or MacBook with Mini DisplayPort, it only carries a video signal--for audio, you'll need to output audio via the headphone jack as outlined above. It's more complicated, but it works.
Be sure to watch the video, and don't be intimidated: these days, laptops are made to pair with your TV.
About the author

Scott Stein is a senior editor covering iOS and laptop reviews, mobile computing, video games, and tech culture. He has previously written for both mainstream and technology enthusiast publications including Wired, Esquire.com, Men's Journal, and Maxim, and regularly appears on TV and radio talking tech trends.

 

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