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output video to tvThe computer is one of the most versatile video players ever invented. It can play discs, various files or stream video from the web. There’s little that isn’t available on a PC, and if something is off limits its usually due to DRM and not the hardware.

Yet the PC has always felt strangely isolated from other devices, including those that are designed to display video. Almost all computers have the ability to output video but the connections used can be confusing to the uninitiated.

This article will help you resolve any unfamiliarity by explaining all of the different output options, how they’re used and their advantages. After that we’ll briefly touch on how to resolve a couple common issues that arise when trying to display PC video on a HDTV.

VGA

output video to tv

VGA is an old video output that was first introduced back in 1987 and became the standard PC video output during the 1990s. It is a 15-pin connection that that is often colored blue to distinguish it from other ports with pins.

You will still find VGA connections on many desktop PCs and on many HDTVs. Televisions sometimes refer to the VGA connection as a “PC input.” Though developed during a time when resolutions were much lower this connection has the ability to display resolutions up to 2048×1536.

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Quality depends significantly on signal output, cable quality and cable length. Many people report that a newer digital connection offers better quality, but others notice no difference.

VGA output from your desktop or PC will often require that you enable an additional display connected this way by using Windows display properties. Some laptops include a button or keyboard function key that toggles VGA on or off.

DVI

output video to tv from laptop

Introduced in 1999, DVI took over for VGA as the PC video output of choice at the turn of the century. It was built to carry digital signals but it also had the ability to handle analog signals.

DVI was and still is incredibly common on desktop computers but it’s not as common on laptops. It’s also not that common on HDTVs, which tend to just offer a single VGA input instead of both VGA and DVI. Still, you can find it on some models. 1080p output is no problem unless you are attempting to connection a PC to an HDTV with a cable 15 feet long or shorter. Degradation of the signal can create problems with longer runs.

This usually acts as a plug-and-play connection, so all you’ll likely need to do is plug one end of the DVI cable into your PC and the other into your TV.

HDMI

output video to tv from laptop

If you own a modern HDTV you almost certainly have HDMI inputs, and if you own a fairly recent desktop or laptop you probably have an HDMI output. This has become an incredibly popular standard for all sorts of devices capable of video input or output.

HDMI is a digital connection that can handle resolutions up to 1920×1200 (with versions earlier than 1.3) or up to 2560×1600 (with versions 1.3 and later). It is very much a plug-and-play solution. Your PC should be able to automatically detect and configure any display plugged in via HDMI.

Unlike earlier PC compatible outputs, HDMI also bundles in audio. For a few years this was problematic because PCs were built on the assumption that video and audio output would be handled separately by separate chips.

However, Intel’s integrated graphics has supported audio over HDMI since 2006. Nvidia and AMD also support audio over HDMI with current video cards, but cards that are more than a few years old may not offer this support. Some Nvidia cards in the 200 series included audio over HDMI but it would only work if you connected a S/PDIF wire between your internal computer’s internal sound card and an input on the Nvidia video card.

DisplayPort / Thunderbolt

output video to tv from laptop

This digital video connection was thought up in 2006 as a replacement for DVI. Unlike HDMI, DisplayPort was built with computers in mind. It can output a resolution of up to 3840×2160 and also has the unusual ability to connect to multiple displays from one output with a daisy-chain connection.

DisplayPort is common on some computers. AMD video cards often include it and Apple MacBooks rely on it entirely. Its not a common input for televisions, however, so you will usually need to acquire a DisplayPort-to-HDMI adapter.

Thunderbolt Why Apple's New Thunderbolt Port Is Awesome [Technology Explained] Why Apple's New Thunderbolt Port Is Awesome [Technology Explained] I/O ports aren’t a technology that folks spend a lot of time thinking about. Let’s face it – they’re not sexy. Still, ports are important. As the interface between your computer and everything else, your... Read More , a recently introduced connection, supports DisplayPort. It is an unusual connection because it bundes a video connection (DisplayPort) with a general data connection (PCI Express).

Mini-DisplayPort and Thunderbolt connections are compatible out of the box. That’s a good thing, because not many devices offer Thunderbolt support at this time. No televisions support Thunderbolt at this time.

Fixing Overscan / Underscan

output computer video tv

You’ll find that 99% of the connections between a computer and a TV are basically plug-and-play. The television and computer will automatically communicate (provided the TV has the right input source selected, of course!) and a picture will be display.

Even the optimal resolution will automatically be detected and configured in many cases, and if it’s not, you can fix this easily using Window’s display properties. You may find, however, that the image is either too large or too small even when you properly adjust the resolution.

This issue is called overscan (if the image is too large for your television) or underscan (if the image is too small). You can’t fix it with Windows display properties but you can usually fix it using your computer’s display drivers.

Right-click on an empty portion of your desktop and look for AMD Catalyst Control Center, Nvidia Control Panel or Intel Graphics Properties. Once you’ve opened the driver control panel look for the HDTV settings panel and then find the image scaling options.

You might also be able to fix the issue using your TV’s settings, but since various TVs  have very different menus, I can only refer you to your manual.

Other Common Display Output Problems

output video to tv

Though an HDTV should work with a modern computer automatically you may occasionally receive only a black screen or a message that tells you no input was detected.

Such problems are usually the result of an incompatibility between a setting on your computer and a setting on your TV. Refresh rate is a common culprit. Most TVs only support a few specific modes and won’t display an image if the refresh rate is incorrect.

You can fix this by opening your Display Properties, selecting Adjust Resolution and then clicking Advanced Settings. You will find the refresh rate under the “monitors” tab. Most every TV supports 60 Hz.

Resolution can also trip up a TV in some cases. For example, if you have a 720p television but your computer tries to output 1600×900 or 1920×1200 the signal may be rejected. You can usually fix this by opening Display Properties and going to Adjust Resolution and then selecting an appropriate resolution for the second display (your television).

Misuse of video output can also sometimes be a problem. On desktop computers with a video card you will usually have two sets of video outputs, one for the integrated video solution (which is inactive) and one for the video card. If you try to use the outputs connected to integrated video while the video card is installed you will not receive a signal.

This means that a computer that physically offers numerous video outputs may only be able to output to one or two TV displays because the outputs are split between the active video card and the inactive integrated video.

A Note About Standard Definition

You may have noticed that I spent this article talking about connecting to an HDTV.

It is not impossible to connect a computer to a standard definition television. Your best bet will be to output via VGA and convert the signal to composite or component. Heck, maybe you’ll even find a fancy standard definition TV with a native VGA input.

That’s not likely, however. And even if you manage it, don’t expect much for your trouble. Computer output is notoriously terrible on standard definition TV. The resolution of older televisions can’t properly handle the fine text used by a computer’s user interface.

Conclusion

I hope that this article will help you better understand PC video output to a television. If you have any questions or suggestions feel free to leave them in the comments.

Image Credit: Yum9me , Manfred Wassman , Samcatchsides.com , Aurelien Yarrow , Marc Comeau , Dan Brickley , Johnathan O’Donnell

  1. Paul Vervoort
    August 9, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    like to display a movie played on my PC (from DVD) on two (2) different TV's.
    [form PC to TV]. IS THAT POSSIBLE ? ? THANKS PRV

  2. mary appling
    April 10, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    I am trying to connect an old Sharp analog TV with composite input to a Dell laptop with VGA. I used the VGA to video converter adapter. I connected the audio and the sound works perfectly through the TV. The TV screen is black. I have tried everything. The only time any thing shows on the TV screen is when I push the Fn F8 key. Momentarily the TV and the laptop screen shows blocks made of colored lines than both screens go black. The laptop screen comes right back on but the TV stays black. Do I need an expresscard for the laptop? HELP!!!!!!

  3. Vipin Kris
    March 23, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    Hi Mat,
    I am trying to connect my media player which has HDMI out put to my 42" LED TV (the HDMI ports are not working anymore and hard to get this fixed). will i get 1080p out to TV if i use a HDMI to RCA cable? Please advise me with if you have any other better Idea.
    Thanks in advance.

  4. Jim
    March 2, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    Don't forget the USB/Bluetooth dongle and 3' USB extender and Bluetooth keyboard and mouse in this 50'+ setup. The extender lets you position the dongle for ideal placement of the BT adapter's 270 degree antenna so the BT keyboard and mouse are able to reach the PC wirelessly from across the house so you can stay in your easy chair.

    Dell made a combo keyboard&mouse kit that is inexpensive used and quite durable. Works great with XP, 7, and OSX.

    A setup like this works great for everything from movies to email to surfing the web. Then if you want to sit in your office just sit down and work on console.

  5. Jim
    March 2, 2015 at 10:53 am

    Good article. +1 on the svideo comments.

    DVI to HDMI then into a HDMI to component converter box is a great option as you can rejoin the PC audio with the video signal at the set with a simple 1/8" stereo plug to RCA plug commonly used with portable CD players and iPods to connect to home stereos.

    The box that everyone is using from Amazon to convert xbox one 1080p HDMI to component - mostly so they can play at 1080 on a 1080i TV - does this job nicely.

    Also video capture with a device like Avermedia C281 works nicely in this setup.

    Big picture, I have a 5 input auto switching HDMI to one output HDMI switcher from computer outlet feeding my HDMI to component converter box through an avermedia. The PC is on a secondary audio input on my stereo and if I want to record audio along with the video I have to use audacity for the audio the rejoin them in my editor but it works well.

    A VGA over cat5 setup is a really inexpensive way to go the distance with video. Especially if you add a cheap signal booster. I setup my dad's with a 50 cable I soldered up with VGA ends from radioshack in about an hour. The audio is ran by soldering 1/8" headphone jacks to solid core phone wire to reduce loss over the length. Overall it works great. Xbmc plus playon yields a ton of programming options!

  6. Fred Seaborne
    January 26, 2015 at 3:19 pm

    There are inexpensive s-video-to-composite-video (yellow rca-jack) plug-adapters and cables available on websites like amazon and e-bay (to find them, just type "s-video to rca jack adapter" into the website's search window); these adapters/cables allow you to view a laptop computer's video output on a regular TV set that's equipped with a yellow RCA-jack video input, or to record the laptop's video output onto a DVD-R or vcr tape (this is handy for recording youtube movies or for adding typed-text titles/comments to a videotape). Just be sure that you get an adapter/cable with a MALE s-video connector, so that it will plug into your laptop's female s-video jack.

  7. Alex Perkins
    September 12, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    What about WIDI? Would that be used? Some laptops have it so you can plug an adapter into the tv, then connect the laptop to the adapter much like WIFI. Wireless display.

  8. MerVzter Balacuit
    September 3, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    thanks for this article i just hope time come i could try this,, but as of now its lack of resources :) but its all good.. atleast im updated

  9. rama moorthy
    September 3, 2012 at 4:28 am

    nice article ..!

  10. TwooshVidisha
    July 13, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Great tips, but what if you do not have a stunning, eye-popping big screen TV? Well, you can still enjoy your movies if the intended media is stored on your iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. You can output the video on a screen that is as large as up to 120?. You will also hear high-volume sound with built-in speakers with Bass Reflex and DSP on this home theater setup. Take a look at it how it works - http://www.mizwhiz.com/gadgets/gadgets-to-make-your-movie-viewing-experiences-at-home-grand-and-memorable.html

  11. Irshaad Abdool
    July 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    you sometimes need to use a 'scan converter' to connect your pc (VGA port) to your TV (composite). they are sold under "PC-to-Video" kits on ebay or amazon.

  12. seru ibra
    July 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    hi Chris Hoffman..Am in Uganda but my friend can access free internet using ISP's free homepage through a proxy. How is it possible and pliz give proxies that work best for this.. thanx..(ibrase4@gmail.com)

  13. Dr.Pradip Sinha
    July 10, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    I read your article and I was able to connect my HP Netbook to my Sony HDMI TV by the VGA connection.I am able to get the visuals ok but I am not able to get the Audio.How do i get the voice?

    • Matt Smith
      July 10, 2012 at 5:40 pm

      VGA does not do audio so you will need to route a cable from the audio output (headphone jack) on your laptop to the input on your TV or home theater equipment. You are probably going to need an adapter for this, such as: http://www.computercablestore.com/35mm_to_RCA_Composite_catID571.aspx

    • Jeff
      November 3, 2016 at 11:46 am

      You are doing everything perfectly so far. The issue you are having is due to the fact that VGA only carries video, not audio. You can easily solve this problem by connecting an audio cable with 3.5mm plugs on each end , exactly like the plugs on most earbuds, to your computer's headphone jack and the other end to an audio input jack on your TV. It may be near the VGA jack and/or labeled "audio in"

  14. RPJ
    July 10, 2012 at 7:52 am

    There was no mention of codecs. I have a low def / regular TV with VGA input and can see the PC screen on the TV, but keep getting codec issues (i.e. wrong codec) when I try to play movies, Youtube etc. I cannot expand on this as my TV is in France and my PC is in England for the summer (Summer! it has rained almost continually for 3 months - but I digress). Any ideas on how I might address this?

  15. WBeager
    July 10, 2012 at 3:36 am

    •HTMI connected to TV causes the DeskTop to change Icon arrangements. Annoying feature

  16. WBeager
    July 10, 2012 at 3:34 am

    HTMI connected to TV causes the DeskTop to change Icon arrangements. Annoying feature

  17. Don Pruitt
    July 10, 2012 at 3:00 am

    The Mac ADC monitor port looks like a DVI port. Are they the same?

    • Matt Smith
      July 10, 2012 at 5:36 pm

      I've never used that port before but from what I know of it, it's not. Apple sold an adapter for ADC to DVI and it was damn expensive, $149 original retail IIRC.

  18. Don Pruitt
    July 10, 2012 at 2:52 am

    I have my desktop Mac G4 Dual 1.25 PowerPC VGA output connected to the DVI-D input on a Samsung T260HD Monitor/TV (a wonderful combination!).
    I want to connect a Mac Mini to the Monitor/TV using the HDMI ports. If both computers are connected to the Monitor/TV, will this work? If both computers are on at the same time, what happens?

  19. Sean Byrne
    July 10, 2012 at 12:14 am

    I have a regular old analog TV and whilst it's not great for text, it's fine for movies.

    I have a HD Set top box connected to it, that a USB stick will plug and play - as long as the movie is in AVI file format.

    Otherwise, for laptop to TV - I use a Pico VGA to RCA converter and a 1.5mm audio to RCA converter. Works fine and with VLC Media Player, the formats don't matter.

    Cost was only $99 from Dick Smith and it will do me until the old TV breaks down and I have to get a HDTV, as that also means new furniture.

  20. Ron007
    July 9, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    In the DVI section you said:

    1080p output is no problem unless you are attempting to connection a PC to an HDTV with a cable 15 feet long or shorter. Degradation of the signal can create problems with longer runs.

    I'm confused, do you mean what you wrote, or did you intend to say "... 15 feet long or LONGER ...

    • Matt Smith
      July 10, 2012 at 5:33 pm

      Yes, I meant to say 15 feet long or longer.

  21. Robert Fuller
    July 9, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Hoe do I output from iPad 3 to tv?

    • Keith
      July 9, 2012 at 8:22 pm

      If your TV has HDMI then you can buy an iPad connector that has an HDMI input. I've used it to stream Netflix to an HDMI screen. Looks very good.

  22. Keith
    July 9, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    For several years I have used an older Macbook Pro with a DVI to RCA output (made by Apple) to display movie and TV files or stream from Netflix and Hulu. It's an older standard def TV but the quality is as good as watching via a DVD player. It doesn't work as a computer, fuzzy text as already mentioned, but great for video, Apple sells a mini-DVI to RCA composite as well.

  23. judy richardson
    July 9, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Does this work with a Mac? I've a desktop that's too heavy to move & in a separate room, purchased Nov. '08.

  24. judy
    July 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    Does this work with a Mac? I have a desktop, too heavy to move & in a separate room, purchased Nov. of '08.

    • Matt Smith
      July 10, 2012 at 5:32 pm

      Mac usually offer video out but only over a single port. Lately it's been DisplayPort. I might be able to help you with more information about your Mac, or you could ask this question on MakeUseOf Answers http://www.makeuseof.com/answers/

  25. Eric Swank
    July 9, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    A useful article indeed. The first time I used HDMI from the laptop to the TV there was no sound. The sound output had to be switched from speakers to digital audio S/PDIF to get the sound out from the HDMI cable to the TV.

    Thanks for listening, or not...

    • Matt Smith
      July 10, 2012 at 5:30 pm

      Yes, this is a good point. Often times a video card will support sound over HDMI but Windows will neglect to use that feature automatically when you plug in the HDMI capable.

  26. Shane La Horie
    July 9, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    Very informative and useful article.

  27. Ravi Meena
    July 7, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    got my hopes high and read the whole article just to know that, there is no way i can connect my standard definition TV with my Laptop

    • Doug Q
      July 9, 2012 at 9:57 pm

      Yes you can. See my multiple comments above.

  28. Kumar
    July 7, 2012 at 7:57 am

    I have a HDTV. It has no VGA port. I want to connect it to my laptop, but unfortunately my laptop has no HDMI output, but a VGA output. Please help me..

    • muotechguy
      July 7, 2012 at 12:07 pm

      Converting VGA to HDMI requires an expensive adapter, so thats not really feasible. Does your TV have a DVI port? You can get a very chaep adapter for VGA->DVI

      • Kumar
        July 7, 2012 at 12:51 pm

        My TV has 3 pin component AV in, which is common in all TVs I guess.
        I was thinking of any adapter which could convert VGA from my laptop to 3 pin component on my tv. Is there anything like that??

        • muotechguy
          July 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm

          No, VGA is digital, component isn't. Some laptops have component out, some desktop cards too; but if not, then yet another expensive converter (so you might as well as buy the HDMI converter to get HD quality, as opposed to terrible component quality)

        • Kumar
          July 7, 2012 at 1:20 pm

          you know, someone has to work on that to make analogue and digital signals work together..
          thanks a lot..

  29. Achraf Almouloudi
    July 7, 2012 at 1:09 am

    Hi, is HDMI only available on HDTV or there is SDTV which support it, though everyone should use HDTV to get a great picture .

    • muotechguy
      July 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      Only HDTVs have HDMI.

  30. Dave
    July 7, 2012 at 12:03 am

    Yes, using a nice 32" LG lcd TV on my media/ganes pc. Have had no problems, connected with a hdmi cable. Highly recommended, you become more immersed in whatever you are doing be it games, video or surfing the net.

    Anyone who hooks up a large screen will no regret it, you will wonder why you didn't do it sooner...

  31. Bob
    July 6, 2012 at 7:12 pm

    What about USB to HDMI?

    I picked up the Cable Matters USB 2.0 to HDMI Audio Video 1080P Adapter for Windows and it worked well.

    • Matt Smith
      July 6, 2012 at 10:22 pm

      USB to HDMI can work well for static or low-movement images (i.e. a computer desktop). It's not great for moving images at 1080p however. USB doesn't have the bandwidth for that and pixelation/artifacts are a common result.

      • Ron Skinner
        July 21, 2012 at 1:21 am

        My laptop has a blue VGA port. I have an HDMI TV. It has been suggested to me that I get a double-ended VGA cable and a USB adaptor, to create a faux-HDMI port on my laptop.

        That would mean that I would really be using a USB to HDMI connection and your comment on USB bandwidth says to me that I would not be happy watching YouTube and Netflix on such a connection.

        So I'm wondering if there is such a thing as a VGA - HDMI cable.and if that would be the way for me to go.

        Trying to navigate all this with my 72 year-old brain is a challenge. I'm so grateful for makeuseof.com and all the other forums and sites where there is real community and generosity.

        Many thanks.

  32. Oswaldo
    July 6, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    Some computers (including my 2006 laptop) have an "S-Video" output. I've used it to connect my machine to a 21" TV (Standard Def). All I can do with it is watch movies. But after watching DVDs on a HDTV, all I can do is wait for the TV to break down and replace it ASAP.

    • Matt Smith
      July 6, 2012 at 10:20 pm

      Ah, yes. S-Video. I thought about including it but did not because it's no longer common. It's useful if you have a TV that supports it, but it seems that S-Video is rare these days.

      • S.Vater
        July 7, 2012 at 1:52 am

        I actually have this on my laptop, and use it everyday, S-Video is the only feature my somewhat old TV has....

    • Ben
      July 10, 2012 at 8:06 pm

      I do the same. It is very rare for laptops to have s-video outputs now, I'm lucky that one of mine does.

  33. Ben
    July 6, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    Forget standard definintion TV!

  34. Tuhin
    July 6, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    I have a old tv, it has RCA (Yellow. Red, white) cable i believe, So can i covert VGA to RCA or something..?

    • Matt Smith
      July 6, 2012 at 6:18 pm

      Welllll...there are products like this available online but I don't know if it's going to be worth the effort. An older television is going to have a very low resolution.

      Here is one at monoprice: http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id=101&cp_id=10114&cs_id=1011407&p_id=4724&seq=1&format=2

    • Doug Q
      July 9, 2012 at 8:24 pm

      Connecting from a PC to an older tv is very easy. I have done this on 2 older sets. What is required is a convertor from VGA to RCA. I bought mine on ebay from China, with shipping it was $15. It also will output S-Video. The sound will go direct with a special cable. One end has the 1/8 stereo plug that goes into the headset plug on the pc, the other end has 2 rca plugs that go into the tv sound, they are usually red and white. No it is not HD, but I have been watching regular tv for 50 years and I do not enjoy a program any less in standard def.
      Also I use VLC to play the videos on the pc.
      DougQ

      • Doug Q
        July 9, 2012 at 9:55 pm

        Apologies, my comments were not appearing. :-(

        • TuhinBagh
          July 10, 2012 at 10:49 am

          Lol i was wondering why u posted thrice :D its ok Doug, but can you hook the ebay link for the converter in comment..?

    • Oron
      July 13, 2012 at 4:13 pm

      Yes, not a problem. VGA essentially provides the same composite signals required by the RCA connectors (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Composite_video if you're interested in more detail). You can easily get adapters between VGA, composite and SCART (which is basically a single-socket version of composite). These adapters are simply a matter of rewiring and have no electronic components.

  35. Ted
    July 6, 2012 at 6:04 pm

    This article is helpful. Perhaps you could do a follow up piece on how to output video from an iPad to a TV

  36. Catherine McCrum
    July 6, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    My hubby did it a few times but it was frustrating to accomplish. I am forwarding him this article as I assume he will find it informative. Thanks MUO

  37. Truefire_
    July 6, 2012 at 5:51 pm

    Yeah, StarCraft!

  38. Nicky Chaleunphone
    July 6, 2012 at 5:39 pm

    Been their and Done that. I have tricked out my folks LCD Flatscreen TV into a PC/TV. I simply made some modifications and made it worked.

  39. Al Kamp
    July 6, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    What you haven't mentioned, and you should, is the issue that frequently appears when DVI/HDMI is used between an PC and a TV set. It is the colour conversion. Apparently most TV's opperate at a narrower colour pixel map, 16-235 rather than 0-255 that PCs do.

    As a result, colours on a TV will be compressed. From white to grey they all look white and from dark grey to black they all look black. Detail is lost when watching a movie, lapels are flat with suits, hair is all black, and shirt colar has no shape.

    Some card drivers allow you to change the pixel colour, but it doesn't always work. As such you need to perfom the "de-compression" by adjusting brightness and contrast.

    This is a huge issue and needs further investigation.

    • Matt Smith
      July 6, 2012 at 6:14 pm

      I can't say I know about this issue or have encountered it myself. I'll make a note to look in to it and if I can discover useful information it could be throw in a follow-up article.

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