How To Output Video From A PC Or A Laptop To A TV

multiscreen   How To Output Video From A PC Or A Laptop To A 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

vga   How To Output Video From A PC Or A Laptop To A 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.

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

dvi   How To Output Video From A PC Or A Laptop To A TV

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

hdmi   How To Output Video From A PC Or A Laptop To A TV

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

displayport   How To Output Video From A PC Or A Laptop To A TV

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, 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

overscan   How To Output Video From A PC Or A Laptop To A 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

nosignal   How To Output Video From A PC Or A Laptop To A 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

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If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.

59 Comments -

0 votes

Al Kamp

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.

0 votes

Matt Smith

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.

0 votes

Nicky Chaleunphone

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.

0 votes
0 votes

Truefire_

Yeah, StarCraft!

0 votes

Catherine McCrum

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

0 votes

Ted

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

0 votes

Tuhin

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

0 votes
0 votes

Doug Q

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

0 votes

Doug Q

Apologies, my comments were not appearing. :-(

0 votes

TuhinBagh

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

0 votes

Oron

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.

0 votes

Ben

Forget standard definintion TV!

0 votes

Oswaldo

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.

0 votes

Matt Smith

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.

0 votes

S.Vater

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

0 votes

Ben

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

0 votes

Bob

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.

0 votes

Matt Smith

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.

0 votes

Ron Skinner

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.

0 votes

Dave

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…

0 votes

Achraf Almouloudi

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

0 votes

muotechguy

Only HDTVs have HDMI.

0 votes

Kumar

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..

0 votes

muotechguy

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

0 votes

Kumar

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??

0 votes

muotechguy

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)

0 votes

Kumar

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

0 votes

Ravi Meena

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

0 votes

Doug Q

Yes you can. See my multiple comments above.

0 votes

Shane La Horie

Very informative and useful article.

0 votes

Eric Swank

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…

0 votes

Matt Smith

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.

0 votes

judy

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

0 votes

Matt Smith

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/

0 votes

judy richardson

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

0 votes

Keith

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.

0 votes

Robert Fuller

Hoe do I output from iPad 3 to tv?

0 votes

Keith

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.

0 votes

Ron007

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

0 votes

Matt Smith

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

0 votes

Sean Byrne

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.

0 votes

Don Pruitt

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?

0 votes

Don Pruitt

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

0 votes

Matt Smith

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.

0 votes

WBeager

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

0 votes

WBeager

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

0 votes

RPJ

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?

0 votes

Matt Smith

Well codecs shouldn’t have anything to do with your television or the connection. You have to install the proper codecs on your PC. Try using VLC – maybe it will play the files. http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/vlc-media-player-play/

0 votes

Dr.Pradip Sinha

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?

0 votes
0 votes

seru ibra

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)

0 votes

Irshaad Abdool

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.

0 votes

TwooshVidisha

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

0 votes

rama moorthy

nice article ..!

0 votes

MerVzter Balacuit

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

0 votes

Alex Perkins

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.