3 Ways to Display Your Raspberry Pi On a Monitor Or TV

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raspberry pi tv displayBack in the 1980s and 1990s, home computers didn’t rely on dedicated monitors to display operating systems, applications and games. In those days, things were far simpler. Instead of paying extra for a monitor, the majority of home computer and console owners were happy to use their televisions. It might seem odd now, but 30 years ago people thought little of ignoring TV programs to play video games.

For some, the situation hasn’t changed all that much, with games consoles often connected to the family TV. But as far as computers go, the PC model of a dedicated monitor was eventually widely adopted. It would be unusual to see a home PC connected to a television, even if it isn’t impossible.

If you think about it though, the option to connect to different types of display unit is pretty flexible. This must surely have been in the minds of the Raspberry Pi developers when they were deciding upon how their users might use the computer. Despite its modest dimensions, the Raspberry Pi supports three methods of visual output, enough to cover pretty much any domestic display unit.

What The Developers Say…

When I spoke to Raspberry Pi Foundation co-founder Eben Upton recently, he explained that the stripped down computer was borne from the spirit of the 8-bit era.

“It’s a very cheap Linux PC, device in the spirit of the 1980s, a device which turns your TV into a computer, plug in to TV, plug a mouse and a keyboard in, give it some power and some kind of storage, an operating system and you’ve got a PC.”

Three different connections are supported from the Raspberry Pi – HDMI, VGA and RCA. Yet the device only has two connections, HDMI and RCA – so what is going on? How do you connect a Raspberry Pi TV display?

It’s Got HDMI!

One of the most exciting things about the Raspberry Pi is that it comes equipped with a HDMI connector, meaning that anyone with a HDMI-compatible TV (which is the majority of people in North America and Europe) can easily connect the device to their living room television with an inexpensive cable.

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raspberry pi tv display

Of course these days, many families have televisions in ancillary rooms and bedrooms, many of which are flat screen devices usually equipped with a HDMI connector.

Along with the SD card and power supply, the HDMI cable is one of the most important pieces of equipment that you can use with your Raspberry Pi, which means that in theory you can connect it to a wide selection of televisions and even modern desktop computer monitors.

Sadly, not all televisions and monitors have HDMI connectors.

Using a HDMI To VGA Adaptor

In the event that your chosen display unit doesn’t have an HDMI connector, the first thing you should do is check whether or not it has a VGA connector – the D-shaped connector that has been commonly found on computer monitors for the past 20-plus years. If your monitor is VGA-compatible, then all you will need is a HDMI to VGA adaptor in order to use your Raspberry Pi with that device or cable type.

raspberry pi on tv

You will also need to make a small change to the config.txt file that Raspberry Pi uses when it boots.

Using a memory card reader on your desktop computer, insert the Raspberry Pi SD card and open config.txt in your preferred text editor.

Look for the following lines:

#hdmi_force_hotplug=1
#hdmi_drive=2

Both options need to be enabled, which you can do by removing the hash symbol and saving. These options enable VGA output through an HDMI adaptor and sets the screen resolution to a low 640 x 480.

If you want a higher resolution Raspberry Pi TV display, remove the hash symbols from the following lines:

#hdmi_group=1
#hdmi_mode= 4

You will also need to edit these two lines, changing hdmi_group to 2 and hdmi_mode to 16. Remember to save your changes before safely removing and replacing in your Raspberry Pi.

Display Output Using RCA

A third option for displaying output on the Raspberry Pi exists – the RCA connector. This is found on the opposite side of the device to the HDMI port, just next to the audio port.

raspberry pi tv display

Using a standard RCA cable you can connect your Raspberry Pi to any compatible TV or monitor (the vast majority of those produced in the last 25 years), although note that as soon as an HDMI cable is connected the Pi will switch to that output.

Depending on your screen resolution, you may need to alter the way in which the Raspberry Pi displays windows. This will affect you if the monitor has a low resolution, but by changing the overscan settings in config.txt you can configure the video output to suit your monitor.

Conclusion

The Raspberry Pi continues to be a remarkably flexible device, surprising users in so many different ways. I had mine for several weeks before I discovered the RCA port (to be honest, I was too busy playing with operating systems and software) and the news that HDMI to VGA adaptors can also be used is just another reason for anyone who doesn’t already own the Raspberry Pi to head out and buy one.

For more about the Raspberry Pi, please see our Unofficial Tutorial.

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Comments (31)
  • Flip Stuart

    @Marco – are you referring to the question about editing the config file on another computer? This can be done by simply sticking the pi’s sd card into another computer and opening the file as administrator. Then sticking it back into the pi.

    There are some simple adapters that combine vga and audio from hdmi. Just don’t go looking for them on aliexpress.
    Pimoroni, The Pi Hut. Adafruit, etc are the shops to find cheap plug and play solutions.

    As for RCA input, what is the problem? Always better to have more options, I’ve used it many times when not having an hdmi cable to hand, and if you can’t find a hdmi-vga converter, there are cheap RCA to vga adapters out there.

    As for USB to hdmi converters, best to keep it simple. Video over usb seems to be for selected devices, not a universal feature – very probably a no go on a simple device as the pi.

  • marco

    1) There were some days when C64’s and the like – basically toys, I had one and sold software for it – connected to televisions providing an absolutely cruddy and horrible signal. Atari’s, others, pretty much the same. OK for pong, not for anything serious. Today however, at least in the USA, a computer with anything at all that has an HDMI – OR – RCA input is almost nonexistent. Thus the author’s comments are not really very appropriate at all.

    2) The last comment, where the very realistic NOOB posts about chicken or the egg, I notice has not been answered by all the Pi would-be know it alls. It is a good question. Don’t you guys have any good answers? – Good question, mamazeb

    • Christian Cawley

      hey Marco. Could you clarify “Today however, at least in the USA, a computer with anything at all that has an HDMI – OR – RCA input is almost nonexistent. Thus the author’s comments are not really very appropriate at all.”

      How are the comments not appropriate?

    • Mike

      ‘a computer with anything at all that has an HDMI – OR – RCA input is almost nonexistent.’

      Isn’t that a video capture device that many of us have used (still use) for VCR tape capture.

  • Mamazeb

    Thanks for the article but it leaves me a bit confused. I’m a total newbie who has bought my son a Pi for Christmas. It will be connected to the only screen we possess, and that has only a VGA input. Questions:
    1) In the section above describing using a HDMI to VGA adapter, the pictures shows a female VGA port. But our monitor needs a VGA male connector. Is it just a case of also getting a VGA male-VGA male cable and connecting that from the HDMI-VGA converter to the screen?
    2) And will I need a converter which includes an audio output to carry the sound from the pi’s HDMI to the monitor’s standard female sound input?
    3) Or is there a better way to connect the Pi to our monitor? I’ve seen a few HDMI female-VGA male adapters on ebay but they seem scarce. Suggestions would be really appreciated… and finally,
    4) Assuming I can find the right hardware, will I be able to prior-edit the config.txt file on the NOOBS SD card that I’ve bought with the Pi? Presumably I need to do that on our computer first as until it’s done we won’t be able to see any output from the Pi in order to edit the config.txt, kind of chicken-egg problem – need to get the screen working so we can see to edit the file to get the screen working. TIA folks!

    • Mike

      1/ Most VGA cables I have come across are male at both ends as the monitor is usually a female connector as is the video card on a PC. You need to purchase a male to male VGA cable.

      2/ There are Audio ‘extraction’ boxes that will separate out the audio from a HDMI cable and output it to a 3.5 mm socket but they are HDMI in and out. I used it for a Tablet to a TV as I wanted the sound to go to a stereo amplifier. Perhaps the 3 pin jack socket with composite video and sound will still output sound if HDMI is used, but I haven’t tested this yet. On my tablet, if I use HDMI output the sound is shut off from the earphone socket and that was why I bought one of these boxes.

      3/ http://www.aliexpress.com/item/Free-shipping-wholesale-2PCS-lot-Active-HDMI-to-VGA-female-AV-converter-with-audio-power-supply/842414062.html?s=p has a HDMI to VGA but you need to check “2” above about the sound.

      4/ I’m a newbie on the PI so I can’t answer that yet.

    • Ross Potts

      A gender changer will work too and you want need to purchase another cable

  • wdwd

    Crack? Now there’s a throwback.

  • HL

    Talking about all this old hardware makes me remember the composit video to rf modulator so you could connect it using the antenna connector. Anyone tried that?

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.