How To Connect Your Computer To Your TV

If you know your technology, you probably know how to connect it to your television, but for those who are new to the frequently changing inputs and outputs there may be a bit of confusion about how it all works. Here's a look at the different kinds of cables and adapters you need to connect your computer to your television and how to use them.Check out the video above for a look at all the cables and what they do. Below you'll find a more in-depth explanation of the different types and what to do once you're hooked up.

The Different Types of Connections

HDMI

For some computers, this is a pretty simple process. HDMI is very common in both computers and televisions nowadays, so often times you can just connect directly with an HDMI cable. This will transfer both audio and video from your machine to your flatscreen. It's pretty much the easiest method, which is great if it's available to you. Both ports look identical, so you just need a standard HDMI cable to make the connection. In some rare cases your computer and/or TV will use mini HDMI, which — as the name suggests — is a slightly smaller plug than the standard HDMI cable. To make the conversion, you'll need a mini HDMI to HDMI cable. If you're just using regular HDMI, you'll only need a regular HDMI cable.

DVI (and How to Convert It)

Just like HDMI, DVI can be a digital cable — but it isn't always. There are different types of DVI cables, some which carry digital signals, some which carry analogue signals, and some which carry both. You can see the distinctions in the picture to the left. If you have a DVI port on your computer and a DVI port on your television, that doesn't mean any DVI cable will work. You'll need to identify the type of DVI port on both and get a cable that can accommodate it. Once you have that sorted out, you should be able to hook up your computer to your television without issue.

Conversion Sometimes you'll have a DVI port on one end and a different port on the other. When that happens, you'll need a converter. The most common conversions are VGA (addressed below) and HDMI (addressed above). VGA can sometimes be complicated because it is an analogue signal (whereas DVI is sometimes not). In many circumstances you can use a DVI to VGA adaptor. In the picture on the left, you'll see DVI-A and DVI-I ports. The DVI-A port provides an analogue symbol (A is for analogue) and the DVI-I port provides both an analogue and digital signal. Both of these can be converted to VGA without issue. If you have a DVI-D port (D is for digital-only), you'll need a more expensive DVI-D to VGA converter box in order to make the signal work. HDMI, on the other hand, is the opposite. So long as you have a digital signal (DVI-D or DVI-I) you can buy an DVI to HDMI adaptor.

The downside to both of these options is that you won't be transferring any audio. DVI and VGA are both incapable of supporting an audio signal, even if they're converted to HDMI (which does support audio). To get audio, you'll need to use a separate audio cable. Generally your computer and television will both have a 3.5mm audio port (it looks just like a headphone jack, and often is the headphone jack on your computer). Sometimes your television will even have a 3.5mm audio port accompanying an HDMI port for the specific purpose of hooking up a computer coming from a non-HDMI source (like DVI). If this is the case, you'll just need a 3.5mm audio cable with no conversion necessary.

Sometimes you'll find audio inputs in the form of RCA audio connectors, which are also known as composite connectors but are probably more familiar to you as the red, white, and yellow ports on your TV. The yellow port is for the video signal, but the red and white ports are for the audio signal. If your TV requires an RCA for the audio (red and white only), you just need a cheap 3.5mm to RCA connector converter.

VGA

A VGA cable looks like the one you see to the right, and isn't used as much anymore. It was a standard for quite awhile, however, so you'll run into it on older computers and even some newer ones as well. If your computer and TV has a VGA port, just buy a VGA cable and hook it up. Chances are you may need to convert it, however. The DVI section above will help you with converting a VGA cable to a DVI cable, but if you need to convert VGA to HDMI you'll run into some trouble. VGA is an analogue signal and HDMI is digital, so this conversion is more complicated (whereas DVI can swing both ways). However, you can accomplish this with a VGA to HDMI converter box.

Apple Computers

Apple has used several types of proprietary cables (or at least rare ones) for a long, long time. If you have a Mac, chances are you've seen a few ports you haven't seen anywhere else. Nowadays all Macs are standardised around Mini DisplayPort (pictured to the left). This port has also been combined with Thunderbolt (Intel's new super-fast data transfer technology) in some Macs to make a hybrid port. This can get kind of confusing, but if you have a Thunderbolt there's a good chance it's also a Mini DisplayPort. The problem is, most televisions do not have a Mini DisplayPort so you usually need to convert the signal. This can get particularly complicated because while Mini DisplayPort is capable of supporting an audio signal, Apple has yet to introduce support for Mini DisplayPort audio output in its machines. This problem is really only relevant when converting Mini DisplayPort to HDMI, however, and can be solved with a MiniDisplay Port plus USB audio to HDMI converter box. If you're converting to a cable type that doesn't support audio, you can just purchase a standard converter.

Mini DisplayPort is simply Apple's recent standard. While Apple used DVI ports on its iMacs, MacBook Pros, and Mac Pro machines for a while, Apple's MacBooks used a more compact solution. Earlier on MacBooks used Mini-VGA before switching to Mini-DVI. If you need to convert from either of these formats, you'll want to purchase a conversion cable from Apple.

What To Do Once You're Connected

In most cases, once you're connected, you should see your computer's desktop extended onto the television. To access it, you'll just need to move your mouse off the screen (often times it'll be the right side if you haven't done this before) to reach the part of your desktop that's on your TV. Of course, if you want to change the part of the screen that transfers over to your television or simply mirror the image on your computer, you'll need to alter some settings.

Windows

When you connect a new monitor to Windows 7, it should ask you what you want to do with it in a panel called "New Display Detected". This is your opportunity to adjust the settings as you please and turn on mirroring. If you want to adjust these settings again later, you just need to go to the Start menu and click Control Panel. When the Control Panel loads, click on Display. On the lefthand side, you'll see a few options. Click on "Change display settings." From there you'll be able to make changes as needed.

Mac OS X

To access these settings in Mac OS X, go to the Apple menu (in the upper-left corner of your screen) and choose System Preferences. Once System Preferences loads, choose Displays from the Hardware section. A new window should show up on your television with display options, but the one on your computer screen is the more relevant one. You should see a tab called Arrangement. Click it to view a panel with an illustration of your two screens. The one with the white bar on top represents the screen the currently has the menu bar. This is likely your computer and not your television. If you'd simply like to rearrange them, just drag one of the rectangles where you want it to be. If you want to mirror the image of your computer on the television, tick the box next to "Mirror Displays" in the bottom(ish) left-hand corner.


Comments

    While I appreciate apple is pretty cool, I'm not sure they warrant bolding half the post.

      It doesn't :) Fixed now (curse that missing backslash), thanks for pointing it out.

    Any ideas on connecting a VGA equipped netbook to a composite (red/white/yellow) and/or S-Video equipped CRT TV? Im wanting to use the netbook as an XBMC frontend

    This information is outdated. Apple has supported audio output through Mini DisplayPort since early 2010. iMacs, MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs, Mac Pros and Mac minis all support audio output through Mini DisplayPort.

      While I've never owned a Mac, I'm pretty sure you don't need to update your hardware every 18 months...

      So no, the information is not outdated, otherwise we'd just talk about connecting everything wirelessly through DLNA, now wouldn't we...?

        I'm pretty sure it is a software update - so if you have the port on an Apple you now have HDMI Audio & Video.

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