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How to Watch Your PC on a TV

By Bryan Lambert - September 6, 2009

Pull Quote 233Many people have purchased large screen flat panel televisions over the last few years and one of the cool by-products of having an HDTV is many will have a plethora of inputs that will allow you to view your desktop computer quickly and easily right on your television. Some of the geeky pleasures of having the ability to output your computer to a TV are showing off videos or photos on the big screen, and using it as a very large work or gaming screen. In this Tech Tip, we are going to look at some quick and easy methods for viewing your computer's output on your television (these tips work great for projectors as well).

What you will need:

The quick, cheap and basic way to get a computer to show up on a TV is to plug it in. If you have a desktop pc, you may be able to use the cable that you have right now going to your monitor. If you have a notebook computer, you’ll need to buy an additional cable(s).

Here’s the common inputs you’ll see:

This is the tried and true connector that we have seen on computers, well almost forever. This is the connector that nearly every HDTV will have. Sure you may not get the resolution you need, and it can’t play back protected content (think Blu-Ray movies), but it is quick and simple to use.

Some computers have it, some don’t – but S-Video is also a quick and easy way to get the computer screen working on the TV. The nice thing about S-Video is that it will many times work on standard resolution TVs if you still have one hanging around (the resolution is not that good, but it's a nice way to show off pictures).

DVI Cable
DVI is a terrific format to use, not only because it can support very high resolutions, but also because it can support full resolution HDCP protected content (High Definition movies such as found with Blu-Ray). Because the signal is digital (VGA isn’t), you also tend to get a much better looking picture than you would than with VGA. The cable can cost more, and it doesn’t carry audio (you’d need a separate audio patch cable for that), however the next cable on our list does.

HDMI Cable
For hooking a computer to an HDTV, this is definitely the way to go for many people because it's one cable that carries both video and audio, it supports HDCP protected content and high resolutions, and is relatively inexpensive. One drawback is that while many laptops have an HDMI connector, many desktops do not – so you’d need to add that port yourself (usually through a video card upgrade).

Some companies, such as IOGear also offer wireless solutions for both video and audio. Wireless tends not to support the higher resolutions, but can be alot of fun to use.


Some common caveats to look out for:

  1. You need to go into your video card “control panel”, use a function key or go into the video card properties to set up the computer for “dual monitor use” if you have a laptop or are leaving your main monitor connected if using a desktop. For TV display, most people just choose to “mirror” the display (same image appears on both monitors).
  2. Unless you are using HDMI, you’ll need to run a separate audio cable for audio through the TV.
  3. The highest resolution you can display is what can be supported by both the TV and the video card (it is just like a big monitor after all).
  4. For Blu-Ray protected content, you’d need to set your output to the HDTV only – it will not usually display on both TV and monitor (you may also need to set the audio out to SPDIF for Blu-Ray movies to get the audio on the TV as well).
  5. Some laptop computers tend to “lose” the audio capabilities of HDMI when using drivers not designed for the unit (even if it is a “recommended” update from your computer automatic updates).
  6. You may need to “play” with the TV’s aspect ratio to make the computers output “fit” properly to the TV screen.
  7. Be sure that you set the source on your TV to match the input you are using on the computer.
  8. Make sure that the cables are plugged in all the way – it’s really easy for a cable to slip out “just a little”.

In Conclusion

roomWhether you want to show off some photos in a slide show or use your Entertainment PC for use as a Blu-Ray player, hooking up your computer to a HDTV is a great way to use your HDTV to its full capability. So fire up the PC, plug it in and let the fun begin!

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