How to Connect a Laptop to a TV

A simple connection stands between you and watching your favorite movie on the big screen or using your spare TV as a secondary monitor for work. Here are some tips for connecting your laptop to your TV using a cable or wireless connection.

Connecting to the TV using a cable

The most common type of connection for modern TVs is the HDMI cable, a digital standard that carries both video and audio. The older HDMI 2.0b standard has enough bandwidth for 4K at 60Hz (with HDR signals), while newer HDMI 2.1 devices or better can do 4K at 120Hz or 8K at 60Hz (and more).

Many newer TVs are limited to HDMI inputs because they have ditched the analog circuitry required by older media. Fortunately, this type of output is common, many laptops have a full-size HDMI output or a smaller Micro HDMI port instead.

Fortunately, these ports can be used with Micro HDMI to HDMI adapters or cables that have both connection sizes.

If your laptop doesn’t have an HDMI port, you may need to use an adapter like USB-C to HDMI instead. This is the case with many MacBook models, as Apple fully embraced dongles in favor of ports before backing off with its 2021 MacBook Pro.

Another “regular” connector traditionally used on televisions is the VGA connector. This older analog connection was once the connector of choice for computer monitors. Newer TVs will not have this type of connection and neither will newer laptops.

On older TVs, the VGA port is often labeled as a “PC” input. If you have a newer laptop with HDMI output, you can use an HDMI to VGA adapter or get a USB-C to VGA multiport adapter instead.

Since VGA only transmits video, no audio will be transmitted to the TV. There are very few reasons to use VGA over HDMI, so go with HDMI if possible.

Connection is relatively simple once you choose the type of cable. Simply plug the cable into your laptop and plug the other end into the appropriate port on your TV.

With the laptop turned on, turn on the TV and use the remote control to switch to the correct input method (you’ll see it next to the port you used on the TV). Your desktop should appear on the TV, although some other settings may need to be changed before everything works as expected.

Configure your display preferences

Take a moment to configure your TV so that the resolution, orientation and placement are correct. In Windows, you can go to Start > Settings > System > Display to view the screen list and change the resolution, orientation, and how the screen works in the “Multiple displays” drop-down list.

If you can’t see your TV and nothing appears, click Detect and wait. Once your TV is recognized, you can adjust its location so that it appears in the correct position when you move the mouse.

On a Mac, you can do the same in System Preferences (System Settings) > Displays > Display Settings. Click on your TV as it appears in the sidebar, then select your resolution, refresh rate and toggle HDR mode if available.

You can change the position of the displays by clicking and dragging under the standard “Display” preferences panel.

Wireless connection to TV

Wireless connections are more convenient because they don’t require any cables. However, they provide an unstable experience at times. Bandwidth is limited with wireless connections, so image and playback quality may suffer. Interference from nearby devices can also affect these connections.

On a Mac, you can use AirPlay to mirror your entire display to an AirPlay device like Apple TV (a set-top box, not a streaming subscription). Many new TVs already support AirPlay without the need for an Apple TV.

To create a connection, click the Control Center icon in the menu bar at the top of your Mac’s screen and select “Screen Mirroring,” then the device you want to mirror to.

You can also use Chromecast with a Windows or macOS device to “cast” content from your laptop using the Chrome browser. It works with browser tabs, Chromecast-enabled websites, and Chromecast-enabled apps.

You can cast your entire Windows 11 desktop with Chromecast, or stick to content like tabs and files instead.

Another option is to use Intel WiDi or the open Miracast standard. Support depends on what TV you have. Some models connect by adding the TV as a Bluetooth device (according to Samsung or Sony).

Microsoft has its own instructions for connecting to Miracast devices with Windows 10 and 11. The instructions include using the “Cast” option that appears under the network icon on the taskbar.

Use DLNA/UPnP for video content

If you’re trying to watch video content on your TV using a laptop, there may be a better way to do it than using cables or wireless technology like AirPlay or Miracast.

Streaming media over your local network using Digital Network Living Alliance (DLNA) or Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) is easy and should work fine if your network can handle the bandwidth.

This setup includes turning on media streaming in Windows settings or installing an app like Plex or Universal Media Server. You can also use media players such as Elmedia Player to “send” to the receivers of your choice.

Set up and configure your “server” to share specific folders and then access them on your TV over the network (they often appear in the “Input” list). Most TVs with Wi-Fi in the last 15 years or so will support this streaming method.

Disadvantages of using a TV with a laptop

Televisions have a size advantage compared to most monitors. They’re great for watching movies and playing games, and they’re ideal if you’re going to be sitting a good distance away. If you have a spare TV that you want to use, it’s a great idea to hook up your laptop and watch YouTube or run a few emulators.

However, there are some drawbacks. For starters, a TV is rarely a suitable substitute for a monitor. The pixel density is much lower on TVs because the panels are larger and designed to be viewed from a greater distance. This means you’re more likely to be able to make out individual pixels when you’re sitting close.

Text rendering is also generally pretty poor on a TV compared to a monitor. This is due to how the subpixel layout differs on TVs. Monitors are specially designed to make text look sharp.

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