How to Connect a Laptop to a Projector

Use a projector as a secondary or mirrored display with your laptop

What to Know

  • Plug an HDMI cable into your laptop and the projector (using an adapter if necessary), then turn on the projector and open the lens.
  • Open the display settings on your laptop and adjust as necessary.
  • Use mirror display to project your desktop, or extend display for the projector to act as a second monitor.

This article explains how to connect a laptop to a projector to project the desktop or use it as a second monitor.

Do You Need an Adapter to Connect a Laptop to a Projector?

Depending on the ports available on your laptop, you may or may not need an adapter. Most projectors include an HDMI input port, so you probably won’t need an adapter if your laptop has a full-sized HDMI port. The same is true if your projector has a VGA input and your computer includes a VGA port. In most other cases, you’ll need an adapter.

Here are the types of ports your laptop is likely to have and an explanation of the adapter you’ll need to obtain, if any:

  • HDMI Port: If your laptop has a full-sized HDMI port and your projector has the same type of port, you won’t need an adapter. HDMI is the easiest way to connect a projector to your laptop.
  • Mini HDMI Port: Also known as HDMI type-c, these are functionally identical to HDMI, just much smaller. You can use a cable with HDMI on one end and HDMI type-c on the other or an adapter.
  • DisplayPort: These are more commonly on desktop video cards, but your laptop may have one. If it does, then you can either use an HDMI-to-DisplayPort cable or an HDMI-to-DisplayPort adapter.
  • USB-C: If your laptop uses USB-C to output video, you’ll typically need to buy a dock that includes an HDMI port or a USB-C to HDMI adapter. Some projectors do support USB-C video input, though, in which case you can connect your laptop directly to the projector via a USB-C cable.
  • VGA: This is an older video connector that is limited to a resolution of 640x480. If your laptop and projector both have VGA ports, you can connect them with a VGA cable and no adapter. However, you will also need to use an alternate method to send sound from your laptop to the projector, as VGA does not transmit an audio signal the way HDMI does.

How to Connect a Laptop to a Projector

To connect your laptop to a projector, you’ll need the laptop, the projector, a cable, and any necessary adapter, as outlined above. Once you’ve gathered all those items, here’s how to hook everything up:

  1. Turn on the laptop.

    A laptop that has just been turned on.
    Jeremy Laukkonen / Lifewire 
  2. Plug an HDMI cable, adapter, or VGA cable into your laptop.

    An HDMI cable plugged into a laptop.

    Jeremy Laukkonen / Lifewire 

    If using an adapter, also plug an HDMI cable into the adapter.

  3. Plug the other end of your cable into the projector.

    An HDMI plugged into a projector with a laptop in the background.

    Jeremy Laukkonen / Lifewire 

  4. Turn on the projector.

    Turning on a projector that's plugged into a laptop

    Jeremy Laukkonen / Lifewire 

  5. Remove the projector cap, and open the projector lens.

    Opening a lens on a projector

    Jeremy Laukkonen / Lifewire 

    Your projector may not require this step. If the projector immediately projects an image on the wall after being turned on, you can skip this step.

  6. Your projector is now ready to use, although additional configuration may be required.

    A projector hooked up to a laptop.
    Jeremy Laukkonen / Lifewire

If you haven’t set up your projector yet, the image may be blurry. Make sure the image is clear before you proceed.

Customize Your Projector Display From Your Laptop

While your projector should be ready to use, you may find it isn’t displaying the right image, the image is distorted, or it’s showing your main desktop when you want it to act as a separate display.

Check out how to connect a Mac to a projector for macOS-specific instructions.

Here’s how to customize your projector display:

  1. Press Windows key + P to bring up the Windows 10 projection menu.

    The Windows 10 Projection Menu
  2. Select the projection setting you prefer.

    The Windows projection menu with extend selected.
    1. PC screen only: Your projector will not work.
    2. Duplicate: Your projector will show the same thing as your laptop screen.
    3. Extend: Your projector will act as a second monitor. You may need to change your display settings if the image is stretched or squashed.
    4. Second screen only: Your laptop screen will shut off, and the projector image will act as your main screen.
  3. Check to make sure the projected image looks right.

  4. If the projected image is stretched or squashed, click Start > Settings.

    Settings highlighted in the Windows 10 start menu.
  5. Click System.

    System highlighted in the Windows 10 settings menu.
  6. Click the display that represents your projector.

    The number 2 display highlighted in the Windows display settings.
  7. Adjust the scale until the projected image looks right.

    Adjust the image scale
  8. You are now ready to use your projector as a secondary or mirrored display.

FAQ
  • Why is the laptop not connecting to the projector?

    It might sound obvious, but check your cable connectors and adapters and make sure they're secure and in the right ports. If the cable looks worn or defective, try a different one. Also, make sure your laptop is set up to display on an external monitor.

  • What are projector headlights?

    Originally found only in luxury vehicles, projector headlights use high-intensity discharge (HID) and LED bulbs that are far more powerful than the ones found in traditional reflector headlights. Every projector headlight includes a bulb, a reflector, a shutter, and a lens.

  • How do you set up a projector?

    First, set up your projector by finding a good location for your projector and screen. Then, connect all of your devices and power them up. Once everything is up and running, optimize your picture quality by setting a default aspect ratio, tweaking picture settings, and adjusting audio.

  • What is a short throw projector?

    A short throw projector is generally one that casts its image three to eight feet away. The image is about 100 inches, where larger projectors typically create images of up to 300 inches. This makes it a good choice for smaller rooms that don't have a lot of screen space.

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