How to Connect Your Phone to Your TV With USB

Stream from an Android phone to TV with this hardwired solution

Person watching TV with their feet up

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There's a lot of upsides to our wireless world, but plenty of downsides too, and sometimes there's nothing like a wire. Here's how to connect a phone to your TV with a USB cable.

Why Connect a Phone to a TV With USB?

Wireless connections can have issues, especially when you're “casting” (wirelessly transmitting data) to a TV from your phone or tablet. The first issue is stability: Data hops from the internet, to your phone, to your router or to a separate casting device, to your TV, and back again, and adding one link to any chain, even if you're only going from two links to three, increases the odds of one of those links snapping. This is especially true of massively-multiplayer games or video calls with multiple connections.

Even if your phone and television communicate with each other directly, there's still problems. At root, all your phone and TV are really doing is communicating to each other with a radio. In some cases they're even communicating with each other through your router or similar internet connection advice. We've all heard what happens when two radio signals cross, and when your wireless connection drops, it's often for the same reason. If you have a cordless phone, for example, it may be scrambling your Wi-Fi.

Similarly, often your phone, your TV, and your router are all likely engaged in other tasks, even if those tasks are in the background. Just like your PC can unexpectedly experience demands on the part of other programs, causing problems elsewhere, any of the above technology can be overwhelmed by a sudden demand.

If all that weren't enough, you've got your battery to manage. While you can plug in your phone while casting, if you get wrapped up in a movie or deep into a game, you might forget until it's too late. Even if you remember in time, low battery may cause your phone to “prioritize” certain functions to keep itself on, which may degrade your connection.

All this adds up to stutter, lag, buffering, and other annoying problems. Plugging in a USB cable takes out a lot of this frustration. First of all, your device and your TV can share data directly, instead of relying on your router or a possibly disrupted direct wireless connection. Depending on the design of your television, it may provide power directly to your device. And instead of casting from your device through an intermediary such as your router or a device like the Google Chromecast, your TV will treat your device separately, like a game console or a cable box you've plugged into the TV.

How to Connect Your Phone to Your TV With USB

Essentially what we're going to do is plug in your phone so that your TV will treat it as another source of signal. This will feel familiar if you've ever hooked up a game console or streaming box to your TV. 

Before you do anything, though, read your TV's manual, if you have it. It should have a lot of useful information about the port, its location, and how to use it. If you've lost it, and can't find it online, don't worry, you'll be able to figure this out with a little hands-on interaction.

  1. Check your TV for a USB port. They're fairly common on modern flat screen televisions, but it's possible your current model of TV may not have them. If your TV does have a USB port, it'll usually be located with the rest of the ports, such as the HDMI cable. Look for a port marked “USB.”

    Don't assume it's going to be a standard “rectangle” USB. Look at the port itself, and make sure you have a cord that fits.

  2. Once you've found the port, plug in a USB cable that fits both your device and your TV's USB port, and connect your device to see if it begins charging. This is the most effective way to see if it'll charge your phone while you use it. 

    Avoid plugging in USB hubs and other extension devices into your television's USB ports. It may not be able to support them and may cause other problems. Consider getting a longer USB cord instead that will give you a little more access.

  3. Leaving your phone plugged in, look for the Source button on your TV's remote control. This may also be on the side of the TV, or available in the TV's menu under Source. Select the USB option.

  4. You should now see your phone's screen on your television. You're probably going to need to fiddle with your phone a bit to match it one to one. For example, if you want to watch a movie, you'll need to rotate your phone horizontally so the screen is filled. You may want to use a stand to keep your phone at its preferred orientation, or turn off Screen Rotation in your phone's settings.

What If My TV Doesn't Have a USB Port?

If your TV doesn't have a USB port, you can easily add one. Most TVs have several HDMI ports, and you can connect your phone via an HDMI to USB adapter. Simply plug in your phone to the USB side of the adapter, and plug in the HDMI end to a free port. Then set your TV to that port and keep going.

There are a couple drawbacks to be aware of:

  • It's unlikely that the USB connection will charge your phone, which means you need to watch your battery life.
  • The connection may not be quite as fast as the wireless connection. But it will probably be your best option.

What If My TV Doesn't See My Phone as a Source?

Some TVs are designed to view anything plugged into their USB as an external drive, like a thumb stick, even if they have their own processors. This means you may need to resort to an HDMI to USB adapter in this situation as well, so television will recognize the phone and the two devices can work together.