How to Connect a Laptop to Your TV

Three young people playing with laptop, in a hotel
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Laptops have their place, but nothing beats learning how to connect your laptop content to a big-screen TV for viewing vacation pictures, watching the latest movie, browsing the web, and playing games.

You may already have a smart TV that is capable of interacting with your laptop via Wi-Fi, but if you don't, you still have wired and wireless options to connect your laptop to a TV. The methods involve some setup challenges.

Displaying Digital Images on TV

With a digital camera or video recorder, you can create multimedia image files and store them on your PC. Showing these images to others can be inconvenient when your computer screen is small and located in a private room of the house. Sharing your laptop screen on a television allows you to show them at a larger size and in a more comfortable location.

You can connect a computer to a TV either with cables or with a wireless connection. The best method to choose depends on the types of connections your TV supports and your budget for purchasing additional hardware.

Watching TV on the Computer

You may also be interested in watching television programs on a computer. This is possible with the right wired or wireless equipment installed. Some TV broadcasts are accessible directly via the internet, and no connection to a television is required. People who own digital video recorders (DVRs) may prefer to connect their computer to the DVR rather than the television directly.

Connecting Computers to TVs With Cables

Televisions do not usually support Ethernet cable connections. Instead, you connect your laptop or desktop PC to a TV using one of the following types of audiovisual cables:

  • S-Video
  • HDMI
  • DVI or HDMI-to-DVI
  • VGA
  • Thunderbolt

For example, most TVs made in the last 10 years have a high-quality HDMI port. So do most computers. You just need an HDMI cable to connect the computer to the TV.

Tip: Connect the cable to the TV before you turn on the laptop. Otherwise, it may not recognize the external display.

A scan converter is a device that translates the computer's video signal into standard TV formats. You may need to set up a scan converter to connect your computer and TV if, between them, the two do not support any compatible combination of AV cable technologies. Newer televisions usually support multiple types of digital inputs, which makes finding the right cable easy.

Making Wireless Connections Between Computers and TVs

As an alternative to a wired connection, you can also use any of several different methods to set up wireless connections between computers and TVs:

  • Some smart TVs support Wi-Fi.
  • For the many televisions that do not support Wi-Fi, you can install a separate unit between the computer and TV. Wireless dongles, sometimes called digital media receivers or wireless PC-to-TV systems, plug into a TV's HDMI port and enable Wi-Fi. These internet connectors include Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV, and Apple TV, among others.
  • Older PCs can be installed with Windows Media Center Edition (MCE), which supports streaming to your television in addition to receiving television on the PC via TV tuner cards and shared across a home network using Media Center Extender products like the Linksys DMA2100.

Pros and Cons of Connecting Computers and TVs

Networking computers and TVs provides the most convenient sharing of multimedia images:

  • Does not require connecting a digital camcorder or camera to the TV
  • Can make the necessary connections with either Windows, Mac, or Linux computers
  • With Media Center Extender or similar capability, can direct content from any home computer to the TV

You may also encounter a few challenges and limitations:

  • The screen resolution of older TVs is much lower than modern computer displays. Your images and video may appear in lower quality when shown on the television.
  • When using AV cables, you may need to relocate the laptop or PC near the television to reach.
  • When using wireless connections, the effective range may be relatively short, depending on the equipment in use, due to the high volume of data involved in digital media.
  • Necessary hardware, especially the more advanced wireless gear, may be expensive to purchase.