How to Display Windows Desktop On A TV Using Chromecast

Cast movies and more to your big screen

Hooking a PC up to a television used to be a pain. But, there’s now a far easier way to see a lot of content from your PC on a TV: Use a Chromecast.

The instructions in this guide are compatible with any recent version of Chrome.

Why Cast?

Google’s $35 HDMI dongle is an affordable alternative to set-top boxes like Apple TV and Roku. Primarily, it allows you to view all kinds of content on a TV, including YouTube, Netflix, video games, and Facebook videos.

But the Chromecast also helps you put two basic items from any PC running Chrome onto your TV: a browser tab or the full desktop. This feature works with the Chrome browser on any PC platform that supports it including Windows, Mac, GNU/Linux, and Google’s Chrome OS.

What is Casting?

Casting from laptop.
Google, inc. 

Casting is a method of sending content wirelessly to your television, but it works in two different ways. You can cast content from a service that supports it like YouTube, which is actually telling Chromecast to go to the online source (YouTube) and fetch a particular video to play on the TV. The device that told Chromecast to do that (your phone, for example) then becomes a remote control to play, pause, fast forward, or choose another video.

When you cast from your PC, though, you are mostly streaming content from your desktop to your TV over a local network with no help from an online service. That is very different, since streaming from a desktop relies on the computing power of your home PC, while streaming YouTube or Netflix relies on the cloud.

The difference between the two approaches and why they're important will become obvious when we discuss streaming video later on.

How to Check If Your Chromecast and PC Are on the Same Network

A wireless router in a living room.
Igor Ovsyannykov / Getty Images

Before you do anything, it’s important to make sure both the Chromecast and your computer are on the same WiFi network. While each PC has its various quirks for discovering which network you’re on, here are some general steps you can take:

  1. Look for the WiFi icon on your desktop (in Windows it’s on the lower right and in Mac the upper right). Select it and look for the name of the WiFi network.

    Wi-Fi status in Windows 10 screen
  2. To check the Chromecast, open the Google Home app on your phone, which is required to manage the device.

  3. Look for the nickname of the Chromecast and tap it. Tap the gear icon for Settings.

  4. Make sure the name under WiFi matches the network your PC is connected to.

    Chromecast, Gear icon, Wi-Fi network in Google app for Android

How to Cast a Chrome Browser Tab

Now that you're sure your Chromecast and PC are on the same WiFi network, let’s cast a tab from the Google Chrome web browser.

  1. Open Chrome on your computer, and navigate to the website you want to display on your TV.

  2. Select the menu icon (three horizontal dots) in the upper right corner, then select Cast from the drop-down menu.

    Cast menu in Google Chrome
  3. A small window will appear with the names of any cast-friendly devices on your network, such as a Chromecast or Google Home smart speaker. Before you pick your device, though, press the downward facing arrow at the top, then the small window says Select source.

    Chromecast selected in Cast options menu in Google Chrome
  4. Choose Cast tab, then select the nickname of the Chromecast.

    Cast tab option in Google Chrome
  5. When it’s connected, the window will say Chrome Mirroring along with a volume slider and the name of the tab you’ve got open.

Look up at your TV and you’ll see the tab taking up the entire screen — though usually in letterbox mode to keep the viewing ratio correct.

Once a tab is casting you can navigate to a different website and it will keep displaying whatever is on that tab. To stop casting, just close the tab or click on the Chromecast icon in your browser to the right of the address bar — it’s blue. That will bring back the Chrome Mirroring window we saw earlier. Now click Stop in the lower right corner.

What Tab Casting Works Well For

Casting a Chrome browser tab is ideal for anything that’s mostly static, such as vacation photos stashed in Dropbox, OneDrive, or Google Drive. It’s also good for viewing a website at a larger scale, or even for displaying a presentation PowerPoint online or Google Drive’s Presentation web app.

What it doesn’t work as well for is video. Well, kind of. If you are using something that already supports casting, like YouTube, it will work just fine. But that’s because the Chromecast can grab YouTube directly from the internet, and your tab becomes a remote control for YouTube on the TV. In other words, it's no longer broadcasting its tab to the Chromecast.

Non-Chromecast supporting content, like Vimeo and Amazon Prime Video, is a little more problematic. In this case, you're streaming content directly from your browser tab to your television. To be honest, this doesn’t work well. It’s barely watchable, because you have to expect short stutters and skips as part of the bargain.

It’s easy for Vimeo fans to fix this. Instead of casting from a PC tab, use the service’s mobile apps for Android and iOS, which do support Chromecast. Amazon Prime Video doesn't currently support Chromecast, however, you can get Prime Video on your TV via other streaming devices like Amazon’s $40 Fire TV Stick or Roku.

How to Cast Your Desktop

Displaying your entire computer desktop on your TV via Chromecast is very similar to displaying a single browser tab.

  1. Select the three vertical dots in the upper right corner of Chrome and choose Cast. The window will pop-up in the middle of your display again.

  2. Press the downward facing arrow and select Cast desktop, then choose your Chromecast’s nickname from the device list.

    Cast desktop option in Google Chrome Cast menu
  3. After a few seconds, your desktop will start casting.

  4. If you have a multi-monitor display set-up, Chromecast will ask you to choose the screen you want to display. Choose the correct screen, select Share, and after a few seconds the correct display will appear on your TV.

When you cast your entire desktop, your computer’s audio comes along with it. If you don’t want that to happen, either turn off whatever audio is playing on your desktop—iTunes, Windows Media Player, etc.—or turn down the volume using the slider in the Chrome Mirroring window.

To stop casting the desktop, select the blue Chromecast icon in your browser, and when the Chrome Mirroring window appears select Stop.

What Desktop Casting Is Good For

The Windows desktop.

Like casting a browser tab, casting your desktop works well for static items like a slideshow of photos saved to your hard drive or a PowerPoint presentation. And, like with casting a tab, casting video isn’t great. If you want to play a video on your television using something saved on your TV, either hook up your PC directly via HDMI or use a service built for streaming video over your home WiFi network such as Plex.

Casting Services Like Netflix, YouTube, and Facebook Video

YouTube video screen

Not a ton of services support native casting from the PC version of the web to the Chromecast. This is because a lot of services have already built it into their mobile apps on Android and iOS and haven’t bothered with laptops and desktops.

Regardless, some services do support casting from the PC, notably Google’s own YouTube, Facebook, and Netflix. To cast from these services, start playing a video and with the player controls you’ll see the casting icon—the outline of a display with a WiFi symbol in the corner. Select that, and the small window appears once again in your browser tab. Select the nickname for your Chromecast device, and the casting begins.