How To: Use your TV as a com­puter mon­i­tor

SARAH JACOBSSON PURE­WAL re­veals how to trans­form your tele­vi­sion into an ex­tra dis­play for your PC

Tech Advisor - - How To -

Acou­ple of months ago, I took a good, hard look at my dual-screen setup and thought maybe I should get an­other mon­i­tor. A big­ger mon­i­tor. Then, after an hour or two of re­search­ing 27in mon­i­tors on­line, I walked into my liv­ing room and was struck with a bril­liant idea: maybe, in­stead of pur­chas­ing an en­tirely new mon­i­tor, I should just move my 32in HDTV into my of­fice and call it a day.

Big­ger is bet­ter, you know, and this way I wouldn’t have to drop a cou­ple hun­dred pounds on a new piece of equip­ment. But just be­cause HDTVs look a lot like com­puter mon­i­tors doesn’t mean they can re­place them. Or does it? Here’s what you need to know if you’re think­ing about stick­ing an HDTV on your desk.

Will it work?

The short an­swer: yes, although you may need a spe­cial ca­ble de­pend­ing on what type of in­put/out­put ports you’re work­ing with. All mod­ern HDTVs have HDMI in­puts – some older HDTVs have DVI in­puts in­stead – and some have VGA in­puts for ‘PC use’. If your graph­ics card has an HDMI out­put, you’re good to go: Just use an HDMI ca­ble to con­nect your PC to your HDTV. If your graph­ics card only has DVI out­puts, I sug­gest snag­ging a cheap HDMI-to-DVI ca­ble (like the one pic­tured op­po­site, £5.29 from y9y­d­tua3) and plug­ging it into your HDTV’s HDMI in­put. Although some HDTVs (and some graph­ics cards) have VGA in­puts/out­puts, this is not the ideal choice – it’s an ana­logue sig­nal that will give you a fuzzier, low­er­res­o­lu­tion im­age than an HDMI or DVI sig­nal.

If you’re set­ting up your HDTV as a sec­ond or third mon­i­tor, you may need to use your PC’s Dis­playPort out­put, in which case you can pur­chase a Dis­playPortto-HDMI converter (like this one) and plug into your HDTV’s HDMI in­put. The main ad­van­tage to con­vert­ing from Dis­playPort is that HDMI and Dis­playPort both carry sound as well as video – if you use DVI or VGA, you’ll need to con­nect your PC’s sound to the HDTV or to ex­ter­nal speak­ers sep­a­rately.

Be­fore you start us­ing your HDTV as a mon­i­tor, you need to fig­ure out whether your graph­ics card/ in­te­grated graph­ics is ca­pa­ble of out­putting at the res­o­lu­tion of the HDTV. To do this, you’ll first need to find the res­o­lu­tion of the HDTV by con­sult­ing the man­u­fac­turer’s man­ual. Be aware that some HDTVs have non-stan­dard res­o­lu­tions. Then, find your graph­ics card’s max­i­mum res­o­lu­tion by go­ing to Con­trol Panel > Dis­play > Change dis­play set­tings > Ad­vanced set­tings > List All Modes. Find the res­o­lu­tion that matches your HDTV and se­lect it.

Will it look good?

Maybe, but this de­pends on a num­ber of fac­tors, in­clud­ing what you want to use your HDTV mon­i­tor for. Most rea­son­ably priced HDTVs top out

at 1080p, or 1920x1080 res­o­lu­tion. On a 15.6in lap­top screen, the Win­dows desk­top at 1080p looks pretty good from a cou­ple of feet away. On a 32in HDTV screen… not so much.

What’s im­por­tant here is pixel den­sity, or the num­ber of pix­els packed into one square inch of the screen. A 15.6in lap­top screen has the same num­ber of pix­els as the 32in HDTV screen, but the lap­top has a much higher pixel den­sity (141.21ppi) than does the HDTV (68.84ppi). Thus, the lap­top’s screen will ap­pear clearer, sharper, and more de­tailed than the HDTV’s screen when viewed from the same dis­tance. The im­por­tance of pixel den­sity de­creases with view­ing dis­tance; that’s why the iPhone’s Retina screen has a den­sity of 326ppi, while the MacBook Pro’s Retina screen has a den­sity of just 227ppi.

What this means for you is that a larger but less pixel-dense HDTV screen will dis­play text, icons, and im­ages as blurry and dif­fi­cult-to-read if you’re sit­ting at a nor­mal view­ing dis­tance – a cou­ple of feet – from your com­puter.

If you plan on us­ing your HDTV mon­i­tor to do any­thing other than watch Net­flix or play games, you’ll want an HDTV with a higher pixel den­sity (I like to shoot for at least 80ppi, which means no larger than a 27in screen at 1080p) for com­fort­able view­ing. Or just hang it on the wall rather than plop­ping it on your desk.

When it comes to gam­ing, if you want to use your HDTV mon­i­tor to play games, there’s an­other fac­tor you’ll need to take into con­sid­er­a­tion: in­put lag.

In­put lag is the de­lay be­tween move­ment you make on your in­put de­vice (in this case, your mouse) and

what dis­plays on your screen. While many com­puter mon­i­tors pri­or­i­tize min­i­mal lag times, many HDTVs do not, and pri­or­i­tize (laggy) video pro­cess­ing in­stead. But those ex­tra mil­lisec­onds will def­i­nitely make a dif­fer­ence when you’re play­ing a high-stakes FPS.

Dis­playLag has a pretty good data­base of in­put lag times that you can sort by dis­play type – you want to pick an HDTV with a lag time of no more than about 40 sec­onds. If you run in to in­put lag prob­lems while gam­ing, try ac­ti­vat­ing your HDTV’s ‘Game mode’ set­ting if one is avail­able.

Is it worth it?

If you’re look­ing to get the best bang for your buck, an HDTV isn’t nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to save you money over

a mon­i­tor. In fact, if you’re pur­chas­ing a new dis­play, I rec­om­mend stick­ing with the tried-and-true com­puter mon­i­tor. For one thing, smaller, cheaper HDTVs are typ­i­cally 720p res­o­lu­tion, not 1080p, while sim­i­larly priced mon­i­tors will al­most al­ways be 1080p. So if you’re look­ing for some­thing un­der 27 inches, an HDTV will prob­a­bly be more ex­pen­sive and lower-res­o­lu­tion.

If you’re look­ing for some­thing larger than 27 inches, re­mem­ber that pixel den­sity de­creases with ev­ery few inches you gain, and there’s a rea­son HDTV-mak­ers sug­gest sit­ting sev­eral feet away from their dis­plays. If you need a dis­play that will mul­ti­task as an up-close work/email dis­play as well as a movie/en­ter­tain­ment dis­play, you’ll want some­thing with a high enough pixel den­sity that text won’t be a pain to read.

There is an ideal sit­u­a­tion in which the HDTV-as­mon­i­tor shines, though.

If you want to add an ex­tra dis­play to a sin­gle- or multi-dis­play setup for en­ter­tain­ment – say, so you can watch Net­flix or Twit­ter while you write ar­ti­cles, or so you can play Skyrim on a 60in screen – then an HDTV can be a very ca­pa­ble mon­i­tor re­place­ment. Bonus points if you hap­pen to have an ex­tra HDTV ly­ing around, or if you can pick one up for cheaply.

HDMI to DVI ca­ble

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