The Right Way to Hook Up Your Laptop to a TV
It’s much more than just a plug-and-go operation.
WE’RE ALL STUCK at home, and that glorious new 65-inch OLED TV is right there. But if you want to use that big screen to watch video from an obscure service, play a PC game, or just Zoom with your family without everyone huddling around a 13-inch laptop, your set-top streaming device won’t get you too far. You have to connect that laptop to your TV. It can be a challenge, but we’re here to help.
Chromecast, Apple TV, and other streaming devices let you show your computer’s screen on the TV wirelessly— just don’t expect awesome results. It’s great for displaying photos or mirroring browser tabs, but it can get choppy when you start trying to push hi-def video or games through the connection. For high-bandwidth streams, you need a hard cable connection. There are so many connection standards that finding the right cable (or dongle) is likely the most difficult part of the process. Here are the most common display connectors you’ll see on today’s laptops:
HDMI: Modern HDTVS use this port to receive video and audio over one cable. If you have an HDMI port on your laptop, the easiest (and cheapest) way to connect the two is to borrow the HDMI cable from your streaming box or game console.
Similar to HDMI, you’ll find these on a lot of modern computers, but you won’t find it on your TV, so you’ll need an adapter.
USB-C: If you don’t see any other display ports on your laptop, you may be able to connect a display through its USB-C port, which is oval and smaller than regular Usb—check the manual to find out.
Once you suss out the port situation, fire up Amazon and search for “-TO-HDMI cable” or “-toHDMI adapter,” filling in the port type.
DIAL IN THE DISPLAYS
OK, you’ve got your cable, but for the best-looking image, you may need to make some tweaks. Plug your computer into your TV. After you choose the right HDMI input, you should see your desktop or login screen appear on the TV. If it’s blurry or pixelated, it may be scaling your laptop’s screen image to fit; if your TV isn’t displaying all your windows, it’s probably treating your TV as a second monitor. Here’s how to adjust these settings:
Windows: Right- click the desktop and choose Display Settings. Scroll to the Multiple Displays dropdown—you can choose to mirror the screens (not recommended), extend the laptop’s display to the TV, or show your desktop only on one screen. At the top of this window, click the square that corresponds to your TV, then scroll down and make sure Display Resolution is set to 1920 x 1080 for 1080p TVS or 3840 x 2160 for 4K models.
Mac: Head to System Preferences > Displays and click on the Arrangement tab. Here you can check the Mirror Displays box, or uncheck this option to extend the desktop across both screens. If you choose to mirror the image on both screens, go to the Display tab, open the Optimize For dropdown, and select your TV from the list.
TWEAK YOUR TV
Even after you’ve dialed in your displays on the computer, you may still find that some things don’t look right. Grab your TV remote, open up the settings, and check a few things:
Turn off overscan: If your TV is cutting off the edges of your desktop, look for an Overscan, Screen Fit, or Aspect Ratio setting and play with the options until the desktop looks right. This can differ a lot from TV to TV, so Google your model if you aren’t sure how to fix it.
Turn on PC mode: Some TVS may have a setting for connecting a Pc—even if you don’t see it, you might be able to access it by changing the input name to “PC.”
Match the colors: This is an entire can of worms deserving of its own article, but essentially, you want to make sure your TV and computer are both set to the same color space, either Limited or Full RGB. If they don’t match, the picture will either be too dark or too washed out. TVS use Limited out of the box, and some may have a setting for Full RGB—IF yours does, turn that on. If you don’t see that option, change your laptop to Limited to match your TV. Your devices should now be on the same page—until the next time you upgrade.