Thursday, July 10, 2008

How to watch laptop on TV

Summary: Streaming videŠ¾s from your laptop to a TV set is easier than you may think.

Why would you want to hook up a laptop to a TV? No, watching YouTube videos on a big screen is not the best idea (the resolution of YouTube videos is too low for TV), but there are better reasons.

First, many TV shows are now available online in reasonable resolutions. You can stream such programs as Frontline and 60 Minutes (two of my favorites), along with many offerings from PBS, CBS, and other broadcasters. I bet you will enjoy watching your favorite show on the TV in the living room more than on the laptop in the office.

Say you are a proud TiVo owner, so catching up a missed episode of your favorite TV show is not your problem. But what about other video content, such as Netflix or Amazon Unbox video downloads? Wouldn't you prefer watching these on a laptop or a TV?

Or, maybe you borrow a movie on a DVD from a friend for a day, but do not have a chance to watch it. Instead of making a personal copy of the DVD (which is obviously illegal), you can rip it to an ISO file on your laptop's hard drive (you can use free DVD Decrypter, DVDFab HD Decrypter, or DVD Shrink for ripping DVDs). When you have time to watch the DVD, mount the ISO file to a virtual DVD drive and watch it as a regular DVD (for mounting ISO images, use free Daemon Tools or MagicDisc). When you finish the movie, unmount the virtual drive, and delete the ISO file. [While making unauthorized copies of copyrighted media is prohibited by law, I'm not sure if an ISO image, which has not been burnt to a DVD, can be considered a "copy", but law professionals may disagree. I'm rather sure that RIAA's lawyers would consider this a crime, but I doubt that they would pursue prosecution of such "offenses". Don't take my words, though, and use your own judgment to consider the risks.]

In case you wonder what the quality of the streamed video you should expect, it will largely depend on the quality of the video source. Regular YouTube videos will look awful on TV, but video content intended for viewing in the full-screen mode, such as PBS programs and ripped DVDs, should be pretty decent, although HDTV purists will probably be disappointed.

To connect your laptop to a TV, you need to get a proper cable (or cables). Regardless of the type of cable, it must be long enough. If you intend to place your laptop on the coffee table in the living room, make sure that the cable reaches from the laptop to the TV (Hint: a standard 6 feet A/V cables from a 99¢ Only store will probably be too short).

If you own a high-end (expensive) laptop and TV set, check if they have High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) ports; if so, you can connect them via an HDMI cable.

HDMI cables combine both video and audio signals, so you'll need only one cable. They support both high-definition and regular video. Normally, HDMI cables are expensive, but at the time of writing I found a 15 feet HDMI cable for $6 (plus shipping and handling) offered by MonoPrice*; a better quality cable - which you may or may not appreciate - can cost significantly more ($20-$40). If you decide to buy an HDMI cable, make sure you pick the right type (extra length may affect the signal strength in an HDMI cable, but again you may or may not notice this).

If you cannot use an HDMI cable, check if your laptop has an S-Video (also known as Y/C) port. Most laptops and TV sets support S-Video, so this is your most likely option.

S-Video connectors can have different number of pins, but 4-pin connectors are the most common; nevertheless, check your laptop's and TV set's S-Video sockets to make sure that you get the right connector (you will not be able to plug a 7-pin S-Video connector into a 4-pin S-Video port).

S-Video cables only transfer video signals; to pass audio from the laptop to the TV set, you will need to use a standard 3.5mm stereo to two RCA audio cable, such as this one.

You plug the 3.5mm jack on one side of the cable into the laptop's headset port and the two (red and white) RCA connectors on the other side of the cable into the TV set's RCA audio input sockets (make sure you do not get the cable with two RCA plugs on both ends by mistake). If you can, get both the S-Video and RCA audio cables of the same length.

If you do not want to mess with two different cables, check out an S-Video|3.5mm to composite|stereo combo cable, which connects laptop's S-Video and 3.5mm audio ports to the three RCA A/V sockets; this cable has the S-Video and 3.5mm stereo jacks on one side and three RCA plugs on another side (see example at MonoPrice).

If neither of the above-mentioned options work for your laptop and TV set, you should be able to connect them using an adapter (there are lots of audio and video adapters out there). A new service, WireWize (currently in beta), may help you figure out how to connect your devices. [I could not test WireWize, because it did not find the model of my TV, so your mileage may vary.]

Once you connect your laptop to the TV, you can switch video output from laptop's LCD to the TV. Most newer laptops will detect connection to an external display (such as a TV set) and show you a prompt to switch automatically (you can project output to TV only, or keep it displayed both on the laptop and TV). You can also change the display output settings via the system display properties or function key (such as Fn+F4, Fn+F5, or some other keys, depending on the laptop make and model).

In addition to changing laptop's video output display settings, you must also adjust the source of TV input (using TV's remote). Depending on the type of connection, it can be Video 2, HDMI 1, or something else (just flip through the options until you see the laptop's display).

TIP: You may find it handy to turn your laptop's screen saver off temporarily, while you are streaming video to the TV; otherwise, you will have to move mouse or press a key every time the screen saver kicks in. You can do it manually, but it will be easier if you use a free program Caffeine. After you stop video streaming, just stop Caffeine from the system tray.
If you're still not clear how to connect your laptop to TV, check the references below or watch the following short video:

See also:
How To Connect Your Laptop To Your Television
How to Connect a Laptop Computer To Your Television Screen
How to connect your Laptop/PC/Computer to your TV
How-to: Connect your PC to your television and stereo.
How can I connect my laptop to TV?
How to Connect a Laptop Computer To Your Television Screen
How to Change the Primary Monitor on a Laptop
How To Connect A Laptop To A TV

*Be careful: when streaming video, InTV displays SMS messages at the bottom of the screen which often contain obscenities (I could not find any way to block them).
**This and other links to hardware vendors in this article are not paid advertisements. I reference them because I purchased or intended to purchase the same or similar products from these vendors and found the prices, charges, and services provided by these vendors reasonable.


Anonymous said...

Great guide. But I recommend adding a few of these to your list of sites you can use to watch tv. - a couple hundreds of free working live tv channels. - real tv shows on demand. - free tv shows an alternative to hulu.

Alek Davis said...

Thanks, Masi. I've already included Hule. Never heard of 110mb. Will check it out. Tvshack too.

Anonymous said...

Great write up, especially for those less than tech savvy.. and Modern Feed was exactly what I was looking for. Has pretty much everything that's out there and legal and extremely handy for network TV lovers that don't want to dig through messy network pages individually. Thanks!

mikeintosh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

i agree

is ok...

but i agree with the last guy...

it has all the stuff hulu has plus some...

not to mention all the webseries i've found on there... clark and micheal, midwest teen sex show, which hulu or freetube doesnt really have that kind of content.

so if you're gonna go new media.... i would agree with guy who got his comment deleted.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I totally messed this up when I was buying my cables to link my computer to my tv. I bought like 4 cables, and I'm still missing one to make it work. I wish that I read this article, before I jumped on a friend's suggestion.

AND, to make matters worse. You just gave me all these new sites to not be able to watch on my TV.

A couple of these sites are really dope. Does Modern Feed have like everything? Oh, man. I can watch The Big Bang Theory. You can't do that on Hulu. I'm switching sites. Cool.

Alek Davis said...

Thanks for the feedback and suggestions, guys. I'll add TV Shack to the list. Looks like a pretty decent site.

Anonymous said...

If you like live tv to watch online for free you should check out the site has over 2000 live tv channels from all over the world. You can even make your own profile allowing you to add your own programs and create a list of your favourite channels to store for your next visit!!!!

Its amazing and completely free!!

Anonymous said... is currently in private beta but also a great way to track and watch your favorite shows and videos. Giving you guys 5 invites...hope you like it.
invite code: techno


Alek Davis said...

Thank you, mika. Will check it out.

marcia shern said...

Really wish i knew what happened to that site i loved it so much .No need to pay , just open and browse through your favorite movie.
Get ready to watch out an action cum adventure movie this summer. Amazing I watch a lot of TV and always find myself missing my favorite TV shows and movies because of school/work. I use to see missing tv shows and movies, we are talking about the much-awaited movie Shorts. A kids movie that even the adults would love to watch, Shorts is actually about children’s most outrageous fantasies.

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