So you want to connect your computer to your TV?
Whether to watch a movie on the computer or use the TV as a giant computer screen, many people these days connect the computer to the TV. All that’s usually required is the right cord for video and the right cord for audio–but how do you figure out which is the right cord? This article describes all of the various plugs, connectors, and cords common in PCs, Macs, and TVs so you can find exactly what you need. It is not hard to connect your computer to your TV now days and even the most technically impaired person can do it.
Connect Your Computer To Your TV
Almost all Personal Computers (PCs) use either VGA or DVI video outputs. Increasingly common in high-end computers and high-end video cards are HDMI outputs. For audio, all PCs output audio on a 1/8-inch (3.5 millimeter) stereo jack, although some media-focused PCs may also output optical audio. Here’s how to tell what you have:
Video Connectors When You Connect Your Computer To Your TV
- VGA has been the most common connector in PCs since it was introduced in 1987. To identify it, look on the back of your computer for a blue-colored connector with 15 small round holes. If you don’t see one, turn off your monitor and unplug the cord where it connects with your computer. If you still don’t see one, then you use one of the few computers without a VGA port. (Usually computers without VGA are very small computers with limited space.)
- DVI is the new preferred format for PC video connectors. To identify it, look on the back of your computer for a grey or white-colored connector with three rows of eight square holes plus a thin line or cross-shape on one side.
- S-Video is common on some old high-end video cards. It’s a small round plug with four round holds and one larger rectangular hole.
- HDMI is the preferred format for most digital TVs, so you’re in great shape if you find one of these on the back of your computer. Unfortunately, there are three different types of HDMI plugs in common use–they all look like USB plugs but you can tell which they are by measuring them with a ruler:
- Type A plugs are 0.55-inch (14mm) by 0.18-inch (4.55mm). This is by far the most common type found on PCs and TVs. They’re slightly larger than full-sized USB connectors.
- Type B plugs aren’t used.
- Type C plugs (also called mini-HDMI) are 0.41-inch (10.42mm) by 0.1-inch (2.42mm). They’re slightly taller and thinner than a micro-USB connector.
- Type D plugs (also called micro-HDMI) are 0.25-inch (6.4mm) by 0.11-inch (2.8mm), making them smaller than a micro-USB connector.
You’re more likely to find the smaller HDMI plugs on a laptop or netbook. If you’re in doubt, consult the manual for your computer or graphics card to be sure.
Audio Connectors To Use When You Connect Your Computer To Your TV
If your computer includes an HDMI output and you use it, it should carry your computer audio for you. This is an easy way to connect your computer to your TV.
If you don’t use HDMI, every PC comes with a 1/8-inch (3.5mm) stereo audio output which can be converted to stereo RCA input for your amplifier/stereo-receiver using a $4 cable. For audio with more than 2 channels, you need a special sound card that outputs optical audio (called TOSLINK). Basic USB audio cards that support TOSLINK cost about $30.
Connect Your Apple Computer To Your TV
There’s a good chance you chose to buy an Apple computer for its innovative hardware–unfortunately Apple’s habit of pioneering hardware makes it difficult to figure out what you have just by looking at your computer. The good news is that Apple hardware is standardized, so you can look up the exact specifications of your hardware on Apple.com or sometimes in the Mac OS X hardware manager.
How To Find What Video and Audio Hardware You Have In Your Apple Computer
Finding out what video hardware you have is easy–go to support.apple.com and type into the search box the model of your computer plus the year number it was made and the word “specifications”. Click on the results page for your model and check the Ports column to see whether you have VGA, DVI, Mini-DVI, Micro-DVI, DisplayPort, or Mini-DisplayPort.
Look in the Audio column to see what audio options you have. Apple computers which support HDMI include the audio signal there. Almost all Apple computers come with a 1/8-inch (3.5mm) headphone jack; many Apple desktop computes also come with optical audio (TOSLINK).
Note, many Apple computers are not fully compatible with parts from PC computers. If you need to buy a part or a cord and there’s an official Apple product, we suggest you consider buying that. (Or that you buy regular PC parts for your Apple computer from a place with a good return policy.)
What Do You Need To Connect Your Computer To Your TV
The other half of buying cords is to make sure they fit your TV or amplifier. Here are the most common connectors:
- Coax Connectors are found on most TVs and may be your only option on older TVs. Coax connectors on your TV are metal screw plugs with a plastic middle and a single round hole.To generate a coaxial signal from your computer’s digital signal, you need a special piece of hardware called an RF modulator, which cost between $15 and $30. You will connect the modulator to your TV using coax cable and your computer to the modulator using S-Video. You also need to connect your computer audio to the modulator using a 1/8-inch (3.5mm) to RCA cord which costs about $4.If you live in the U.S. or Canada, I suggest buying an RF modulator from Radio Shack. The staff there can help you find exactly what you need.
- S-Video is found on most modern TVs. See the PC video section above for a description of what it looks like. Any computer can convert to S-Video, but S-Video only supports standard definition video, so it’s not a great option for high-definition TVs. S-Video does not carry audio signals, so you need to use a separate RCA or optical TOSLINK audio cord.
- DVI is found on some TVs. See the PC video section above for a description of what it looks like. It carries high-definition video but not any audio, so you need a separate RCA or optical TOSLINK audio cord.
- HDMI is found on all high-definition TVs. See the PC video section above for a description of what it looks like. It carries both audio and video signals, so you don’t need any additional cords if your computer can put both video and audio on the same cord. (If you use an adapter, you may need to use separate optical audio cords). This is the easiest way to connect your computer to your TV. See a picture of a HDMI output port.
Buying The Right Cords
After all that time identifying what hardware you have on your computer and on your TV, you’ll be pleased to know that buying cords is really easy. Just go on your favorite electronics website (I prefer Amazon.com) and type in what you need. For example: if your computer outputs DVI and your TV accepts HDMI, type into the search box, “DVI to HDMI cable“. Since we told you DVI doesn’t carry audio, you also need an audio cable from your 1/8-inch (3.5mm) computer stereo jack to your TV’s RCA jack, so also search for “1/8 audio to RCA cable”.
If you have any trouble finding the right cable when trying to connect your computer to your TV, I highly recommend you write down all of the different outputs on your computer and the inputs on your TV and go down to the nearest electronics store. Give the list of outputs and inputs to the staff and they’ll be happy to sell you exactly the parts you need to connect your computer to your TV.
Please feel free to comment below and share your ideas on how to connect your computer to your TV.