A simple connection stands between you and enjoying your favorite movie on the big screen or using a spare TV as a secondary monitor for work. Here are some tips for connecting your laptop to a TV using a cable or wireless connection.
Connecting to a TV with a cable
The most common type of connection for modern televisions is the HDMI cable, a digital standard that transmits video and audio. The older HDMI 2.0b standard has enough bandwidth for 4K 60Hz resolutions (with HDR signals), while HDMI 2.1 or better devices can do 4K 120Hz or 8K 60Hz (and more).
Many newer TVs are restricted to HDMI inputs as they have removed the analog circuitry required by older media. Fortunately, this type of output is common, and many laptops have either a full-size HDMI output or a smaller Micro HDMI port.
Fortunately, these ports can be used with Micro HDMI to HDMI adapters or cables that have both connection sizes.
microHDMI to HDMI
If your laptop doesn’t have an HDMI port, you may need to use an adapter like a USB-C to HDMI. This has been the case for many MacBook models since Apple fully embraced dongles in favor of ports before backing off with its 2021 MacBook Pro.
The other “common” connector of choice that has traditionally been used on televisions is the VGA connector. This older analog connection was once the connector of choice for computer monitors. Newer TVs won’t have this type of connection, and neither will newer laptops.
On an older TV, the VGA port is often labeled the “PC” input. If you have a newer laptop with an HDMI output, you can use an HDMI to VGA adapter or get a USB-C multiport adapter with VGA.
Since VGA only transmits video, no sound will be transmitted to the TV. There is very little reason to use VGA over HDMI, so go for HDMI whenever possible.
Multi-port USB-C hub
Connection is relatively simple once you have chosen your cable type. Simply plug your cable into your laptop and stick the other end into the corresponding port on your TV.
With your laptop on, turn on the TV and use the remote to switch to the correct input method (you’ll see it next to the port you used on the TV). You should see your desktop appear on the TV, although there may be other settings to change before things work as expected.
Set your viewing preferences
Please take a moment to set up your TV for correct resolution, orientation, and positioning. In Windows, you can go to Start > Settings > System > Display to see your display listed and change the resolution, orientation, and how the display behaves in the “Multiple Displays” drop-down menu.
If you don’t see your TV listed and nothing appears, click Detect and wait. Once your TV has been detected, you can set its positioning so that the screen appears in the correct position when you move the mouse.
On a Mac, you can do the same thing in System Preferences (System Settings) > Displays > Display Settings. Click on your TV as it appears in the sidebar, then choose a resolution, refresh rate, and change HDR mode if available.
You can change the position of your displays by clicking and dragging below the standard “Displays” preference pane.
Connect to a TV wirelessly
Wireless connections are more convenient because they don’t require cables. However, they sometimes provide an unstable experience. Bandwidth is limited on wireless connections, so picture quality and playback may be affected. Interference from nearby devices can also affect these connections.
On a Mac, you can use AirPlay to mirror your entire screen to an AirPlay device like an Apple TV (the set-top box, not the streaming subscription). Many new TVs already support AirPlay without the need for an Apple TV.
To make a connection, click the Control Center icon in the menu bar at the top of your Mac screen and select “Screen mirroring,” followed by the device you want to mirror to.
With the Chrome browser, you can also use a Chromecast with a Windows or macOS device to “cast” content from your laptop. This works with browser tabs, Chromecast-enabled sites, and Chromecast-enabled apps.
You can cast your entire Windows 11 desktop with a Chromecast, or stick with content like tabs and files.
Another option is to use WiDi from Intel or the open Miracast standard. The support depends on the TV you have. Some models connect by adding the TV as a Bluetooth device (depending on Samsung or Sony).
Microsoft has its own instructions for connecting to Windows 10 and 11 Miracast devices. The instructions involve using the “Cast” option that appears under the Network icon in the taskbar.
Use DLNA/UPnP for video content
If you’re trying to watch video content on your TV using your laptop, there may be a better way to do it than using cables or wireless technology like AirPlay or Miracast.
Streaming media over your local network using Digital Network Living Alliance (DLNA) or Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) is easy and should work fine as long as your network can handle the bandwidth.
Setting this up involves turning on media streaming in Windows settings or installing an app like Plex or Universal Media Server instead. You can also use media players like Elmedia Player to “cast” to receivers of your choice.
Install and configure your “server” to share specific folders, then access them on your TV over the network (often listed under “Input”). Most Wi-Fi enabled TVs from the last 15 years will support this streaming method.
Drawbacks of using a TV with your laptop
Televisions have the advantage of size compared to most monitors. They’re great for watching movies and playing games, and are ideal if you’ll be sitting a fair distance away. If you have a spare TV that you want to use, plugging in your laptop and watching YouTube or running some emulators is a great idea.
However, there are some drawbacks. For starters, a television is rarely an adequate replacement for a monitor. Pixel density is much lower on TVs, as the panels are larger and designed to be viewed from a greater distance. This means that you are more likely to be able to distinguish individual pixels when sitting close.
Text playback is also generally pretty poor on a TV compared to a monitor. This is due to the way sub-pixel layouts differ across TVs. Monitors are specifically designed to make text look sharp.
There’s also the issue of size, as many TVs require larger stands that take up a lot of desk space. Unless you can mount it on the wall, a large monitor (like an ultrawide) might be a better option.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule (LG now produces a 42-inch C2 OLED that works well as a monitor). But if you’ll be doing a lot of “monitor work,” like browsing the web or looking at spreadsheets, use a monitor instead.
Still want to buy a TV?
You should probably buy a monitor if your main concern is extending your laptop to more than one screen for productivity reasons. However, if you’re interested in getting a new gaming TV or want something to watch movies and other content while occasionally plugging in your laptop, check out our guide to buying a TV.
Once you’ve done that, take a look at our best TV recommendations, gaming TV recommendations, and budget TV recommendations to help you make an informed decision.