Your computer used to be for work and internet browsing, your TV screen for entertainment. Now, you’re just as likely (or more so) to watch movies and TV shows on your laptop or desktop (think Netflix, Amazon Prime or HBO Go), as on your TV. This can be great for portability and flexible watching, but it’s not great if you end up with a group of friends huddled around a tiny screen. Fortunately, there are a number of ways that you can view your computer screen on your TV. The basic choice is between wired and wireless.
The advantage of using a wireless connection to link your computer to your TV screen is that there won't be any awkward wires lying around waiting to trip you up. You also won’t have to clamber round the back of your TV to find the right port. On the other hand, wireless connections can be tricky to setup and usually have a higher latency than wired options
To use Google Chromecast, you’ll have to be browsing or using Google Chrome. First, you need to install the Chromecast Cast extension onto your Chrome browser on your laptop, desktop, or notebook. Then, you can buy the inexpensive Chromecast device online for about $35. Plug the Chromecast into the back of your HDTV so that it can pick up the signals from your computer. With Chromecast enabled, you can now ‘cast’ the content of a particular app or web page, a browser tab, or your entire desktop to your HDTV. Chromecast is easy and inexpensive to set up, but once it's running, it's still pretty clunky. It doesn't just automatically send all your local media to the TV screen. Instead, you'll have to enter the path of each file into Chrome and then stream it individually.
- Unhandy to operate
- Slow streaming speed
- Only works with Chrome browsers
Apple’s AirPlay Mirroring wirelessly connects your laptop and your TV screen, but is only compatible with Apple devices. You'll need to purchase an Apple TV box (around $60), which plugs into the back of your HDTV. Once you enable AirPlay Mirroring on your Mac or iPad, you can send the contents of your device straight to the Apple TV box which sends it to your HDTV screen. AirPlay Mirroring is only available on Apple devices that run iOS 10.8 or higher.
- Fast streaming
- Inexpensive Apple TV box
- Only compatible with Apple devices running iOS 10.8 or above
Most new Intel-based laptops come with WiDi technology to stream content to your HDTV. WiDi stands for Intel Wireless Display. If your HDTV is also WiDi compatible, then you’ll have a very easy time of it. Just enable the WiDi settings on both devices and start streaming straight to your TV screen. Some TVs come with Apple's open screen Miracast technology embedded in it. This can receive content from your Windows or Android laptop, tablet, or phone as long as the device has WiDi technology. If your TV doesn’t come with WiDi, you can buy a set-top WiDi or Apple Miracast Apple TV box for about $50. There’s nothing you can do if your device doesn’t have WiDi, though.
- No wires and no installation
- Inexpensive TV box
- A lot of lags on a WiDi connection
- Only suitable if your device comes WiDi enabled
Wired connections have been uniting computers and TV screens since time immemorial, or at least for several years. Wired connections are faster and compatible with more devices. They are usually cheaper, as well. However, wired connections do force you to stay tied to the screen and run the risk of tripping you up.
The cable you use to connect your laptop to your TV screen depends on the ports available on each device. The simplest way is with an HDMI cable, which is compatible both with most HDTVs and most laptops and costs about $7. Once it’s plugged in, your screen view should automatically flip over to your TV screen and adjust to the right size. If it doesn’t, it’s an easy matter to open your computer’s display settings and adjust the resolution and screen display to fit your TV screen. Many new and thinner laptops have a mini-HDMI port instead of a full size one. That just requires you to buy a mini-HDMI to HDMI adapter or a miniHDMI to HDMI cable for about $3.50 or $5 respectively. If your laptop has a Mini DisplayPort instead of an HDMI port, you can also buy a cable or adaptor for around $9 that lets you connect it to your TV’s HDMI port, and it will all work smoothly. The other possibility is that your TV screen doesn't have an HDMI port. Older TVs can have VGA or DVI connections instead. This is a little bit more complicated since you'll have to buy an adaptor to connect the HDMI cable from your computer to the TV screen. VGA and DVI connections also don't transmit audio, only video. If you want to use your TV’s speakers – and you probably do – you’ll have to add another cable connecting your computer’s audio output port with the TV’s External Audio or Audio In port.
- Faster streaming with a wired connection
- HDMI cables are cheap and readily available
- Wires can get in your way and prevent mobility
- If your TV needs a VGA or DVI cable, the adapters and extra cables can be cumbersome and awkward to plug in
There is one more way to view your laptop or desktop screen on your TV, and that’s by using a wireless HDMI box. A wireless HDMI kit plugs into the HDMI port on your computer and wirelessly transmits your content to the TV screen. You might need to plug an HDMI receiver into your TV as well so that it can receive your content. This solution isn’t recommended since it carries the worst of all the worlds. An HDMI kit costs around $200, you’ll have the annoyance of having wires dangling out of your laptop, and you’ll also have the lower latency of a wireless solution.
- Easy to setup and configure
- Cumbersome HDMI box gets in the way
- Streaming speed has slight delays
What’s the Best Way for You to Connect Your Laptop to Your TV?
Only you can answer this question. The best way to connect your computer and your TV screen depends on various factors like what ports are available on your computer, whether WiDi technology is already installed on your device, and how much it matters to you to have a super high-speed, lag-free experience. You might even answer this question differently depending on whether you are gaming, entertaining, or chilling alone. Now that you're familiar with the pros and cons of 5 ways to connect your computer and your TV, you can make your own best decision.