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How to connect a laptop to a TV - VGA, HDMI, mirroring, overscan problems and more

Michael Passingham
12 Mar 2016
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We show you how to connect your laptop to your TV to enjoy videos and more on the big screen

If I asked you where you keep your photos, videos and music, the answer, for most people, would be on the computer. Likewise, if I asked how you got access to new music and watched TV and films, the answer would most likely be via a streaming service on a computer. This shift to digital media has been brilliant, giving us access to everything we could want from our computers, but there's be times when you don't want to look at everything on the small screen of the laptop, but want to view everything on your big-screen TV, particularly if your don't have a smart TV with the latest apps. So, how do you hook your laptop up in the most convenient way?

The easiest way is to hook your laptop up via a cable, turning your TV into a giant monitor. It does mean that your laptop has to sit quite close to the TV and you need the right outputs on your computer and right inputs on your TV. So, the alternative methods could be the best bet. To help you, I'm listing all of the ways that you can achieve your goal (HDMI, VGA and mirroring using a Chromecast), explaining all of the problems that you might face and, most importantly, how to fix them

Using HDMI

HDMI is the obvious place to start. Practically any TV from the last 10 years will have an HDMI port, and this is the primary way to get video and audio from an external source such as a DVD player or set-top box. If your laptop has an HDMI port, you simply need an HDMI cable to connect the two.

What you'll need: HDMI Cable

Extend or duplicate?

When connecting your laptop to a TV, usually you'll see an exact copy of what's on your laptop's screen on your TV. But did you know you can have two entirely different images? This is especially handy when you want to watch something on your big screen but carry on surfing on your smaller laptop screen.

To do this, right-click on your Windows desktop and select 'Display settings'. Click the 'Identify' button, which will tell you which display Windows recognises as your TV, and then click on the drop-down list under 'Multiple displays'. Click on 'Extend desktop to this display'. Using the diagram at the top of the window, you can drag your monitors around to your liking. Wherever you place the TV on the diagram will be where you'll need to move your cursor to in order to access this TV. For instance, if you place the TVabovethe laptop screen on the diagram, you'll need to move your cursor to the top of the laptop screen in order for it to appear on the TV.

Problems connecting laptop to TV with HDMI

Poor image quality

If the picture on your TV looks fuzzy and indistinct then it's probably outputting the wrong resolution. Most modern TVs have a 1,920x1,080 resolution but older sets might be 1,280x720 or 1,366x768, while new 4K TVs are 3,840x2,160. Find out the resolution of your TV from the manual, if you have it. If not then you'll simply have to work it out manually.

In Display Settings (right click on the desktop again, if you closed this already), select your TV, and choose Advanced Display Settings. Here you can change the resolution from the drop-down list, there will be a 'recommended' resolution but it may not be correct, try the resolutions listed above in order and see if they improve things. If you choose a resolution that isn't supported by your TV it will simply go black, just use your laptop display to select the next one.

Mouse appears laggy on the TV

If you're seeing a large amount of input lag on your TV when you move the mouse on your laptop, this isn't a fault but instead a symptom of modern TV's reliance on image processing. Most newer TVs have some form of image processing, which delays the output of an image onscreen in order to enhance colours, reduce noise and generally make things prettier. This isn't a problem when watching films and TV shows because you're not interacting with them, but when you're moving a mouse, you expect an instant response.

Many newer TVs have a way to reduce input lag, usually called 'Game Mode'. Consult your TV's manual to find out how to enable Game Mode. This will disable most of the TV's image enhancement options and significantly reduce the lag. The best modern TVs have slimmed down the lag to the tiniest fractions of a second, but older sets without 'Game' modes will still have problematic lag for competitive gaming. A gaming monitor will perform better, but by how much really depends on your TV.

See our best monitors to buy in 2016

Overscanning/underscanning

In the days of CRT TVs, the picture positioning wasn't always very good. To combat this, TV was broadcast at a larger size than could fit on the screen: if the image was then mispositioned, you wouldn't end up with black bars.
Modern LCD TVs don't have this problem, but both them and your PC may be configured to adjust for overscan automatically. This may result in part of your desktop being off-screen (overscan) or a black border around everything (underscan).
To fix the issue, you should make sure that your TV is set to display a 1:1 pixel mapping; this may be the name of the option or you may be able to turn overscan off.
Your laptop may still be causing problems, so you may need to fix the issue here. Depending on the age of your laptop, this can be fixed by changing settings in your graphics drivers.The most common graphics adapter on budget laptops is Intel HD Graphics, but depending on the age of your laptop these instructions will vary. If your laptop only has an Intel sticker on it, it's likely you have Intel HD Graphics. To check the type of graphics you're running, right-click on the Start Menu and select 'Device Manager'. Then expand the 'Display Adapters' menu. In here you should see either Intel, AMD or Nvidia graphics. If you see Nvidia or AMD, you may also see Intel listed, too, but for these purposes, you should follow the instructions below for Nvidia or AMD first. If that doesn't work, follow the instructions for Intel HD Graphics.

Overscanning in Intel HD Graphics

The example here is on the very latest version of Intel HD Graphics, but the version installed on your laptop may appear different or may not even have the options described below. Right-click anywhere on your desktop (not on an icon for a file or program) and select Graphics Properties. In the General Settings tab, click on the 'Select Display' drop-down menu and change the option from 'Built-in Display' to one labelled 'Digital television' or something similar. Then, find the 'Scaling' options and select 'Customise Aspect Ratio'. On the sample image to the right, you'll be given two sliders, one to squash the image vertically and another for horizontal. Use these sliders until you're satisfied you can see the whole of your screen on your TV - most probably setting them both to 100%.

Overscanning in AMD Catalyst Control Center

To open AMD's software, search for AMD Catalyst in the Start Menu and open the program. Click on the My Digital Flat-Panels menu on the left and then select 'Scaling Options'. Using the slider, you'll be able to adjust the size of the screen to fit your TV. Click Apply when you're satisfied with your adjustments, most likely a 0% overscan setting, on the far right of the slider.

Overscanning in Nvidia Control Panel

To adjust your settings in Nvidia's software, search for 'Nvidia' in the Start Menu and open Nvidia Control Panel. Go to the Display tab on the left and select 'Adjust desktop size and position'. Next, click on the Size tab and tick the 'Enable desktop resizing' tickbox.

Click resize and adjust your width and height options until the four arrows match the corners of your TV. When you're done, click on 'Change resolution' under the Display menu on the left, then select the resolution of your TV, either 1,920x1,080, 1366x768 or 1,280x720.

Using VGA

If your laptop doesn't have an HDMI port, it probably has a VGA port instead. These are normally blue in colour but some are black, as shown below. Some older TVs have a VGA port, meaning you just need a VGA cable to connect your laptop to your TV. Some will also have a dedicated audio input, usually a 3.5mm jack next to the VGA port, so you can use that instead of your laptop's speakers.

What you'll need: VGA cable,3.5mm audio cable(if your TV Has a 3.5mm input)

Using a VGA to HDMI converter

If your laptop only has a VGA output and your TV only has HDMI inputs, all is not lost. VGA to HDMI converters are available for around £15 and while they are a little clunky to use, they are capable of combining a 3.5mm audio output and VGA output into a single HDMI signal.However, you may not get the best image quality and responsiveness from such an adaptor.

What you'll need :VGA to HDMI adapterHDMI cable

Use a Chromecast

The solutions above are great if you're on a budget, but for around £30 you can buy a Chromecast, which is a much better long-term solution if you only want to mirror content from YouTube and other online video sources to your TV. See our full Chromecast guide for more information.

What you'll need: Google Chromecast

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