Thanks to the internet we’re never stuck for things to watch. Whether it’s entire seasons of Breaking Bad or the latest YouTube viral, there’s enough eye caviar to go with the eye candy out there.
Even if your TV is of the smart-variety and has catch-up apps there may be times when you’ll want to hook your laptop up to the big screen, to do some work, test run a presentation or maybe access newer catch up services (like Now TV) that perhaps aren’t available on your smart TV.
Depending on your make of laptop, tablet or phone there’s a number of ways you can get what you’re watching on your laptop or tablet on to your TV. Here’s our rundown of some of the more popular ways to do this.
How can I connect my laptop to my TV?
There’s a few quick and easy ways to hook your laptop up to your TV for some big screen action, some of them requiring cables, some of them relying on wireless technology. Either way, it depends on you having the same connections or software at both ends.
Using an HDMI Cable
This is by far the easiest way to connect your laptop to your TV.
HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) is a way of sending high definition video and audio to a monitor or TV screen Products with HDMI ports are common in today’s market, with practically every HD-ready piece of kit coming with one.
HDMI ports feature 19 pin holes and are trapezoid-shaped. They’re pretty easy to spot in amongst other connections. Sometimes they’re marked ‘HDMI’, making it even easier.
HDMI ports can be found on a large number of laptops like the Asus Zenbook UX51v and Samsung’s Ativ Book 9. Some devices don't - like Apple’s MacBook Air - but you can buy separate HDMI adapters.
If you’ve got an HD TV, it will have an HDMI port. They look like the one above and fit these cables:
Your TV set will probably have more than one HDMI connection and often now have at least three. Make a note of which one you’re going to use to connect to your laptop as you’ll need to select HDMI 1, HDMI 2, etc, on your TV remote.
Some smart TVs are even clever enough to intelligently rename ports with things like ‘Sky HD’ or ‘PlayStation 4’, so you won’t have to keep a mental tally of everything.
How much are HDMI cables?
The good news is that HDMI cables are cheap as chips these days. You can pick up a one metre HDMI cable from Poundland or should you need a bit more reach you can get three and five metre-long cables. For those with some serious leg room, there are 10 and 20 metre HDMI cables doing the rounds too.
Prices of HDMI cables can work out at roughly a pound per metre. Prices will go up if you want to splash out for premium HDMI cables (like this £30 three metre Nikkai HDMI lead from Maplin) but most that you’ll find on the shelves will suffice for what you want here.
What are the best types of HDMI cables?
Online debates about gold connections are worth the paper they’re printed on, and one HDMI cable is generally as good as the next - though dealers and some cinephiles will argue.
If you’re really concerned about quality, then look out for the thickness of the cable. An HDMI cable with a thick jacket will help stop any kinks and breaks in the cable which can negatively impact on picture quality.
Look for cables that are double-screened or double-shielded. Shielding protects the copper wiring inside from interference generated by other electrical appliances in the room.
Generally speaking, one HDMI cable is as good as the other. Don’t go for the bargain basement options if they look like they’ll break easily - that’s a false economy - but also don’t pay through the nose. If you’ve got cash to splash, there are better ways to show off.
I’ve connected my laptop to my TV with an HDMI cable but it’s not working?
The easy part is connecting your laptop and your TV. In most cases once you’ve done this and you’ve switched over to the correct HDMI channel, your TV should start displaying what’s on your laptop’s screen right away.
If it’s not working, there could be a number of reasons. You might need to tell your laptop that it's connected to the TV.
There are two ways of going about this.
1. Adjust Screen Resolution, Extend the desktop to TV
On Windows laptops, head to Control Panel and select Adjust Screen Resolution. Your TV should appear as a second monitor in this window. Select it and then click ‘Extend the desktop to this monitor’ and then click ‘Apply.’
The Windows desktop should spring into life on your TV screen and then you can simply drag a new browser window from your laptop onto the TV, as if you’d connected a second monitor to your laptop (which is essentially what you’ve done).
2. Press Fn + F8
If you have trouble getting this to work, then try pressing the Fn (Function) button and F8. This toggles you between using just the laptop screen, both screens or just your TV screen.
If it’s not showing on your TV screen, check that your TV is tuned to the correct HDMI port. If you are, try both these options again as they may not work first time.
Check that you’re up to date
Also ensure that your laptop is up to date, you’ve installed all the newest updates and drivers. Head to your laptop manufacturer’s website to check for any new drivers which you might need.
As well as this, check that you’ve installed any updates to your laptop’s graphics card - if it’s made by Nvidia or ATI then it should be visible on the case of your laptop.
If this doesn’t work, then check that the HDMI cable is fully connected at both ends. It sounds silly but more often than not, a laptop failing to display on a TV screen is down to the connection not being 100 per cent in on either port.
My laptop and/or my TV doesn’t have an HDMI port. What else is there?
VGA for video, with phono (RCA cables for sound
On older laptops you might not have an HDMI port, but you may have a VGA (Video Graphics Array) port (see below). Most TVs sets also come with VGA inputs in the back, meaning you can easily hook up your laptop to your TV this way.
As with HDMI, you’ll need to get your laptop to detect the second display once you’ve connected it.
Unlike HDMI, VGA only carries video to another monitor, not sound as well. So unless you don’t mind having the sound only coming out of your laptop speakers, you’ll need a separate cable for sound.
1) Using a 3.5mm Stereo-to-phono audio cable: AKA headphones to red and white
Your TV set should have two stereo connections in the back that are red and white - these are phono connections (Americans call them RCA connections).
Using a stereo-to-phono audio cable, you can connect your laptop (via the headphones/stereo socket) to the TV (through the two red and white connections) to get sound coming out of the TV speakers.
Stereo to RCA cables are dirt cheap, costing around £5-£15.
Image credit: Belkin.
2) Using 3.5mm audio cable
Another option to get sound from your laptop to your TV is to use a simple 3.5mm audio cable and connect the laptop’s headphone socket (see above) to the equivalent on the back or side of the TV.
Use VGA for video, plug some portable speakers into your laptop
Another workaround would be to plug some portable external speakers into your laptop for a sound solution. If you’ve already got some chunky picnic speakers like the Nokia Play 360 Speakers (£80) or iLuv Boom Cubes (£20 - below) then put them to good use in the living room.
You can even use Bluetooth, which will save you trailing another cable from your laptop to your TV, and allow you to place the speakers exactly where you want them.
If you want something with a bit more power and portability, we suggest looking at the Bose SoundLink Mini (£170) and the Bayan Soundbook X3 (£250). Check out our recent round-up of wireless Bluetooth speakers for more info.
Cables are messy, go wireless
Admittedly, any cable/wired option is going to be messy - HDMI is the neatest solution on offer here as you’ve got sound and video all going through one line to your TV set. The VGA plus phono/stereo option provides twice as much cable mess.
Either solution however will see you limited by the length of the cable. This isn’t ideal if you’ve got a large living room and you want to kick back on your sofa to watch something. Which is why you might want to consider a wireless option.
How can I wirelessly connect my laptop to my TV?
There's a handful of ways in which you can do this, either by using built-in wireless technology or by connecting some kind of wireless sender and receiver units to your laptop and your TV. Here's our rundown of the easiest and most common ways:
WiDi - Intel-powered laptops and PCs
WiDi (also known as Intel Wireless Display) is a feature available to laptops running on Intel processors. Similar to Bluetooth on phones, WiDi is short range wireless transmission which lets you pair your laptop with a TV screen.
WiDi fully supports 1080p HD video, so it’s ideal for watching movies streamed to your laptop on your TV.
In most cases to get WiDi set up you’ll need a WiDi adapter which plugs in to an HDMI port on your TV.
Once you’ve got your TV set up, it’s just a case of opening the WiDi program on your laptop, following on-screen instructions and then pairing with your TV. After that one-time set up, all you need to do to activate WiDi is to simply click the desktop widget and your TV should instantly mirror your laptop’s screen.
WiDi adapters like Belkin’s ScreenCast TV sell for around £45 on Amazon. An HDMI cable isn’t included so you’ll need to fork out extra for one of these. Bearing in mind the adapter just needs to sit beneath or next to your TV (think of it as a mini set top box), you shouldn’t need a particularly long HDMI lead.
In the case of Toshiba’s 2012 range of smart TVs, WiDi tech is already present in the TVs themselves, so you don’t need to sacrifice an HDMI port or fork out for any extra leads or adapters.
WiDi is a feature available to Windows 7 laptops and PCs running 2nd generation Intel Core processors. Note that in some cases if your laptop was made before 2012, then it won’t work with the newest WiDi adapters out there.
WiHD aka WirelessHD
WiHD (or WirelessHD) is an alternative to WiDi. It pretty much does the same thing in that it lets you share whatever’s on your laptop screen on your TV, over a wireless connection.
Signals from a compatible laptop are sent over the air to a receiver unit that’s plugged in to the HDMI port of a TV, as is the case with IOGear’s wireless HD products (£280).
WiHD/WirelessHD is also built into a number of laptops like the Asus G73JW and G53 notebooks, and Dell’s Alienware Alienware M17X R3.
Manufacturers who have signed up to the WiHD Consortium include LG Electronics, Panasonic, Philips Electronics, Samsung, Silicon Image and Sony, so expect to see WiHD-compatible laptops and TVs from these companies. Somewhat confusingly, Intel and Toshiba are members of the WiHD Consortium as well.
As if to confuse things a little more, there’s yet another standard to remember - Wireless HDMI. Not to be confused with WiHD, Wireless HDMI doesn’t come built into laptops or TV sets.
It’s a way to stream HD video to a TV set with HDMI from any other device with an HDMI connection, like your Xbox 360, a Blu-ray player - or your laptop.
Image credit: eBuyer
Using Wireless HDMI you’d plug a sender unit into your laptop, and one into your TV. Line of sight is required for this to work because the high frequency signals are easily blocked by walls, furniture and even too many bodies, so you’d have the receiver unit standing up on the TV stand, or, if the dimensions allow it, propped up on top of the TV, Nintendo Wii sensor bar-style.
Devices like the high-end DVDO Air (above) can do this and are also capable of wirelessly streaming 3D video. So if you’re an enthusiast of all things three dimensional and you’ve got a 3D smart TV, then this could be the droid you’re looking for.
The DVDO Air transmitter can connect to your laptop via HDMI, after which it will beam HD and 3D video to the DVDO Air receiver, which is plugged into your TV (again via HDMI). Between sender and receiver you’ve got a 10-metre effective range. On top of that, the DVDO Air receiver can also pick up signals from WiHD-compliant laptops.
The StarTech Wireless HDMI (£160) works on a similar principle. While it can’t support wireless 3D video transmissions it handles standard 2D HD (720p and 1080p) video perfectly and has a range of 55 meters instead.
What else do I need to know?
There’s also many ways to stream from your phone or tablet to your TV. So if you’ve got access to Netflix, iPlayer or Now TV on your Samsung Galaxy S2 or iPad then you can stream this to your TV too. We’ve compiled a separate guide on how to do this.