How to Connect Your Computer to Your TV

Computer TV Cables

S-Video cables
S-Video cables

­If you read our article "How do I know which cables to use?" then you know there is a baffling number of audio/video cables on the market. You'll have to make some sense of the different types of wiring necessary to connect your computer to your TV. First you need to figure out what kinds of audio/video outputs your computer has and what kinds of audio/video inputs your TV has. If you're lucky, you'll find a match right away. But depending on the type of equipment you own, you may need to get creative.

First, let's talk about which cables you'd use to connect a computer to a standard-definition TV. The most common video inputs on an SDTV are composite, S-video and component video. On computers, the most common video output is S-video. On a desktop PC, you'll find the 9-pin S-video jack on your graphics card next to where you connect your monitor.

Some Windows laptops also have S-video-out jacks, but most have 15-pin VGA jacks for connecting to external monitors. Luckily, it's easy to find adapters and special cables that have VGA connectors on one end and S-video connectors on the other. Apple also sells a wide variety of adapters to connect Mac desktops and laptops to the S-video or composite jack on SDTVs.

Even if you have an old TV that only accepts coaxial video cable (the one-pin variety that's mostly used for cable TV and satellite connections), you can use something called an RF converter box that can convert S-video or VGA input into coaxial output.

For connecting a computer to an HDTV, it's the same story. The most common HDTV inputs are component video, DVI and HDMI. If your graphics card doesn't have one of these outputs, then you'll need to buy a special converter box or adapter. For example, if your computer only has a VGA jack and your HDTV only accepts HDMI, then you'll need to buy a small box that will convert the signal for you.

If you're serious about playing high-definition content from your computer on your HDTV, then you should upgrade to a graphics card with a DVI or HDMI output. Most newer Apple laptops come with a Mini DisplayPort video output that easily connects with the DVI or HDMI inputs on an HDTV.

All of the cables that we've mentioned so far are video-only cables, which means that you'll need separate cables to handle your audio. The easiest solution is to connect some computer speakers to your audio card's headphone or audio-out jack. If you want to use your TV's built-in speakers, then you'll need to buy a 1/8-inch stereo mini-plug-to-RCA cable.

For the best possible audio, you'll need to invest in an audio card for your computer with either an optical or digital coaxial audio output. These connections carry high-bandwidth digital audio signals using cables that can be plugged directly into your home theater receiver.

Even if you have the right cables and have done your homework about resolutions, you still might have some problems connecting your computer to your TV. In the next section, we'll share some troubleshooting tips.