How to Use a TV as a Monitor for a Laptop

by Jeff Grundy
Modern laptops require no special software or drivers to use a regular television as a secondary display.

Modern laptops require no special software or drivers to use a regular television as a secondary display.

In the early days of laptops, the machines were little more than advanced word processors or calculators that also allowed owners to play simple games. As years passed, though, the laptop has not only shown it is capable of performing more advanced computing tasks but also that it can replace many commonly used media and entertainment devices such as stereo systems, game consoles and even televisions. While a laptop allows you to do many productive and entertaining things, the relatively small size of most notebook displays may make the computing experience less than it might be if you used the larger screen on your television. Modern laptops allow you to enhance your computing experience by connecting the notebook to your TV to view applications, games and movies in a larger format.

Determine the best type of cable or adapter to use for connecting your laptop and TV. If you have a newer laptop and television, both devices may have HDMI ports. If they do, HDMI is the best method for connecting the computer and TV as the protocol supports HDTV and digital audio signals over a single cable. If you have an older laptop or TV without HDMI support, you may have to connect with a DVI or VGA cable. DVI also supports high-definition resolutions but unlike HDMI does not transmit audio signals on the same cable. Conversely, VGA delivers an analog-only video signal and does not support high definition or resolutions higher than 800 by 600 pixels. VGA also requires you to use a separate audio cable. If you are not sure of the type of connectors or interfaces available on your laptop and TV, you can usually identify them by their appearance and color. A VGA video port usually has a blue collar around its pins, while a DVI interface typically has a white one. HDMI does not use color-coding but instead looks very much like a large USB port.

Purchase a cable adapter if the video port on the laptop does not match the video-in connector on your TV. You can purchase simple adapters that support the conversion of HDMI to DVI, DVI to HDMI, VGA to DVI or DVI to VGA. However, to convert VGA to HDMI, or vice versa, you must use a relatively expensive active adapter box with integrated circuitry that allows the conversion. Even with the special converter, though, the VGA connection will still not support resolutions higher than 800 by 600 pixels or allow you to transmit audio signals via an HDMI cable. Consequently, it is more practical to avoid a VGA to HDMI connection unless you have no other option. When purchasing an adapter, buy one that attached to the video-out port on the laptop and not one that connects to the TV directly.

Turn off the laptop and the television. Connect one end of the video cable to the DVI, HDMI or VGA video-out port on the laptop -- or, connect an adapter first if required to match the video-in interface on the television. Connect the other end of the cable to the matching port on the back or side of the TV. When connecting the cable to the television, note the label of the port used such as Video 1 or DVI 1.

Connect the black stereo end of the stereo-to-RCA audio cable to the "Headphone" port on the laptop if you are not using a HDMI cable. Connect the red and white connectors on the opposite end of the adapter cable to the matching colored RCA ports on the TV under the heading "Audio In" or something similar. If you are using an HDMI cable to connect the laptop and TV, you do not need to use a separate audio cable or adapter for sound.

Turn on the power to your TV first and then turn on the laptop. Press the "Input" or "Source" button on the TV remote control a few times until the input name for the port used to connect to the laptop appears on the television screen. After you select the correct input or port source on the remote, the laptop screen's display should appear on the TV automatically. However, with some older model laptops, the computer display may not appear on the TV until the system boots fully into Windows.

Click "Start" on the taskbar, then click "Control Panel." Click "Appearance and Personalization," click "Display" and then click "Change Display Settings."

Click the monitor icon with the number "2." If no monitor icon with the number "2" appears in the Change the Appearance of Your Displays window, click the "Detect" button. Two monitor icons -- one with "1" and the other with "2" -- should then appear in the window.

Click the drop-down arrow next to "Multiple Displays" and select the "Extend These Displays" option. Click "Apply," then click "OK" to close the Screen Resolution window.

Open an application window on the laptop, then drag it with the mouse to the right until it appears on the TV screen. Use the TV to view the display from your laptop normally.


  • You can also access the multi-monitor settings panel by pressing the "Windows-P" keys simultaneously, instead of navigating through Control Panel.
  • With some older laptops, you may have to press certain function keys before the computer screen displays on the TV. To enable the TV display, press the "Fn" key and the function key with a small picture of a computer monitor on it.

Items you will need

  • DVI, HDMI or VGA monitor cable
  • 1/8" stereo to RCA audio cable (optional)

About the Author

Jeff Grundy has been writing computer-related articles and tutorials since 1995. Since that time, Grundy has written many guides to using various applications that are published on numerous how-to and tutorial sites. Born and raised in South Georgia, Grundy holds a Master of Science degree in mathematics from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images