How to display a computer image on a TV or projector

Updated: 12/05/2021 by Computer Hope
Illustration: A laptop display mirrored on a flatscreen TV and a digital projector.

Projecting your computer to a larger display is a great way to present information, watch movies with a group, or play couch co-op games. Most modern televisions and projectors have one or more ports that allow them to receive and display an image generated by a computer. Both desktop and laptop computers are capable of connecting to a TV or projector, provided that they have the appropriate cables.

The following sections contain instructions for using your TV or projector as a computer monitor. For the best results, we recommend reading them in order.

Tip

You can also use a Google Chromecast to stream information from your computer, smartphone, or tablet to your TV.

Identifying available connections

The first step in connecting your computer to a TV or projector is finding an identical video connection port on both machines. Once the matching port is identified (the same on both your input device and output device), you need the appropriate cable to connect them. The picture below shows the back of an Epson projector with available connection ports and descriptions of each port.

Tip

You only need to use one of the following cables.

Epson projector

HDMI

HDMI cable

The HDMI connection is currently the most common. Nearly all modern televisions and projectors feature HDMI ports. Most laptop computers support HDMI, and it is becoming more prevalent on desktop computers, even those without a high-end video card. HDMI has become the standard for all electronic equipment for its high-quality signal and ability to carry both audio and video signals. The image is an example of an HDMI cable.

USB

Most computers have standard USB ports, which are not used to connect to a projector or TV. However, USB-C ports, which are found on many new laptops and Android smartphones, can send audio and video. Because they can be used as a power source in addition to displaying video, USB-C ports are replacing HDMI ports in most new flagship devices.

VGA

Computer VGA port and cable

The VGA connection used to be the most common connection on desktop and laptop computers; it's also found on many projectors. The VGA cable has a 15-pin connector on each end that connects to a VGA port on each device. Because most televisions do not support VGA, we recommend using HDMI for their wider range of compatibility.

Note

VGA cabling is universal for devices that support it. For example, if your desktop monitor has a removable VGA cable, that same cable can connect a laptop to a projector.

Note

If your device doesn't have a VGA or HDMI port, you need an adapter to connect the existing ports to the external display. MacBooks from after 2016, for example, have only USB-C ports, which require adapters to use display cables.

DVI

DVI

The DVI connection is newer than VGA and offers a sharper image. Although the DVI port is not shown in our Epson projector example, it may be used with a projector but not on TVs. It's only found on desktop computers for use with monitors. Consequently, projectors with DVI inputs may only utilize a desktop computer. As such, we recommend using HDMI, if available.

Tip

There are special cables that convert from DVI to VGA, DVI to HDMI, and vice versa.

How to convert DVI to VGA or VGA to DVI.
How to convert DVI to HDMI or HDMI to DVI.

Composite Video and S-Video

The composite video and S-Video connections used to be quite common on TVs and projectors. However, it is nearly non-existent on modern electronics. This composite connection is the yellow female cable on what is usually a three-cable bundle consisting of red, white, and yellow cables. The only place this is seen in use is on desktop computer video cards.

Display on a desktop computer

For a desktop, connect the cable to the computer and output device. If you don't see an image, you may need to change the display using the following steps.

  1. Press the Windows key.
  2. Type Adjust screen resolution and press Enter.
  3. Find Display and click the down arrow on the right side of the box.
  4. Select the appropriate output device.
  5. Click Apply, then click OK.

Display on a laptop computer

We have an entire page devoted to showing users how to connect a TV or a projector to a laptop. For further instructions, check out the link below.

I don't see an image on my TV screen

If you're connecting a computer to a TV, make sure the TV is set to the correct input channel. For example, if you connect an HDMI cable to your computer and the "HDMI 2" TV port, switch to the "HDMI 2" input channel on the TV. This action is usually accomplished by pressing the input button on your TV remote until the correct input channel is displayed.