For many years now, I have had my computer connected to my television and stereo so that I can watch films from my computer, sitting comfortably on my couch, or to set the mood with winamp visualisations and music when people are coming around. I have not seen many home setups which take advantage of this. It is so much nicer hearing your MP3 collection, pumping out the big speakers in your house.
It is very easy to set up and it can be done very cheaply, and in some cases free. The cost comes in with cables and adaptors which are cheap unless you need to buy an extra component. It should be possible for everyone to acheive for well under $100.
This article will show you how to connect your computer to your television and stereo. We will cover lots of different scenarios so I hope by the end of this article, everyone will have successfully been able to acheive this.
This theory is identical to if you want to hook your computer up to a projector so if that is what you use, this article is also appropriate for you.
What you need:
This is hard to define initially in this article as there are so many ways to achieve this depending on what type of television you have and what video outputs your computer offers. You may also find that you only want to attach the stereo, and leave the TV disconnected, or vice versa. That is fine, just find the relevant parts of this article to suite your needs. For now we will keep it very basic.
- A Computer, desktops and laptops will both work. You will require a spare output from your video card.
- A Television with some type of AUX input.
- A Stereo with some type of AUX input.
AUX stands for Auxilery, which means an input from an external source. Most stereos and televisions will have these as they are what you would use to connect your DVD or VCR to it.
How to connect your video source to your television:
We are going to look at video first because there are a lot of options here. Connecting your computers audio to your stereo is a much easier task.
The quality you will receive from this setup will depend greatly on the television itself. You may find that reading text and desktop icons are very difficult with the analog options below, but even with an old television, you will be able to watch movies which are on your computer on your TV. They will be of similar quality to connecting your DVD or VCR to your television.
Define your televisions AUX input type:
We first need to define what inputs you have on your television. Some will work better than others. The newer and more expensive televisions are likely to get better results. We will start with the best and work our way through. It is best to keep the format the same at both the output of the computer and the input of the television, meaning that we don’t want to convert from Component Video to S-Video connections where possible.
The Digital World:
HDMI – High Definition Multimedia Interface: Ideally we will all have an HDMI connection on both our television and video card, but most likely don’t have it on either. Many new LCD screen and Plasma displays offer this mother of connections. They are also becoming a little more popular on Video cards. This will give you the highest quality signal. This format can also carry audio. This is very easy to connect from one device to another. It offers the same video quality as a DVI.
DVI – Digital Visual Interface: Many current computers will offer this connection out of the video card. You may well find that if you have a plasma or LCD television, this will be the best connection to use.
The Analog World:
VGA/XGA – Video Graphics Array: This is the standard video output you would have from your video card in your computer. There are not many televisions with these inputs on them. I specifically bought a CRT television with this port many years ago as LCD and plasma displays were very expensive at the time. It offers a good quality picture but is limited on my TV to 640×480 resolution. Text is readable and movies look great. This VGA resolution is higher than what most CRT screens can handle.
S-Video &ndash Separate Video: This is common on Video cards and televisions. With this format, you will have difficulty reading text on the screen, but films and games will be fine. This is the same output many DVD/HD-TV boxes/Gaming consoles offer so you can expect the same quality as that. Many video cards have this connection.
Composite Video – RCA connector: Last and definitely least is the trusty RCA connector. This is what we have used for many years to connect audio and video components together. This is of a lower quality than S-Video but it is still fine for sending audio and video signals around the place. You are most likely to have this connection on your TV and it is possible that you have this on your video card also.
How to decide which connection to use?:
Here are some scenarios: The higher up the list the better
Computer has HDMI and TV has HDMI – Use HDMI
Computer has DVI and TV has DVI – Use DVI
Computer has DVI and TV has VGA – Use VGA + Adaptor
Computer has VGA and TV has VGA – Use VGA
Computer has S-Video and TV has S-Video – Use S-Video
Computer has RCA and TV has RCA – Use RCA
Computer has S-Video and TV has RCA – Use RCA with adaptor
Computer has RCA and TV has S-Video – Use RCA with adaptor
If your scenario is not in this list, things get much trickier. You can purchase a box which will convert input sources to various outputs, or you could purchase an external video card for the task, though both of these options are expensive. You are probably best to buy a new video card with suitable outputs on it. You do not need a fancy video card to achieve this as any video card on the market now is capable of playing video and most games smoothly.
If you have a dual monitor setup already, and your card has a third port for s-video or Composite/RCA, you are likely to have problems connecting all three displays at once. You may be able to use a Y-splitter to send the signal to two sources (losing quality) or get very familiar with your driver configurations so you can switch from one output to another quickly.
If your computer has on-board integrated video (part of the motherboard), and no other outputs, you can put another video card in your computer and have both working together in parallel.
Ensure that your TV is on the right channel before continuing, even if it is a black, blue or static screen.
Configure your video drivers:
Once you have connected your computer to your TV using one of the cables listed above, we need to configure our video card to send a video signal out that port. As all driver software is different, I will cover some of the more common aspects to look out for.
If you are HDMI, DVI and VGA, your computer will recognise your TV as a standard monitor which is much nicer and easier to configure in the driver options.
Most video cards will detect automatically if there is a device attached to its output.
You need to decide if you will have a clone view or an extended view. Clone view shows the same display on both you monitor and you television, whilst extended mode will allow you to drag program windows from one screen to another, or even stretch across both.
On a laptop, the external video output will be preconfigured so you will not have to adjust anything. Once you are plugged in, you can press the “Fn” key with the corresponding Function key. i.e. Fn+F5. The function key depends on the laptop but the key will generally resemble a picture of two monitors. Using these keys, you cycle through the various modes, laptop monitor only, external monitor only, both monitors.
Configuring: Similar for XP and Vista
I am sorry it is not possible to write instructions for each and every driver and connection. You would get a long way reading the manual for your drivers and video card. If you still have problems after doing this, request information on a particular card in the comments, I will do my best to give you this information.
Here is a rough how to for many of Nvidias video cards.
Go into your “Control Panel” and load up your “Display” properties.
Click the “Settings” tab and you will probably still see one monitor depending on what type of connection you used.
Click “Advanced” and then select the tab that corresponds to your “Video Card”. i.e. Geforce 6600 GT.
Here you have all the options for your card. If you are using a Nvidia card, click on n-View Display Settings, otherwise, whichever option shows you multiple display types.
Here you can select Dual-view and Clone, enable and disable displays. Also in the Nvidia control panel, in the tools section is an option to “Force TV detection”.
You may have to restart. You want to get your computer to a stage that in the display settings tab, you have two screens.
So now you should have video on both your computers monitor and your television. If the quality looks really bad, try playing a video and seeing how it looks then. You can try things like changing the resolution in your display settings. You may find that your TV has a sweet spot. Too low a resolution gives a bad picture, too high also gives a bad picture but in the middle is just right. Spend the time to get it as good as you can because once it is setup, you wont need to touch it again.
How to connect your audio source to your television:
Unless you are using a HDMI connection, you are most likely going to come across RCA connections on your TV or stereo. Your computer is likely to have a 3.5mm plug (standard headphone jack) on the sound card.
The easy way to connect your computer to your stereo is to purchase a 3.5mm stereo plug to RCA pair cable. This will plug in both ends without a problem.
Many computer sound cards now offer a digital output. If your sound card has one and your stereo can decode it, this is the best way to go. This is a little harder to configure in your audio settings but the sound results are great. This is the best way to go for surround sound.
Complications arise if we want to keep our computers attached at the same time as we connect to the stereo as most computers will only allow one output. There are some options as to how to tackle this. You can use your headphone jack to send another source out but as this is normally on the front of the computer, this can be untidy.
A 3.5mm stereo splitter costs only a few dollars which allows you to connect the one port out of you computer to 2 ports which you can plug into. These cost only a couple of dollars but you will lose some quality doing this. Unless you are an audiophile, you will hardly notice the problem.
You can get an audio selector which are very basic boxes to generally switch multiple sources to one output. As there is often no complex electronics in these boxes, they simply open and close circuits, we can use it in reverse to send one source to multiple outputs. A speaker selector is different and will likely not work for this task.
You could install a secondary sound-card, either with multiple outputs or a single stereo output for connection to your stereo.
It gets very tricky when we move up from stereo to surround sound. Although we are able to use cables to connect it all up, it is much easier to send a stereo pair into the stereo and then letting the stereo decode the signal into surround such as pro logic. We can also use the digital option if our computer and Hi-fi allows it. This will mean there is one cable, rather than 3 or 4 stereo pairs.
If you are only using your hi-fi from this article onwards, and not using PC speakers, you should not have problems connecting your computer to the stereo in surround mode. You can use windows sound settings to send out a signal to 5.1 or 7.1 systems and everything sounds fantastic.
If all has gone well, you will now have your computer hooked up to your TV and stereo. This opens you up to a whole new world of multimedia experiences. Continue to check out inspectmygadget.com in the coming weeks as we will cover many software tools which can help you make the most out of your new “Home Theatre”.