You don't need a smart TV if you have an old TV, a laptop and the right cable. We explain how to connect your laptop to a TV in this step-by-step guide, which includes HDMI, VGA and wireless streaming methods.
What cables do I need to connect my laptop to a TV?
In order to connect your laptop to your TV you are going to need to take a look at what ports are available on both your laptop and TV. This easiest way to connect the two is with an HDMI cable. Unless your laptop is really old, or was a super-budget model, it should have an HDMI output. Virtually all TVs made in the last six years or so also have HDMI ports. (We've highlighted the HDMI port in red below.)
Another popular way to connect a laptop to a TV is via a VGA cable and a 3.5mm audio lead (which connects to your laptop's headphone port) - one cable each for video and sound. Only use this method if one or both of your devices doesn't have an HDMI port. The VGA port is labeled as PC IN on the image below.
If your laptop has no video output, you can connect your laptop to your TV via an adapter which plugs into your laptop's USB port and provides a VGA output. These are available from under £10.
Connect a laptop to TV using HDMI
Connecting a laptop to a TV via a HDMI cable is the best and easiest way, as cables are cheap and provide the best quality HD picture and sound. It only requires one lead too, as HDMI handles both video and audio.
To connect a laptop to a TV using a HDMI cable, all you need to do is plug the cable into your laptop and then one of your HDMI ports on your TV. If you're using an up-to-date version of Windows, all that you should need to do is ensure your laptop is switched on, and your TV is set to the correct HDMI channel, the laptop should automatically configure to give you the best settings from here.
If for some reason it does not automatically select the right setting, you simply need to go to Control Panel > Display > Adjust Resolution - from here you will see two drop down boxes. The first thing you will need to do is toggle the Display drop down to ensure that your TV is selected, next you need to ensure that the Resolution drop down box matches the settings that are correct for your TV. Find one on Amazon.
- Turn your laptop and TV on.
- Connect your HDMI lead to both your TV and laptop (any order).
- Select the correct HDMI input on your TV (usually by pressing the AV button).
- If your laptop does not automatically output its screen to the TV, go to Control Panel > Display > Adjust Resolution and select the TV in the Display drop down box.
Wirelessly connect a laptop to TV
If you can't or don't want to have a wire between your laptop and TV, another option is to go wireless.There are various options here depending on your laptop's capabilities since a few laptops have a built-in wireless system called WiDi (Intel Wireless Display) which works with a compatible receiver such as Netgear's Push2TV.
There are also wireless systems which plug into the HDMI port on your TV and laptop (possibly the USB port on your laptop), sending the video wirelessly. These aren't generally cheap, though, and most wireless video systems have a hit on video quality and can also introduce a mismatch between video and audio.
If you want to transmit full HD 1080p video, expect to pay around £200-300 for a transmitter and receiver kit, such as the £199 One for All SV1760 from Maplin. There's also the IOGear GW3DHD Kit which works to around 100ft (rather than 30) but costs quite a bit more.
For most people the best wireless solution is to buy a Google Chromecast which costs as little as £30. This HDMI dongle plugs into your TV and connects to your Wi-Fi.
The devices has the ability to cast a tab of your choice in Chrome so it appears on the screen using the built-in cast feature. You can then visit websites, show photos and even watch video. Find out how to setup and use a Chromecast.
Connect a laptop to an old TV using VGA
Another straightforward way to connect your laptop to your TV is by using the VGA port on both devices. This is likely to only be an option for those of you with a laptop that is over 4/5 years old.
VGA is a video lead only, so you will have to accompany this with a 3.5mm audio lead, that you need to connect from the headphone out socket of your laptop to your audio in port of your TV or external speakers.
Using a VGA means Windows should automatically configure the settings like it would if you were using a HDMI cable. However, if you're experiencing difficulties go to Control Panel > Display > Adjust Resolutions and follow the directions above. Find one on Amazon.
- Turn your laptop and TV on.
- Connect your VGA cable to both your TV and Laptop (any order).
- Now do the same with your 3.5mm audio jack – use the headphone out port on the laptop and audio in on your TV or speakers.
- Go to Control Panel > Display > Adjust Resolution and ensure that TV is selected in Display drop down box.
Connect a laptop to a TV using USB
Strictly speaking, a USB to USB connection from a laptop to a TV shouldn't work. However, there are several companies that have developed adapters that will convert your USB port to a HDMI out. The only catch here is that you need additional software for your laptop to turn the USB port into a Video out port, so we strongly suggest you check the USB to HDMI adapter you want is compatible with your laptop before you buy.
If the adapter is compatible, then setting up this method is largely straightforward. First of all you need to install the adapter's software/driver, then it's simply a case of running the software and connecting your laptop to your TV. Find one on Amazon.
Connect your laptop to a TV using USB stick / external hard drive
If you've got a reasonably new TV, then there is a good chance that it will have a USB port. Depending on your TV's capabilities, you might be able to watch video content that is stored on your laptop simply by transferring it to an USB stick / external hard drive and plugging that into the TV.
Providing the video format is supported by the TV (MP4 is almost universally supported), watching content should be as easy as plugging your USB stick / external hard drive into your TV, selecting the USB input and choosing the video you want to watch via the TV's file explorer software.
- Ensure the video file format is compatible with your TV (you can check this by searching for your TV model on the manufacturers website and checking its specifications).
- Copy the video file(s) to your USB drive.
- Insert USB into TV.
- Select the USB channel on your TV.
- Use the TV's file explorer to locate and play the desired video.