This an updated version of the "PC to TV Connections Guide" that was previously stickied. I have included updated information and more detailed explanations. I have also updated all of the links. I Hope people in need of help on the subject find it helpful.
Types of Connections
I will begin with the basics. There are several types of video connections that you can use depending on the inputs on your TV and the outputs on your PC. The following connections carry only
video. CLICK HERE
for pictures of all the video connections covered in this guide.
1. Composite Video
(analog) – The most basic type; Easily identified by its single yellow RCA jack, this connection offers the lowest quality video. All video signals, color and brightness are mixed together and sent through a single coaxial cable cable. Most TV’s have this type of connection. If your’s does not it is most likely quite old and unless your PC has an RF output you would need an RF Modulator
(analog) – The next step up, offers a slight improvement over composite. Color and brightness (chroma/luminance) is sent in two separate signals. S-Video cables are made up of two coaxial cables and use a 4 pin Mini-DIN connector
. This connection is found on many TVs but is less common than composite inputs. S-Video is relatively common on PC video cards and laptops. If your TV does not have an S-Video input and your PC has only and S-Video output you will need a converter like THIS
(analog) – Yet another step up; can be dramatically better than composite or S-Video. The video signal is split even further and sent over three separate cables. YPbPr
is the standard in HD sets. This type of connection is capable of carrying high definition video signals. Many video cards offer component video out.
(analog) – VGA was the standard on PC monitors back in the days of chunky CRTs. Many LCD monitors still have VGA inputs but it is not the ideal connection for digital displays. VGA
uses a D-Sub
connector (DE15F to be specific) which is found on select HDTVs. VGA can work fine and offer excellent video quality but I have had better luck using other connections.
(digital) – This digital connection offers the best possible video quality when used with digital displays. DVI is explained in detail HERE
. For the purpose of this guide, all one needs to know is that DVI is present on virtually all modern graphics cards and most cards offer VGA output through the DVI connector using a DVI-VGA Adapter
. More importantly, however, is the ability for one to adapt a DVI output to HDMI which is much more common on HD sets using a DVI-HDMI Adapter
(digital) – This is the newest type of connection. It is meant to replace DVI. It is, in fact, identical to DVI except for the fact that it is a different connector and can also carry audio signals. HDMI is capable of carrying high definition video and up to eight channels of high definition audio. Many modern laptops offer HDMI output along with a growing number of video cards.
– SCART is a standardized connection found only in Europe. It is used to connect audio/video equipment using a single cable. It combines the analog connections, including audio, into a single cable. PC’s do not have SCART connections. There are adapters available.
You will probably want sound along with your video. Here is a breakdown of the different audio connections you may encounter. CLICK HERE
for pictures of all the audio connections covered in this guide.
1. RCA Connection
– This is the most common audio input on TVs and many receivers. Signals are sent over two cables (stereo). Signals are analog and quality depends on the quality of the cable and the equipment.
– (3.5mm) This is the most common output on PC sound cards. It is basically the same format as RCA except it is combined into one connector and cable. Some sets offer a 3.5mm input but it is more than likely that one will need a 3.5mm to RCA cable
3. Coax Digital
– This connection sends signals over a single 75OHM coaxial cable with RCA connectors. It is hard to beat a digital connection. It is the best way to go if you have a sound card with a digital output and a receiver with a coax input. One possible problem is that it may only go about 15 feet before it needs a repeater. My personal experience, however, has shown that transmissions of 50ft are possible. I have a 50 foot length of RG-6 cable linking my PC to my home theater system and it works great.
4. Optical (TosLink)
– This connection sends signals over fiber-optic cable using light pulses. It’s certainly the “hippest” way to connect and audio quality is top notch. Audio quality is virtually identical between optical and coax connections. Optical signals can be sent over very long distances and while the cables aren’t at bargain bin prices it is usually cheaper for long distances than coax and repeaters. A possible drawback is that if you bend an optical cable too sharply it will never work again. If you’re careful though you won’t have to worry much.
*Note: Most sound cards will not output a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital signal when playing a game. The only way to achieve this is with a card that includes a Dolby Digital Live (DDL) or DTS Interactive (DTS-I) encoder. Either of those chips encode all of the sounds from a PC into a Dolby Digital or DTS stream. Most sound cards, including the popular Creative Audigy and even the brand new X-Fi series will not do that out of the box. Creative offers a $5 software upgrade that supposedly enables a DDL encoder that has been there all along but buyer beware as I paid for it and never got it to work. The bottom line, if you want to play games and transmit sound over the digital connection you need a sound card with DDL or DTS-I or you will get nothing more than two channel audio via a digital connection.
Down to Business
Now that we have covered all (or at least most) of the connections you may encounter it’s time to clarify things and narrow it down to your specific needs.
Simple Connection to TV
The first thing to do is determine the common connections between your PC and TV. It should be rather straight-forward from there. If your TV does not have any of the more advanced connections it’s either time for a new TV or, as mentioned above, you will need an RF Modulator
. You can connect to a VCR in the same way. Either by RCA or through an RF modulator. Don't expect great results using this method.
Connecting With a Reciever
Throwing a receiver into the mix adds a bit to the complexity. It can offer more options and better sound quality. A digital connection will give you the best sound quality but, as covered in the note above, you will not get 5.1 sound in anything but DVD movies. Whether you go coax or optical depends on what your equipment has available. There is no difference in audio quality between the two. Many sound cards that have a digital output, also known as S/PDIF (Sony/Phillips Digital Interface), use a mini-plug output. In that case you will need a 1/8in mini plug to RCA agapter and a regular 75 OHM coax cable.
If you want to play games using your home theater receiver and have 5.1 sound without buying a sound card with DDL or DTS-I, you can use multi-channel analog connections. This is assuming that your receiver has a multi-channel analog input. Check your receiver’s manual to see if you have this feature. If so, three 3.5mm to RCA cables
would be required.
Now that you have your TV connected you are probably wondering how on earth you’re supposed to get your TV to display anything. The first thing to do is make sure you have selected the correct video input on your TV. It is usually a button on the remote labeled “Input”, “Video Mode” or something similar. If you cannot figure it out consult your TV’s user manual. (If you don’t have your TV’s users manual you may find it at the manufactures website).
Setting the software can be more difficult to figure out. Even then, it’s not hard. The exact procedure depends on the video card you have. I will cover the two major players in the video card industry. ATI and Nvidia. Before attempting to follow these directions make sure you have the newest drivers installed for your video card. Below are links to directions on the Nvidia and ATI websites.
Don't fall for overpriced cables. They offer little more than better aesthetics and a very nice markup for the retailer. I use Monoprice.com
for all of my cables.