Finding The Right Cables To Connect Laptop to TV

Like many others, I am thinking of ditching cable TV and the $500 to $1,000+ annual bill. You can find a lot of good online content now at sites like Hulu, FanCast, and OVGuide. Here is a quick guide to finding the right cables to connect your laptop or PC to your TV set, usually for less than $20.

First up, a quick summary of the most popular types of video connections. Common computer outputs are VGA, S-Video, and DVI. Common TV inputs are RCA Composite, S-Video, Component, and HDMI. Keep in mind, you may also have to get the appropriate cables to set up audio.

The premier place to buy cheap cables has become Monoprice.com. Compare their prices to what Monster Cables at Best Buy cost, and prepare to weep at discovering what their markup percentages are like. Their shipping costs are also very reasonable.

VGA Out to Composite/S-Video
Many older laptops only output video via a VGA port. Some models support what is called “TV-Out” via their VGA port. If you are sure that your computer does this, then you can buy this cheap $2 VGA to S-Video/Composite adapter cable. This is related to RGB vs. NTSC.

Otherwise, you will need to buy this VGA to RCA Composite/S-Video Converter for $27. Still not bad for a one-time cost. This converter box will convert a VGA computer display signal into a composite (Yellow RCA) and/or S-video TV display signal.

S-Video Out
My old Dell Inspiron offers S-Video out, so I’m guessing a decent amount of other laptops do as well. This means all you need is a nice long S-Video cable, which costs a mere $1.70 for a 12-ft male/male cable.

DVI to HDMI
If you have a newer video card or a laptop like a MacBook, then there’s a good chance you have DVI out. Here is a 10ft DVI to HDMI cable for about $5.

(If you have mini-DVI, you’ll can get mini-DVI to DVI or mini-DVI to HDMI adapter for a lot cheaper than the Apple store!)

HDMI to HDMI
HDMI includes both video and audio data. Here is their HDMI cable category; scroll down to the cheaper (but good enough for most people) cables, as opposed to the Professional stuff. You can get a 10ft cable for less than $5.

Comments

  1. If you have a Wii, Xbox, or Playstation 3 you can also stream videos on websites like Hulu by installing either of the programs PlayOn (http://www.themediamall.com/playon/) or tversity (http://tversity.com/) on your computer.

  2. I used to work at Radioshack. The mark-up on cables is amazing. I could buy things at cost so I stocked up on audio/video/network cables, probably saving 90% compared to the retail prices.

    For the most part, a cable is a cable. Gold connectors don’t do much, especially for digital connections (HDMI). You can even use RCA cables as component video cables with no problem. “High-end” cables like Moster Cables sell hype.

  3. Take the plunge. I dropped cable + tivo over a year ago when I moved and am much happier. I have tons more free time, have the local channels to veg on if I need to veg (but I don’t waste hours watching random shows now), and its easier to watch the shows I want to see on the network website or hulu (less commercials, no time constraints).

  4. Definitely go all digital if you can. My mac mini to panasonic plasma looks a lot better using the dvi/hdmi cable compared to the vga.

    I would like to do this but the quality doesn’t seem to equal my HD from Dish. I also get annoyed at the stuttering of some streaming content.

  5. MoneyProgress says:

    There are a few other possibilities out there as well.

    Some laptops come with Display Port or Mini DisplayPort. It is similar to HDMI without sound. So you can get a DisplayPort to HDMI converter for video.

    Also with both DisplayPort and VGA out you will need another cable to carry the sound to the TV.

  6. I’ve been streaming content from my desktop for 5 years now. I had S-Video out on my old Dell P3 1Ghz. Video compression has gotten so good that my desktop could no longer handle all the processing power to decompress it, so I just bought a new Dell Quad Core 2.66Ghz and got a Radeon card with HDMI out. I’m just now looking to buy a 25ft HDMI cable to go from the computer to TV. This whole setup is about $600. We don’t have cable TV, so this computer will pay for itself in under a year compared to paying for cable or satellite. My old setup lasted 8 years with a few upgrades along the way.

    If you are a big TV watcher you might not like this plan. As mentioned, there is sometimes lagging, quality isn’t nearly as good as HD, and it takes some computer knowledge. For a semi-tech guy like me who is also cheap and doesn’t watch more than an hour of TV a night, it works out nicely.

  7. We watch a lot of TV shows through the laptop, but we have still kept our cable subscription. We really enjoy watching Netflix movies instantly and the quality is good. I don’t think I could ever part with my cable dvr.

  8. Thanks for putting together a great cheat sheet article Jonathan as well as supplying direct links to purchase items. One of the reasons I enjoy this blog is that you make it easy to follow up with things you post.

    I travel a lot and like watching movies on my laptop but when I’m staying in a hotel room I like watching them on the room’s LCD if I can. I’m definitely picking up an DVD-HDMI cable, but my follow up question is…what about sound?

    I know several products exist that will do sound and video. Displaying your streaming online content to a 42″ LCD is great, but if the sound coming out is from your tiny laptip speakers you’re still missing out.

    Did you do any research on getting the sound to the TV?

    I have a MacBook Pro and I’m assuming that the DVI-HDMI cable doesn’t carry sound as well, but perhaps I’m mistaken.

  9. Immigrant Money says:

    Another good place to buy cheap cables (CAT5 patch cables, HDMI as well) is http://www.deepsurplus.com/. It’s always good to have a competitor – that’s why I’m mentioning it.
    The website maybe not as polished, but prices are very similar and on occasions better. We have used them on many occasions to save money for our org. Now we have a second choice as well – thanks for the info!

  10. You can also stream digital content from your computer to your TV wirelessly using devices like the DivX Connected box. Your home pc is definitely on the way to becoming your primary video server.

  11. We got rid of our digital cable and use Boxee (http://www.boxee.tv/) which makes watching online content on the TV much more pleasant. It also includes Netflix streaming which we use quite a bit. With the ethernet going directly into our Mac Mini it’s super fast and doesn’t lag at all.

  12. I recently tried to totally replace cable with getting all of my content online. I had a Mac Mini hooked up to an LCD and bought a wireless keyboard that had a “mouse pad” on it. It worked pretty well, but I will warn you:

    You CAN cancel cable and try to go all online, but will you WANT to? We recently signed up for cable again, and I can honestly say I have no regrets about doing that. Trying to watch everything online, if it was even available online (in most cases, it was) just became too much of a hassle. It depends on how much TV you watch. We don’t watch that much, and it still became a little bit of a hassle to try and get everything online.

    That said, I am glad we gave it a shot. Ten years from now (if that long), I believe the TV/Online/Video landscape will be totally different and watching things online will be much more user-friendly. For me, its not quite there yet.

  13. great topic!

    don’t forget the other low-cost cable/satellite alternative helpers: netflix watch it now, amazon on demand, and over the air digital tv w/ DVR.

    one such DVR for OTA DTV that does not charge a monthly fee is the DTVPal from dish (tivo costs $$ per month or a one lifetime fee). you can read about it at avsforum:

    http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb.....?t=1099071

  14. klein3351f says:

    Keep in mind the length of your cables matters with HDMI. Anything 6 feet or less and the quality shouldn’t matter. Some say even up to 10 feet and you’ll be fine. Anything over 10 feet and you should like for the highest quality you can find.

    Personally I have used a 10 foot cable that I bought for $14.99 on Amazon and have found that the color and sometimes audio quality suffer greatly from the HDMI out on my laptop to the HDMI in on my tv. It has gotten to the point where I just watch internet stuff on my PC for the most part.

  15. My setup is pretty nifty… I have the PlayOn media server running on my PC and it allows me to stream videos from Hulu, CBS, and several other major tv stations to my Xbox 360 (or PS3 for you sony fans). So I can use my xbox remote to select what I want to watch and I don’t have to have a “PC” in the living room. On the other hand I can’t play pc games on the “big screen” but I don’t generally play games on my pc anyways.

  16. I use a 7′ DVI to HDMI cable for my computer to TV connection. It works great. Its a $7 cable I bought on Newegg and it works great.

    Definitely go with a digital signal if you can, you should get a get better picture that way. If you have a choice I’d prioritize this way: 1) HDMI, 2) DVI, 3) component , 4) VGA 5) s-video 6) RCA. (I’m not a super expert on this so someone correct me if I’m wrong).

  17. Nasty Nate, HDMI does audio too, so if you can get into the hotel TV’s HDMI input you can use the TV’s speakers.

  18. @Frankie -

    I know HDMI will do audio, but that means my MacBook Pro laptop would have to be sending the audio data through the DVI port and I’m thinking (though I haven’t done any tests or done the mandatory google search to verify if this is true or not) that the Mac just sends video output through the DVI since the principal purpose of that port is to connect an external monitor, not a TV.

    If anybody has evidence to show that an HDMI cable from a Mac laptop will indeed carry sound too, that would be valuable info!

  19. FrugalHomeAV says:

    If you want the best price on cable you have to check out http://www.riteav.com. Their prices beat everyone I’ve found so far. Check out my comparison at http://www.frugalhomeav.com/fr.....ter-cables and you can also see my other posts on how to have an excellent A/V system while being frugal.

  20. My MBP doesn’t do audio+video over DVI->HDMI, but it’s possible that newer models support this (I have no reason to suspect this, just saying I can’t definitely rule it out)

    Versus video, audio is easier. You have a Microphone jack->RCA audio cord (found at any store that carries wires) or an optical cable (SPDIF/toslink). Few if any computers I’ve seen use coaxial for audio, but some do. (Macbook pro audio jack is both a microphone jack and a mini-optical jack)

    With regards to using TVs, some tvs do have optical audio inputs, but the microphone jack->rca is pretty universal.

  21. Uuu nice post!

    So if you’re going from DVI to HDMI….do you need a separate audio cable?

  22. @Eric – Yes. DVI standard only carries video data.

  23. Thanks for the reply Jonathan!

  24. I’ve never had cable in my lifetime, which is probably why I’m pretty amenable to using my laptop as a cable replacement. Luckily, my Dell came with an HDMI port, so hooking it up to my flatscreen was relatively painless (one cord, woohoo!)

    For my parent’s laptop, she uses a VGA cord for the visuals (try to use it if your TV has a VGA connection, because its better than S Video) and just uses a 3mm (I think? just the basic headphone jack cord) to connect the sound to our TV, which has a sound jack port to go along with the VGA.

    And our cords are 10-15 ft long, and I haven’t really noticed anything in terms of quality problems. The only thing that does bother me is that my dell will sometimes overheat, but that might just be because I am using a dell :(

    Total price of the cords + shipping on monoprice? 12.00. Not too shabby!

  25. If you ditch Comcast, what’s your plan for the internet connection? Suck it up and pay them the unbundled $60/month for a standalone internet connection?

    When my wife and I simplified our utilities, we settled on a $5/month landline and the slowest $20/month DSL service from AT&T. Anything substantially faster gets expensive again and the point of the exercise was to reduce monthly expenses.

  26. You can turn your laptop (or desktop) into an OTA HD DVR with a $10 digital antenna like the RCA ANT111 and a $50-$100 TV tuner card (I go with Hauppauge). The Windows MCE/Vista/7 Media Center is great for recording OTA TV. It’s also great for streaming recorded and live TV to a networked Xbox 360. Check antennaweb.org for your local networks.

    I can’t drop my satellite subscription as sports are too important to me, but all the football I watch comes in through the antenna.

  27. Great post. A warning about OVGUIDE. It has a lot of illegal stuff on there. I wouldn’t play around with it and instead stick to HULU and FANCAST. They are sanctioned by the MPAA.

  28. Like Randy above, what are most people’s plan when they ditch cable concerning internet access? I’m in no way beyond the city limits but it seems that AT&T isn’t avaliable and thats the only option besides the unbundled cable package and satellite internet. Has anyone just bit the bullet and say screw it all and leach free internet access throughout town (cafe’s, library, sandwich shops)?

  29. I can’t be the only one thinking it but there are also a ton of other sites of questionable legality that are also GREAT

  30. Methuselah says:

    I used Hulu.com until they made it impossible to buffer their stream. Since I don’t like “stuttering” signals, I now get my content elsewhere. It’s too bad. However, buffering the whole show into my laptop first allowed trouble-free playback. Now, I can’t go back. :)

  31. Thanks for this really helpful post! I just bought my cable to hook my mac up to my tv!

  32. For all those asking about DVI from your Macbook (or other), NO IT WILL NOT CARRY SOUND. But, you can buy (very cheaply) a single cable that you can run from your Mac’s headphone output jack to you TV/Stereo receiver for the audio. I found a cable that ran from my Macbook’s headphone output and split it into the Left and Right Channel inputs of my receiver.

    Works great! Not to mention if you have the application “Remote” on your iPhone, you can then control your Macbook’s iTunes list from anywhere in your house where you have a wi-fi signal. This is awesome when I’m doing chores around the house and want to change the song playing over my stereo. Just take the iPhone out of my pocket and wha-la, my whole playlist at my fingertips.

    I also bought a very long DVI>HDMI cable for the Macbook, and have yet to see any video degredation on my silly 52′ Samsung flat screen.

  33. Jackie Smith says:

    I read somewhere that if you want to going from DVI to HDMI you do not need a separate audio cable! It is true?

  34. Thanks very much for the good info on the HDMI cables! Very handy to know as I look into connecting the laptop to the HD TV :-)
    I pitched the bundled package over a year ago when they wanted to up the package fee after the year introductory rate and no regrets. I couldn’t go back to cable package because the reception had been soooo poor. My one big remaining expense is the dsl line at $60/mo. But, I can make 911 calls from it and it can receive incoming calls.
    I switched to a Netflix package which was fine, but will put that account on hold at the end of the month when the price increase goes into effect, check out hulu+ and wait to see if the streaming netflix library selection improves substantially with that price increase.
    Cell phone I pitched Verizon $180/mo plan (heavy smartphone usage is a necessary part of my job) and went with LG Optimus V Droid unlimited data $40/mo no contract Virgin Mobile, which phone I subsequently rooted which resulted in greatly improved performance and boosted memory after a couple of simple tweaks.
    As an aside, for anyone with tablets, Virgin also sells aircards and mifis, and you can then purchase data at will, no monthly fees. :-)
    As an alternative to the landline, I went with a Skype phone number (under $50 for the year) and an IPEVO internet phone (one time purchase $100 on eBay), which initial investment paid for itself after 3 months.
    To boost the range of the dsl router I took the old router and set it up as a repeater and invested about $10 for 100′ of dsl cable from a seller on Amazon so I can now use pretty much everything at the farthest reaches of the yard, so I can enjoy some sunshine too during the summer months :-)
    Hope the info is helpful.

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