How to Connect a Laptop to a TV Using a VGA Cable

By Jeff Grundy

You can convert VGA to virtually any type of interface needed for your TV.
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If you want to play a 3-D game, watch a movie or show a presentation on a larger screen, connecting the laptop to a television can be an ideal solution. Many modern TVs have VGA ports for connecting laptops, but even if yours does not, multiple solutions exist for connecting your laptop via an adapter or converter box.

TVs With Native VGA Connections

If you purchased a new LED or LCD TV within the last few years, chances are good that it already has a VGA port you can use to connect your desktop or laptop computer. If you have an older system or a budget computer without a digital-capable DVI or HDMI video-out port, connecting the computer to a TVs is as simple as using a standard VGA monitor cable. If your computer has a DVI-type video connector, and the TV does not, you can connect a VGA cable to a DVI-to-VGA adapter to route the screen display from the computer to the television. To connect your VGA-capable TV to a computer with a DVI port, connect the adapter to the video card or video-out port on the computer and then connect the VGA cable to the adapter and the appropriate input port on the TV.

VGA Connectors for Legacy Televisions

For some older TVs without VGA ports, connecting a computer may not be as simple as using an adapter cable. If your TV has RCA, also known as composite, connectors, you can purchase a VGA-to-RCA adapter cable to display the computer's graphic output on the TV. This type of connection offers limited resolution, though. Regardless of the resolution of your computer display, a VGA-to-RCA adapter limits resolution of the display on the TV to a maximum of 800x600 pixels. If your older TV has only a S-Video or coaxial port, you must use an RF modulator to convert the video signal from VGA to once acceptable for your television. To connect a computer to a TV using a RF modulator, connect the modulator to the PC with the VGA cable, then connect the S-Video or coaxial cable to the modulator and the television.

Connecting VGA to a HDMI Port

Many simple adapters are available for VGA connections. For instance, you can find ready-made adapters for VGA-to-RCA, VGA-to-DVI and even VGA-to-Component Video. If you want to use the HDMI port on your computer to output video to a television, though, a simple adapter will not suffice. While a few overseas companies advertise plug-in adapters for converting VGA signals to HDMI, they do not work except under very specific circumstances, and then only with select TVs and video-card chip sets. If you want to use a VGA cable to route connect your computer to the HDMI input on a TV, you must use an expensive converter box that uses active electronic circuitry to convert the signals. Simple plug-in adapters cannot convert the analog signal from a VGA video-out port to the true digital type needed for HDMI. Unless, your laptop or computer has no connection option available - and most should have at least one other type of video-out port -- you should use a DVI adapter or RF modulator to connect the PC to the TV. Converter boxes for routing VGA to HDMI are expensive and still do not transmit the audio signal over the HDMI connection -- defeating one the greatest benefits of using the protocol.

Audio Options

Regardless of the type of adapter, connector or converter you use to route a video signal via a VGA cable to your TV, you must still use a separate wire or cable to send audio signals from the computer. If using a VGA-to-RCA, or other similar adapter, it might include a separate wire on the adapter housing that has a 3.5mm audio plug that you connect to the "Speaker Out," "Audio Out" or "Headphone" jack on your computer. If using a VGA-to-DVI adapter or a RF modulator to route the video signal from the PC the TV, you must use a separate audio cable. Generally speaking, using a 3.5mm-to-RCA audio cable is the easiest way to route sound from the computer to the television. Simply plug the small end of the cable into the Headphone or Audio Out port on the computer and the yellow RCA port on the TV labeled "Audio In" or "Audio 1." Names for the appropriate port on the computer may vary. Look for the port with a small icon picture of a pair of headphones above or beside it. If you happen to be using a desktop computer, the port to use for the audio connection has a thin green ring around it.