Cable finder

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This page helps you find the cables you need to connect a personal computer to a television, so that you can watch YouTube on a big screen or play a single-screen multiplayer PC game.

Contents

Background

In 1987, IBM released the Video Graphics Array (VGA) card, which could generate a color video signal with 480p enhanced definition. For two decades afterward, the VGA signal, consisting of analog red, green, and blue (RGB) color information on three pairs of wires through a DE-15 connector, was the most common way a desktop PC would output video.

But during this time, connecting a PC to a TV was considered a "hard problem". Most TVs of the time were boxy CRT SDTVs (cathode ray tube standard-definition televisions). These required a scan converter to turn the enhanced-definition or high-definition signal from a PC into an SDTV signal that the TV can use, and at the time, scan converters were hard to find and not intended for the home market. But starting around the early 2000s, video cards using a chipset made by NVIDIA or ATI began to incorporate a TV output with a scan converter right on the card.

The 2000s brought DVI, an all-digital computer monitor interface that ensures pristine signal quality. A variant with a smaller connector, called HDMI, could also carry digital audio in "data islands" between one frame of video and the next. This simplified connections from cable boxes and DVD players to the high-definition television sets that were introduced at the time. HDTVs usually have the same inputs as an SDTV, as well as VGA and HDMI inputs for use with computers, digital cable boxes, Blu-ray Disc players, and other high-definition sources. HDTV took off in earnest in 2008, and by the end of that year, one-third of U.S. homes had at least one HDTV set.

Video connector

SDTV inputs. From left to right: composite video, audio left channel, audio right channel, S-Video.

There are several kinds of video connectors commonly used in consumer electronics. In roughly increasing order of video fidelity:

  1. Jack icon yellow RCA.png RCA connector: a yellow one usually carries composite video
  2. Jack icon S-Video.png S-Video connector: round, 4 or 7 pins, carries brightness and color on separate pairs of wires
  3. Jack icon blue VGA.png VGA connector: DE-15, carries progressive RGB video. Often colored blue.
  4. Jack icon DVI-D.png DVI connector: D-shaped, longer than VGA, can carry digital (DVI-D) and analog (DVI-A) video signals in a single integrated (DVI-I) connector. Often colored white.
  5. Jack icon HDMI.png HDMI connector: carries DVI-D video and (optional) digital audio on a thinner connector

Find the video output connectors on the back of your computer and your monitor or TV set. (Your desktop computer's monitor is almost certainly connected to the PC through a VGA or DVI cable.) Then compare them to the pictures to see what connectors you have.

HDTV

If you have an HDTV, you're in luck: most HDTVs can display a VGA or DVI signal.

Your computer Your monitor Required cable
Jack icon blue VGA.png VGA Jack icon blue VGA.png VGA VGA cable
Jack icon DVI-I.png DVI-I Jack icon blue VGA.png VGA DVI-I to VGA cable
Jack icon DVI-D.png DVI Jack icon DVI-D.png DVI DVI cable
Jack icon DVI-D.png DVI Jack icon HDMI.png HDMI DVI to HDMI cable
Jack icon HDMI.png HDMI Jack icon DVI-D.png DVI DVI to HDMI cable
Jack icon HDMI.png HDMI Jack icon HDMI.png HDMI HDMI cable

Note: DVI ports come in two flavors: DVI-D, with a flat pin on one side, and DVI-I, with a longer flat pin surrounded by small pins. DVI-D (the D stands for digital) has only digital signals; DVI-I (the I stands for integrated) also carries analog VGA signals. DVI to VGA cables work only with DVI-I ports; DVI cables and DVI-to-HDMI cables work with both DVI-D and DVI-I.

Some Mac computers have miniature DVI or miniature DisplayPort connectors. Apple dealers and Apple.com sell adapters from both of these to DVI and VGA.

SDTV

Most SDTVs cannot take VGA or DVI output, as the signal comes in too fast to process. There are two ways to work around this: either have your computer generate a TV signal or use a converter box. Some but not all computers can generate a TV signal; look for a composite or S-video jack on your PC close to the VGA output. If you can find it, then hooking up your PC isn't any harder than hooking up a DVD player. As with a DVD player, do not confuse RCA connectors that carry composite video (yellow) with those carrying audio (white or red), or you'll hear a horrible buzzing noise from your TV's speakers.

Your computer Your monitor Required cable
Jack icon S-Video.png S-Video (4 or 7 pin) Jack icon S-Video.png S-Video (4 pin) S-Video cable
Jack icon S-Video.png S-Video Jack icon yellow RCA.png Composite S-Video to composite cable
Jack icon yellow RCA.png Composite Jack icon yellow RCA.png Composite RCA cable

The next step is to configure your PC to send video through the TV. Open Display Properties through the Control Panel or by right-clicking an empty area of the desktop and choosing Properties (on Windows XP) or Personalize (on Windows Vista). Display Properties should contain tabs with names like Themes, Desktop, Screen Saver, Appearance, and Settings. Click Settings, and then click Advanced... at the bottom to show Advanced Display Properties. At the top should be General, Adapter, Monitor, Troubleshoot, Color Management, and some extra tabs marked Intel, NVIDIA, or ATI. One of these extra tabs should have an option to "mirror" video to a TV, or display the same thing on both the TV and the VGA port. For more information, see the printed or CD manuals that came with your computer or video card.

A Sewell SW-22050 scan converter. Clockwise from left: VGA video in, composite video out, power in.

If your PC lacks SDTV outputs, you'll need to use a scan converter. This device takes a a high-definition VGA signal and removes fine detail that won't fit on an SDTV.

Your computer Your monitor Required cable
Jack icon blue VGA.png VGA Jack icon yellow RCA.png Composite VGA cable,
scan converter, and RCA cable
Jack icon blue VGA.png VGA Jack icon S-Video.png S-Video VGA cable,
scan converter, and S-Video cable
Jack icon DVI-I.png DVI-I Jack icon yellow RCA.png Composite DVI-I to VGA cable,
scan converter, and RCA cable
Jack icon DVI-I.png DVI-I Jack icon S-Video.png S-Video DVI-I to VGA cable,
scan converter, and S-Video cable

It may be hard to find a scan converter in a brick-and-mortar retail store. I've had decent results with the SW-22050 from Sewell ($34.95), which includes a VGA cable, an RCA cable, an S-Video cable, and a cable for drawing power from a USB port. This video at YouTube explains further.

Audio connector

PC sound cards have two or more "miniplug" jacks (3.5mm TRS connectors) that looks like the headphone jack on a radio or an MP3 player. The one with a pink ring around it is for a microphone, and the lime green one is for a pair of speakers.

Jack icon white RCA.png Jack icon red RCA.png
The audio input on a TV or a home theater system is usually a pair of RCA connectors, white for the left and red for the right. Sometimes, especially with VGA connectors, a TV will have a miniplug input instead of a pair of RCAs. Cables with a miniplug on one end and two RCAs on the other end are easy to find in the MP3 player section of your favorite electronics store. Or you can pick up a cable on SewellDirect alongside your scan converter.

Some HDMI inputs don't have an audio connector; instead, they use the audio link in the HDMI signal. But many TVs with more than one HDMI input are designed for use with a PC and thus have audio connectors next to one of the HDMI inputs. Most newer video cards and integrated graphics processors with an HDMI output can send sound over the HDMI link.

To add: miniplug icon

External links

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