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How to use your TV as a computer monitor

Have you been eyeing your beautiful, extra-large TV screen lately, wondering what it would be like to have that as your computer monitor? You can make that happen! With the right connections (and some innovative accessory setup on your part), you can make your TV double as a computer display.

Here’s how to use your TV as a computer monitor. In the market for a new TV? These are the best TVs of 2020.

Check your connections

There’s one important test your computer and TV need to pass to make them compatible: They need the right ports. The good news is that this isn’t usually a problem thanks to that ubiquitous audio/video standard called HDMI.

All modern TVs are equipped with at least one HDMI port, which should be clearly labeled. Computers are a little more hit or miss: Many graphics cards come with HDMI ports, especially if you have a dedicated GPU that you purchased yourself, but not all of them do. Check the ports available on your computer, and from the GPU specifically, to see if you can support an HDMI connection.

There are two types of HDMI options you may find. One is a basic male-to-male HDMI link where you have a whole lot of cable options to choose from. The other setup is a mini-HDMI connection where one device has a mini-HDMI port, which requires an HDMI-to-mini-HDMI cable. Either option can route your computer display to your TV: Just plug the HDMI cables in both devices, and turn them on.

However, make sure your HDMI cable is long enough to support the setup you have in mind. Issues with space and positioning often mean that a longer cable is necessary for supporting TVs as monitors.

When you don’t have HDMI

There are two common cases where either your TV or your computer doesn’t have the right HDMI ports to make connections easy. There are other options you can try, though.

In the first case, your computer or your TV has a DVI port but no HDMI. This happened on older models before HDMI became the must-have A/V connection, and may be particularly common on computers with graphics cards or motherboards that just weren’t made with HDMI in mind. Fortunately, adapters are made specifically to bridge DVI/HDMI connections, and this AmazonBasics model is very affordable. However, using an adapter can increase the chances of input lag, lower video quality, and other issues, so there’s a tradeoff to consider, depending on your plans.

The second case users run into is when a computer has DisplayPort connections, but no HDMI. This can happen even on newer computers that choose to prioritize DisplayPort or mini-DisplayPort — a standard that’s common among monitors but very rarely seen with TVs. In this case, there are DisplayPort adapters that can help, and are usually very affordable.

You could consider upgrading your graphics card too, as that would let you pick something with a port that you can work with. If you can’t because you’re using a laptop, there’s always the option of an external GPU dock. This allows you to pick the best and latest graphics card options for your TV and computer, customizing all the connections you need. However, eGPUs are also expensive, most suited for gamers willing to drop several hundred dollars on a flexible setup that can do anything.

Working with audio

Yes, HDMI also supports audio, but routing audio from your computer to your TV can be a bigger task than routing video. The key is what capabilities your GPU has. Most modern GPUs have their own HD audio codecs built right into the graphics card, a design specifically made for HDMI and DisplayPort, which can produce excellent audio results with no extra messing around to worry about.

If your GPU doesn’t support that, you could use S/PDIF audio pass-through, a standard that’s designed to send audio from a graphics card over an HDMI connection. If building your own PC, keep in mind that this can require extra customization, including  connecting S/PDIF components on your GPU to your audio controller.

If your GPU doesn’t support either of these options, your best bet is to plug headphones or speakers directly into your PC instead.

Understand the limitations

These setup instructions will get you a connection to your TV. But transmitting the image is only part of the story. Unlike monitors, TVs aren’t exactly designed to support computer activities, which means your experience can vary greatly depending on the hardware you have. Input lag, mouse movements, text size, and resolution may all create hurdles on your way to a perfect experience. While not all these hurdles are easily surmountable, you can improve your TV connection by making sure you have the following:

Chroma 4:4:4 subsampling: Chroma subsampling is a compression standard used to send video data. The 4:4:4 subsampling skips as much compression as possible to send the fullest amount of color data through HDMI connections. That makes it ideal for computer-to-TV connections, great for text size and other formatting, and generally a must-have if you are serious about your setup. Look at TV specifications for Chroma 4:4:4 subsampling, or find a knowledgeable representative to ask (knowledgeable being the key).

Matching HDMI generations: You’ll get better results if all your devices and cables support the latest HDMI standard. The newest version is HDMI 2.1 and is complete overkill for anything but 4K resolution or higher at high frame rates. Just making sure you’re using a high-quality HDMI 1.4 or 2.0 connection on all devices is a good bet.

A good processor: Older processors on your computer can sometimes impede performance. Updating your processor to a new version can help with the connection process. Need help picking one? Check out the best CPUs available today.

Healthy TV mounting practices: TV mounting may not affect picture quality, but it sure can help eye and neck strain. Find the right positioning that allows you to use your TV as a monitor while still practicing good posture (and staying comfortable). Don’t use a TV that’s too high or tilted away from your eye level. A standing desk can be really useful there.

A newer HDTV: The latest HDR standard, HDR10, can also help improve image quality for entertainment, gaming, and so on. It’s a nice bonus to have, and available on many new TVs.

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