How to Connect iMac/Macbook to Projector

Let’s say you have a projector and you want to connect it to your iMac/MacBook so that you can watch movies or play online games in a more cinematic way. How should you go about it? How to connect iMac/Macbook to Projector? Read on to find out. Essentially, it depends on how advanced or “smart” your projector is, what types of ports it has, and how many of them can be linked to your MacBook Pro, Air, and so forth. You might also need adapters in case your projector isn’t a smart one that can connect to Airplay or something.

Different Ports Used by Different Macintosh Products

Here are the different ports used by different Macintosh products. 

  • Thunderbolt 3: Thunderbolt 3 is the Apple or Mac port equivalent of USB-C. It’s a port that works with both USB-C cable and Thunderbolt 3 cable without the need for adapters or converters, with the caveat that the 40 Gbps throughput can only be achieved through a Thunderbolt 3 cable. If your projector doesn’t connect to this port. The Mac models that make use of this port type include the following:
    • MacBook Pro (2016 and later)
    • MacBook Air (2018 and later)
    • iMac (2017 and later)
    • iMac Pro (all models available)
    • Mac Mini (2018)
    • Mac Pro (2019)

If your Mac laptop or desktop ahs more than one port like Thunderbolt 3, each of them supports both USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 cables.

Different Ports Used by Different Macintosh Products

 

  • USB-C: Speaking of USB-C, it’s the format that replaces Micro USB for use in smartphones, PDAs, and handheld peripherals. You can use USB-C connectors with displays and other devices that connect with its cable, particularly your projector. You can also connect a power adapter and USB-C cable to charge your computer.

As per usual, if you have an appliance that can’t connect to this USB-C port, you’ll need an adapter for it. The port doesn’t support any Thunderbolt connector, just USB-C connectors. It’s also used by the following Mac models:

    • MacBook Pro/Air/Etc. (2015 and later)

If your MacBook only has this port but no Thunderbolt port, then it only supports USB-C connections but not Thunderbolt.

  • Thunderbolt 1 and 2: Thunderbolt 1 or 2 works with displays and other devices like Apple-compatible projectors that require connections with the Thunderbolt cable.  They shouldn’t be confused with the Mini DisplayPort or Mini DP port. They have the same shape but have different symbols on the port and cable. This port doesn’t support Mini DP for video. Use a Mini DP cable to connect to a Mini DP display.

The Mac laptop models that use Thunderbolt 1 or 2 ports include the following:

    • MacBook Pro (2011-2015)
    • MacBook Air (2011-2017)
    • Mac Mini (2011-2014)
    • iMac (2011-2015)
    • Mac Pro (2013) 
  • Mini DisplayPort: If you have a projector that makes use of a Mini DP cable, you can connect to it with any of the following Mac models that have the Mini DP as its port for display connections using the DP cable. Such Mac laptop models include the following makes and years: 
    • MacBook Pro (2008-2010)
    • MacBook Air (2008-2010)
    • Mac Mini (2009-2010)
    • iMac (2009-2010)
    • Mac Pro (2009-2012)

Don’t confuse Mini DP with Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt 2. They have the same shape of port but are completely different. The symbols on the port and cable for any of the three are all different too. 

  • USB-A: USB-A ports connect using the USB cable. Most cables for Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C have USB-A cable connectors to boot. While it is possible to connect USB-A devices together, make sure that the connection also allows for screen mirroring or display instead of acting like a power adapter or flash drive. USB ports are sometimes known by specifications, like USB 2.0 or USB 3.0.
  • HDMI: You’re usually good to go if your laptop has an HDMI port since most projectors nowadays have the same display port with universal compatibility among HDMI devices. You can easily set up screen duplication from there either manually or by your computer detecting the projector’s presence.

See more: Types of Projector Cables and The Projector Converters to Use

Getting Your Mac to Display on a Projector 101

Why would you want your MacBook anything to display on a projector? There are a lot of reasons. You can play movies on your laptop on a much bigger screen than your laptop screen or even HDTV screen. If you can get a low-latency projector, you can even decently play quality games on your Mac with a bigger interface. It’s much easier to edit movies then preview them on a big screen too.

With that said, what are the steps to enabling you to display your Mac on a projector? It’s actually quite easy to do if you know the steps. Here are the steps to do it, by the way.

  • Turn on Your Mac and Projector: Your Mac should be turned on before you connect it to your projector. This will get you ready to project or mirror the display you see on your laptop screen to a separate projection image from your projector. Also, plug your projector to an electrical socket because you also need your projector to be turned on as well to make your connection possible. Actually, depending on how old your Mac is, you might need to restart or turn it on only after the connection is established.
  • Connect the Video Cable to the Mac: When connecting a VGA video cable from the projector to Mac, you need to restart the laptop for it to recognize the device. Later versions of the Mac has plug & play options. If you’re connecting an HDMI cable from Mac to projector instead, it’s better to turn them both on since you can hot-swap HDMI connections (you don’t need to restart for the connection to get recognized). VGA doesn’t have that hot-swapping capability and some Macs require a restart to recognize a new or second monitor.
  • Using The Right Adapter Cable for The Job: You’re most likely going to need to use an adapter cable for your Mac to interface with your projector, whether it’s a Lightning to HDMI/VGA or Thunderbolt to HDMI/VGA cable depends on what sort of port is available with your Mac. You can avail of at least 5 different adapter cables for Mac PCs, which vary depending on the available video inputs and the vintage or year your computer was made. The latest ones for notebook PCs are Thunderbolt 3, Lightning, and USB-C.
  • Setting Up Your Mac Connection with Your Projector: After you’ve established the connection to your Mac PC and your projector, click on the Apple menu, which is located on the top left corner of the interface. From there, choose System Preferences from the resulting dropdown menu. Click on the Displays icon and then select the Detect Displays button on the Displays window as soon as it emerges. It’s at this junction, your MacBook Pro or Air should finally synchronize with your projector, allowing for screen mirroring or duplication on the big screen.
  • Fixing and Troubleshooting the Sync: If for any reason your projector and Mac refuse to sync together after following the setup steps in the previous section, try the following instead.  Again, go to the top-left corner of your screen and tap on the Apple Menu. Afterwards, select System Preferences once more from the same dropdown menu as well as click on the Displays icon. The menu bar should have the Arrangement Tab when the Displays window pops up. There’s a box for “Mirror Displays” you’re supposed to activate or check on the lower left-hand corner of the window.
  • Finishing Up The Setup: After checking the “Mirror Displays” box, wait for several seconds until you see twin displays available, like the one on your MacBook’s screen and the other (same) screen on your projector image. Mirroring allows you to not need to look up into the projector screen when doing things like product presentations at the office or lectures and slideshows at school. After mirroring has happened, you’re now good to go. If you see your desktop wallpaper with no icons, then you’re in desktop extension mode and you need to correct things and ensure you’re in mirror mode instead.

Macbook to Projector

How to Use a Projector Wirelessly with a MacBook 101

Projectors are quite flexible and versatile, aren’t they? This is especially true when it comes to home entertainment systems, school presentations, and office settings. With that in mind, you can extend such benefits all the way to how you connect your Mac to your projector. There is a way to skip the part where you have to get adapter cables to connect your Mac to a projector by connecting it wirelessly via Airplay.

  • Apple TV Is The Key: Apple’s Airplay feature allows Apple devices like the MacBook and iPhone to connect to the Apple TV, which is Apple’s answer to smart HDTVs. You basically need to daisy-chain your projector to an Apple TV so that it can serve as the mediator for all other Apple products. Long story short, you’re going to mirror the display of the Apple TV via the projector’s HDMI input while the Apple TV itself does the rest, connecting to your various devices via Airplay, allowing you to do things like presentations or Netflix marathons.
  • Connecting The Projector to The Apple TV: First, connect your projector to the Apple TV by plugging an HDMI cable between them. Yes, you still need a wired connection first before you are able to connect wirelessly to a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air as well as an iPhone, iPod, and iPad. You should then turn your Apple TV on by connecting the power cable unto it and then connecting the plug to the nearest electrical socket. The Apple TV remote has a center button you can press to “wake” the device up after turning it on. This will then take you to the configuration mode.
  • Configuration Mode and Settings App: Configuration mode is where you can set up the settings for your Apple TV. Select your Apple TV’s language first then select “Wireless Network” as your network type of choice on the setup screen for Network. At the prompt, enter the password for your home Wi-Fi network. Afterwards, go to the “Settings” app using your remote then open the “General” page. There’s a “Network” option you’re supposed to choose. Go to “Configure Network” and then fix the settings for your new Wi-Fi network.
  • Setting Up Airplay Itself: Open the slideshow presentation, application, or webpage on Safari that you wish to display on your MacBook. This should show up on your Apple TV once you’re able to wirelessly connect the MacBook to it. At any rate, click on the top menu of your MacBook the Airplay icon and then click the “Apple TV” option. This automatically mirrors the screen of your MacBook to the screen of your Apple TV. Because there’s also a projector connected to the Apple TV, this becomes a two-way mirror where the original MacBook screen is also seen in both the Apple TV and the projector.
  • Things to Remember When Doing Wireless Connections: To turn Airplay off when you’re finished with it, simply click the Airplay icon again then click the “Turn Off Airplay Mirroring” to ensure a safe disconnection. Also, Airplay mirroring is a feature that requires Mac OS X Mountain Lion or newer. Additionally, the Netflix website warns of using MacBook to projector connections to view Netflix via Airplay, saying that they’ve cut support for it. If you really want to view Netflix through your projector, you can explore other options like using streaming products such as Amazon Fire TV Stick and Roku.
  • Other Methods of Doing Wireless MacBook to Projector Connections: You can also hunt down a transceiver/transducer dongle wherein you connect the transceiver onto the MacBook Air or Pro and the receiver unto the projector in order to allow a wireless or Wi-Fi connection to happen between them a la Bluetooth with the dongle serving as their network middleman. It’s also possible for Apple-compatible smart projectors to wirelessly connect to Apple devices like MacBooks and iPhones, but you need to specifically find them. The dongle option is readily available for even LCD projectors with VGA connections from the 1990s.

 

When All Is Said and Done

Apple devices can get quite finicky to link to a non-Apple projector or any other device not also made by Apple due to their separate connection standards exclusive for use with other Apple devices. For example, it’s easier to link an iPhone to an iPad, MacBook, or Apple TV compared to linking an iPhone to an Android tablet, Google Chromebook laptop, or HDTV without a corresponding adapter to help you out. Apple wants Apple users to only use Apple products and the only way to bypass this is through adapters and converters. Airplay via Apple TV is also available to you for use for wireless Mac connections. 

References:

  1. How to connect your Mac to a projector?“, Gearbest.com, November 3, 2011
  2. How to Connect a Mac to a Projector“, Meeting Tomorrow, Retrieved June 30, 2020
  3. Lightning (Connector)“, Wikipedia, Retrieved June 30, 2020
  4. Thunderbolt (Interface)“, Wikipedia, Retrieved June 30, 2020
  5. Shawn Farner, “How to Use a Projector Wirelessly With a MacBook“, AZCentral, Retrieved June 30, 2020
  6. Identify the ports on your Mac“, Apple.com, Retrieved July 3, 2020
  7. Thunderbolt (Interface)“, Wikipedia, Retrieved July 3, 2020

Image Source by Azamat Bohed.

James Core
I write dozens of helpful informational articles based on topics that I have identified again and again throughout my research and work experience. I am here to help you find the right projector.

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