Your projector typically works as a display like a computer monitor or television screen. Therefore, when it comes to the question of how you should connect your TV or computer to your projector, you should realize several things. The traditional Cathode-Ray Tube (CRT) or terrestrial “boob tube” television sets with “bunny ear” antennas won’t be able to deliver its TV signals to a VGA-connection projector. It’s better to link the cable box or media player to the projector instead.
Also, among the LCD (Liquid Crystal Display), DLP (Digital Light Processing), or LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) types of projectors, the LCD came first and was almost ubiquitous. They also readily connected with the latest PCs and laptops at the time. Here are the things you need to know when it comes to connecting your projector to different devices.
Steps for Connecting a Laptop or Desktop Computer to a Projector
It’s relatively easy to connect your projector to a desktop or laptop computer. That’s because LCD video projectors have been used for business presentations since about the late 1980s and early 1990s all the way to the present. This is not coincidentally also around the time when the personal computer became all the rage. The more advanced computers became so did projectors, since they served as an alternative to the computer monitor when it came to presenting something to a wide audience.
Even though not every setup is identical when it comes to computer to projector connections, it follows the same steps on a basic level. This guide should help you through the whole process although you might have to fill in the blanks in regards to certain specifications relating to compatibility and individual circumstances involving the make and model of your devices.
For instance, classic LCD projectors with VGA outputs tend to follow the following steps to connect the computer to the projector.
- Turn Off The Laptop or Desktop: Before the dawn of Plug & Play, you needed to first turn off your laptop notebook PC or desktop PC workstation before connecting it to the projector. Only after it has restarted can it recognize and work with the projector as its new monitor. Essentially, you’re substituting the projector as the monitor of the laptop or desktop.
- Connect The Right Cables to the Right Ports: Typically, you need to connect the VGA video cable from the notebook PC’s or workstation’s external video port to the projector’s own ports. You can read up on the video connection guide below to know which video outputs and cables you need in order for the linkup to work.
- Plug-In Your Projector: Old-timey projectors require you to plug them in only after you’ve connected them to the PC port with a video link cable. Newer models with Plug & Play features can be turned on or off anytime and the advanced PC will be able to recognize them at will. Some even have wireless methods of connecting with computers as required.
- Turn On Your Laptop or Desktop: Only after you’ve turned on your 1990s LCD projector can you turn on your 1990s VGA-cabled desktop or laptop. Otherwise, the computer won’t recognize the device when you plug its cable onto its port willy-nilly.
- Connect The Audio Out to the Sound System: If your presentation is in need of audio you can connect the audio out port of your vintage laptop or desktop to another sound system, like Sound Blaster or some other PC speaker rig. More modern projectors actually have their own speakers so you can connect audio to them.
- Sync the Projector to The Computer: You might also need to sync your desktop or laptop PC to your external projector device by holding down the Fn or Function key and pressing one of the following keys for toggling purposes—F4, F5, F7, or F8 as well as any other F key. For modern systems with Plug & Play, the PC should immediately recognize the projector immediately unless it’s a vintage model.
As for the more advanced LCD, DLP, and LCoS digital video projectors, it’s even simpler than ever before to connect them to whatever modern PC is available out there.
- Mirroring The Display: Modern PCs or even mobile devices like smartphones and tablets will allow you to mirror the display on their own monitors or screens. There’s no need to shut down everything in order to sync the devices together. Usually, it’s simple as linking USB or HDMI cables to the right ports. Now you have the display on both the original screen and the projector available.
- Use the Right Connection or Adapter: The mirrored image generated by your computer on both its screen and on your projector is possible through ports and cables that are available on the majority of modern PCs at present since the 2000s. Both laptop and desktop PCs have the capability to connect to a projector or TV as long as the appropriate cables and ports are available. Otherwise, you might need to use adapters to make the linkups happen.
- Streaming Information to Different Devices: Modern projectors also have the same wireless or Wi-Fi capabilities that allow information to be streamed to them, which is also the case for many tablets, PCs, media players, videogame consoles, and smartphones at present. You can specifically make use of Google Chromecast to broadcast that info to supported devices and appliances. It’s also possible to connect your PC directly to your computer, especially if they’re from the same brand (Apple or Samsung).
- Identifying Available Wired and Wireless Connections: You need to connect your computer to a projector the same way you would a modern digital HDTV—through the identification of available connections. For wired connections, you need to see if both devices have compatible ports like HDMI or USB. Also, as for wireless connections, your laptop automatically identifies Wi-Fi connections near its area, right? It’s the same case when connecting your compatible PC to a compatible display device, like for example an iMac or MacBook Pro to an Apple TV or a PC to a projector.
How to Connect a TV to a Projector
First off, CRTs will not be able to transfer their analog TV signal to an LCD projector. It’s better to link it up to a VCR, Laserdisc, or Betamax since those are actually media players with signals that the projector could read. Meanwhile, linking your HDTV to your digital video projector is redundant somewhat since both are displays.
It’s more correct to connect your Wi-Fi Internet, satellite/cable box, DVD player, Blu-ray Disc (BD) player, or video game console (of the Nintendo Switch, Nintendo Wii-U, Sony PlayStation 4, or Xbox One variety) to your projector than to connect it to your HDTV and expect to get a signal from it (when that probably relies on a cable box or streaming media itself).
Projector connections require the following steps to work.
- Media Players Only for Vintage Projectors: To reiterate, classic LCD projectors from the 1990s can only connect to things like VHS players or VCRs. They can’t even connect to cable boxes since those don’t exist yet. Rather than connect to TVs, you should link the port of your vintage media player to your projector. When it comes to modern connections, it is possible to link up a TV to a projector in order to get cable or satellite box signals, but usually, it’s more practical to link up the projector directly to the box in question instead of using the TV as a middleman of sorts.
- VGA Is The Way To Go for Vintage Projectors: The Video Graphics Array (VGA) connection id the way to go when dealing with vintage connections between things like PCs, PC monitors, CRT TVs, and LCD projectors. It was the predominant video connection format for computers that are compatible with the three-pronged RCA composite or A/V video ports of TVs at the time. You can connect your PC to certain TVs the same way you’d connect your VCR or videogame consoles to it. Projectors, meanwhile, can double as displays for VCRs but not for CRTs or videogame consoles.
- TVs Require Switching TV Inputs: When connecting a PC, VCR, or videogame console to a TV, you should switch the TV to the correct input channel. For instance, you need to go to Channel 3 or 4 or whichever else in order to see the video output of your device. You might alternatively not need to go to a channel but instead press the AV1, AV2, or Video button of your TV or TV remote to see the display. For modern HDTVs, you need to specify if the device is connected to the HDMI 1 or HDMI 2 port of the TV set.
- Projectors Don’t Need to Press Any Input Buttons: When it comes to connecting your media player, PC, or whatever else to your projector, you don’t need to press any input button. This is because the projector is more like the computer monitor in that it only displays one image or video from a direct feed instead of multiple separate channels from terrestrial TV signals. You can, however, link an HDTV to a projector in order to mirror the displays of both through a splitter or by daisy-chaining them to each other.
- The Daisy-Chain Option for TV-Projector Connections: Although it’s mostly unnecessary since you can always connect media players and cable boxes to either the TV or the projector, it is possible to make a TV-projector connection for the sake of mirroring screens. In other words, your projector is connected to the TV in order to mirror its cable box or DVD player signal unto itself, leading to two displays displaying the same screen at the same time. However, it’s also possible to simply split the signal between HDTV and projector through a splitter or matrix switcher in order to not require any links between projector and TV.
- Streaming and Wireless Connections for TVs and Projectors: All modern projectors and TVs have one or more ports that enable them to receive and display the image generated by a media player, desktop PC, notebook PC, smartphone, tablet, videogame console, and so forth. You can link them by cables or you can link them wirelessly through a wireless transceiver and receiver package. Many of these LCD/DLP/LCoS projectors and HDTVs also have Wi-Fi or wireless capabilities that allow them to stream online videos from YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, and Twitch.tv. Connectivity and compatibility will vary from model to model or brand to brand.
Projector Connection Types for TVs or PCs
When it comes to linking up your HDTV or desktop/laptop PC to your projector, you should be aware of the type of projector connection available. There are many connector types available for projectors past and present. These allow your projector to link up to any computer or TV as well as media players, mobile devices, game consoles, and the like. The list below shows the most common connections available. This list even includes non-HDMI legacy systems that have become obsolete in the 21st Century.
HDMI – High-Definition Media Interface
The High-Definition Media Interface (HDMI) is the most common and ubiquitous 21st Century A/V connection for HDTVs because of its high bitrate and high definition transfer of uncompressed video and audio signals from port to port, cable to cable. The reason for the rise of its popularity is because it became the universal or de facto port for HDTVs everywhere, such that if you wish to connect any media player or videogame device to an HDTV, you better have an HDMI port or HDMI adapter available.
It beat out other HD connection standards like DVI (which came first but doesn’t have audio) and DisplayPort (which came later but only served as an alternative to the current HDMI standard). Thusly, many a modern projector makes use of the HDMI standard as well, allowing them to become the HDMI-based alternative display device for various media players and content providers. They include other display devices like the HDTV, DTV, computer monitor, digital audio devices, digital sound systems, and so forth.
VGA (D-sub 15)
Classic LCD projectors used to display presentations from the laptop and desktop PCs tend to make use of the D-sub 15 type of VGA D-plug specifically. Vintage video projectors from the 20th Century mostly connected to VCRs and the like through this VGA type. This is in contrast to the standard D-plug that has two interlaced row of pins spaced out about 1/10th of an inch, with a single row missing one pin compared to the other row to form a D-shape.
Digital LCD projectors from the 1990s relied on the D-sub 15 plug because it notably had a third row of pins that still retained the D-shape yet offered a more solid video connection to any media player that had a respective port for this VGA type. This 15-pin plug soon took over the older 9-in monitor connector standard. Many video projectors depended on this 15-pin plug variant for the sake of getting max image fidelity for the time.
DVI – Digital Visual Interface
Before HDMI there was Digital Visual Interface (DVI). It was the first standard that provided high-definition, uncompressed connections for HD computer monitors and digital video projectors. It was never used for HDTVs because it only allowed for high-speed transfer for HD video signals. It lacked an audio connection, which is perfect for computer monitors and projectors of the time of its release but not for TVs that depended on A/V or audio/video connections.
HDMI became more popular than DVI mostly because HDMI combined audio and video signals in one cable. With DVI, you needed a separate audio cable although later versions of it did include audio transmissions as well. Regardless, there are some computers that make use of the DVI format, so you might need a corresponding projector with a DVI output to be able to connect to them. Otherwise, you need to get a DVI to HDMI converter or adapter.
Composite Video (RCA)
Certain TVs and VCRs of the past were part of the composite RCA era. Like DVI, this is a video-only connection, with the audio parts needing a separate cable and sound system to work. The composite video connection was the norm during the time when the SD resolution of 480i to 576i (interlaced rather than progressive scanning) on a single channel was the standard. The three variants of composite video are NTSC, SECAM, and PAL.
If you’re playing footage from a vintage computer, DVD player, camcorder, or VCR then you might need an RCA connection for your accompanying projector. RCA also has data encoded on a single channel versus S-video and its 2-channel approach to things or component video and its 3-channel offerings. If you want to play a composite video on an HDMI-based projector then you will need a converter or adapter. Otherwise, stick to a projector from the same era that accepts such a connection.
S-video, otherwise known as Y/C, is the superior format compared to RCA. Thusly, projectors from that era switched from composite video to RCA. It’s actually more common to see RCA and VGA connections on the 1990s LCD projectors compared to any other format prior to the HD era of A/V standards. This signaling standard is typically utilized to project the SD video of the 480i to 576i variety like RCA. However, it uses separate black-and-white and colored signals for better image fidelity for its era.
Additionally, it offers the best resolution SD video and images superior to composite video. It will eventually be outdone by component video and HDMI formats though. To be more specific, it has a smaller image resolution compared to HDMI and has lower color resolution compared to component video. SD analog TV signals travel through a number of processing steps that compresses the video prior to broadcasting that’s also reflected by A/V connectors for VCRs and projectors at the time.
Component Video (YPbPr)
The A/V format of YPbPr or component video is probably the last A/V format of the SD or analog era. It’s superior to both S-video (2-channel) and RCA video (1-channel) because it uses 3 channels in order to properly render images. Its digital version is the YCbCr color space. Both YPbPr and YCbCr are equal in numeric terms. However, YPbPr is designed for analog use while YCbCr is designed for digital use.
There was a point when component video stood toe-to-toe against HDMI and its 1080p (progressive scan) resolution with its own 1080i (interlaced) resolution. However, both HD resolutions were eventually dwarfed in the 2010s with the advent of 4K and 8K UltraHD resolutions. Projectors make use of the component video standard because of its ability to transmit color and luminance information on a single cable. It’s like it’s halfway there to becoming HDMI save for audio transmission.
Audio In (3.5mm)
Certain projectors have an audio input. This is especially true of pocket or pico video projectors because they’re typically advertised as portable cinemas for large audiences. Just find a screen or wall big enough to watch the latest movies or marathon your favorite TV shows with a bigger amount of viewers watching compared to what a laptop or flatscreen TVs could accommodate.
Furthermore, other than HDMI ports and cables that stream audio in one connection, older projectors with built-in speakers required a 3.5 mm or phone connector audio input jack for the sake of playing the sounds, dialog, and music of any given video on top of playing the video itself. Those ports are typically available in older legacy systems that make use of S-video, RCA, or component video connections.
The Universal Serial Bus (USB) standard that’s been around since 1996 and became the de facto standard for PC device and hardware connections the New Millennium comes in multiple forms, from USB-A to USB-C. USB-A is the USB port most PC users are most familiar with. It’s the one where you stick your external HDD or USB stick into. You can use it to connect to appliances like printers, canners, WACOM tablets, and (naturally) projectors.
Speaking of projectors, they mostly connect to computer USB-A ports in a Plug & Play manner, with your projector serving as an output device a la the computer monitor. However, if when you plug the projector to your computer and you don’t see an image output off of the display device, you may need to change the display by pressing the Windows Key, typing “Adjust Screen Resolution” and pressing enter, finding Display and clicking the down arrow, and selecting the correct output device before clicking OK.
USB-B ports are less common than USB-A (for PCs and PC hardware) and USB-C (for mobile devices) ports. With that said, standard USB-B connectors have a square shape to them and they’re commonly used to connect things like printers and scanners to PCs from the late 1990s and early 2000s. USB-B used to be the alternative to USB-A until USB-C was created to ride the rising wave of popularity of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets as well as even thinner laptops.
The USB-B standard was mostly used for hard drive enclosures and floppy disk drives. Naturally, USB-B connections were also available to projectors, allowing them to link up to a computer without using a VGA or RCA cable. USB-B has gone to the wayside the same way A and B batteries were forgotten in favor of AA and AAA batteries that saw more common usage in clocks and toys. B batteries, for instance, were mostly used in Europe to power up lanterns and bicycle lamps. Certain projectors have a USB-B port that requires a cable with a USB-B connector on one end and a USB-A connector on the other end.
LAN or Wireless
A Local Area Network (LAN) is capable of connecting computers within a building to one or more projectors. This is as opposed to a Metropolitan Area Network (MAN) that covers several buildings’ worth of networks or LANs together or a Wide Area Network (WAN) that has no geo-restriction and can connect networks within a state or country to one or multiple projectors. It’s mostly limited to LAN and one projector though.
LAN typically uses wired Cat5/Cat6/Cat7 connections to connect computers together since those are so dependable that they’re being used as HDMI extensions for long-distance connections that go beyond 25 to 50 feet (they can extend HDMI connections for 500 feet). However, you can also connect your projector to a LAN or even a Wi-Fi Internet connection through wireless networking. The projector can either have a wireless chip inside it or it might require a transceiver/receiver package to allow for wireless connections and online streaming.
Projectors can easily connect to any laptop or desktop computer through various means, from HDMI ports and cables to wireless connections using a Wi-Fi chip or transceiver/receiver wireless converter package. Ideally, you should use the right era or model of projector to a corresponding PC of a given vintage or year. Meanwhile, TV-to-projector connections are more complicated.
Ideally, it’s better to directly link your projector to a media player, cable box, or videogame console than to link them to a TV. CRT TVs can’t transmit their signals to a projector, for instance. However, it is possible to mirror content put on an HDTV to a projector at the same time by daisy-chaining their connections together.
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