First, it’s best to go over some background, so that you understand the different cables involved here. All the MacBooks, including the newest white model, have mini-DVI ports on the side that can be used to plug in an adapter that can be connected to a DVI (Digital Video Interface) cable. Both the PowerBook G4 and older iMacs running on Intel’s Core Duo processor also have mini-DVI ports.
While older MacBook Pro models had a DVI output built-in, the newer ones, especially the unibody models, have Mini DisplayPort ports, which are different from mini-DVI. The MacBook Air, new iMacs and even the Mac Pro have Mini DisplayPort ports as well. The Mac Mini is the only one in Apple’s lineup that actually has both mini-DVI and Mini DisplayPort ports on the back.
These two ports aren’t exactly proprietary to Apple, but they’re close enough. Apple has licensed out the Mini DisplayPort for free back in January, so it’s expected that it may catch on with other computer manufacturers as well. The key difference that makes Mini DisplayPort stand out is that it can handle resolutions up to 2560×1600, whereas Mini-DVI can only support resolutions of up to 1920×1200.
The good news is that both resolutions are good enough to display your Mac’s screen in high-definition quality. The bad news is that you’ll need to spend money on both an adapter and a video cable to enable the connection between your Mac and HDTV.
Apple offers Mini-DVI-to-DVI and Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI adapters that you can purchase at Apple Store locations, Apple Resellers or on Apple Canada’s website. But Apple’s adapters are too pricey. The Mini-DVI-to-DVI adapter is $25, while the Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI costs £12.99. Electronics retailers like Best Buy and Future Shop also sell Apple’s adapters, but at inflated prices, which makes it even more uninspiring to spend the money. Alternatively, there is third-party adapters like one from Cablesson that is half the price.
The adapter is only one side of this, of course, because you also need the proper cable to connect to the TV. You can go any one of two ways with this. You can opt for a DVI-to-HDMI cable, which might be a good bet if you have several HDMI inputs in the back of your TV. You can also decide to go with a DVI-to-DVI cable, if your TV has it and your HDMI ports are occupied. Both should do the job fabulously, so it’s more a matter of preference.
The unfortunate part is that these cables are on the pricey side as well. Though they will vary, you will likely see them cost between $50-$100, depending on the manufacturer and retailer. And despite the different types (gold-plated plugs vs. regular ones), performance shouldn’t be all that different.
While there are VGA adapters that work really well for doing presentations and other needs, I’m focusing squarely on DVI and HDMI here because they are the ideal connectors to get HD quality from the Mac to the TV.
Now that you’ve connected all the cables together, and used your TV remote to go to the corresponding input, you should see the screen flicker and eventually show you a blank blue screen or the wallpaper you have on your desktop. You might also not see any of this at all, but it won’t matter since the next steps should enable you to see your Mac’s screen on your TV.
1. On your Mac, open System Preferences and go to Displays
2. You should see a list of resolutions and other options. Click Detect Displays so that the System Preferences identifies the TV. Usually, it will adjust the options and you should see the name of the TV manufacturer at the top of the window.
3. At this point, if the image looks squished or too stretched out, you can adjust the resolution manually via the list in the Display preferences on the Mac.
4. The Mac will treat the TV as a secondary monitor, so you can literally drag anything on your Mac’s screen over so that it appears on the TV.
5. But if you’d rather not have it set up like this, then look to your menu bar and click the TV-like icon there. If you want the TV to show exactly what’s being displayed on your Mac, simply choose Turn On Mirroring and you should see the same thing on both screens.
One thing you won’t have is audio, and the reason why is because DVI only outputs a video signal. HDMI, on the other hand, can output and input both video and sound at very high qualities, which is why it’s pretty much the de facto HD standard in consumer electronics.
The workaround to this is to get a regular line-in cable with two 3.5mm jacks on either end (the same plugs you would see on a pair of earbuds, for example). Plug one end into the headphone port on your Mac and then the other on the back of the TV. Most flat-panel TVs should have a plug for this, but that’s usually only the case if there’s a DVI input, which isn’t always a guarantee. Another option is to get a line-in cable that has a 3.5mm jack on one end and the red and white audio plugs on the other. All TVs have those ports, so that shouldn’t pose a problem for you at all.
Even in this case, there may be TV models that won’t allow you to get this working properly. If you’ve opted to go with a DVI-to-DVI cable, then the audio should come through seamlessly from the Mac. However, using a DVI-to-HDMI cable might confuse the TV because it’s expecting the sound to come in via HDMI. Since DVI doesn’t carry any audio signals, there’s no sound travelling to the HDMI port. There are ways to get around this with most TVs, especially newer flat-panels, but I couldn’t make it happen with my 52″ Sharp AQUOS LC52D92U.
Connecting the audio to a receiver that powers a set of external speakers is a great option to avoid any hassles and even get 5.1 surround-sound. You can also do this through a subwoofer that powers a couple of speakers as well.
Of course, one of the best options to avoid dealing with different cables and separate video and audio connections is to go with a Mini Displayport-to-HDMI adapter. They seem to be pretty rare, and even Apple hasn’t released one yet, but you could get one for a good price from Oxford bases UKHDMI.com.
One last thing that you can consider while setting this all up. If you don’t want the Mac’s screen to be on, or you’d prefer to close the lid on your MacBook, you can do that by going to System Preferences > Display and click the Arrangement tab. Uncheck Mirror Displays and drag the larger blue screen over to the left, along with the menu bar strip right above that. This basically “switches” the screens, so that the MacBook’s screen becomes a secondary display. Choose what you want to watch and close the lid.
The other option is to connect a wireless keyboard and/or mouse to control what you’re doing while the TV is your primary display. Microsoft’s Bluetrack Mouse proves to be good, since it works on just about any surface, but you could always try a different product. If you’re running Front Row on your Mac, you could also try the Apple remote to navigate the menus.
The setup I’ve described in this article is a popular one for the Mac Mini, which obviously doesn’t come with a monitor or any peripherals. This is partly why the Mac Mini has proven to be very popular as a media server. If this is a setup you’d like to have on your MacBook, then it might be worth a try, so you can enjoy your favourite content on a big screen TV.