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Tech Take-Apart
TV + Laptop = Multimedia Fun
by kp

Connecting your laptop to your TV is a simple and efficient way of creating your own multimedia center without spending much on extra equipment. Both Macs and PCs have built-in video ports that can be connected to most televisions with a specialized adapter. If you have an older TV, it may be more of a challenge to match the VGA port on your laptop up with a composite video plug on the set. Here are some solutions for linking your laptop with your television.

Remote Setup

For Mac users, there are usually two video options available for the system. The iBooks and some PowerBooks have a built in mini VGA port and come with a VGA to DVI (Digital Video Interactive) adapter. The other PowerBooks and new MacBook Pro use a DVI video port. Apple makes two separate video adapters to connect to the older video ports. One, the VGA video adapter kit, has a mini VGA connector with a S-Video or Composite video connection. For the mini DVI, the adapter has DVI plug with the other video connections. These adapters work with TVs, VCRs or projectors that use either Composite or S-Video cable types. After the cables are attached, you need to adjust the Display setting in your System Preferences. Click on "Detect Displays," then choose the Options button. This panel gives you two options for TV output - Best for Video and Overscan. Since computer monitor are higher resolution than analog television, you are limited on the quality of the video output, but you may want to use the Overscan mode to fit the entire monitor desktop on your TV. Your Mac should be ready to go, but if you have a PC laptop, there are some different steps that you need to follow.

Most PC laptops come with a standard 15-pin VGA port, while some have both a VGA and S-Video port. If your TV uses S-Video, you only need a S-Video cable for connection. But to use S-Video with Composite video, there is a S-Video adapter available for under $5. For the VGA port, Grand Tech makes a Universal VGA to TV Converter that has S-Video, Composite video and USB connections. With the cables linked, you'll next need to adjust the settings within the Control Panel. Select Display and click on the Settings tab. In the window, each display is designated as either one or two, and you can also configure each display separately by clicking on the monitor. Each display has its own set of options such as display color quality and screen resolution. When the video setup is complete, you need to work on your audio output.

Most laptops have some type of built-in speakers. Unfortunately, they usually have limited sound quality and volume settings for surround sound. An alternative is to use an external speaker system connected to your laptop's audio output port. I prefer to use my JBL On Stage, because it gives great surround sound quality and takes up little space.

Now that the video and audio is connected, you need a remote to control your video or audio players. The Keyspan Express Remote is a multi-functional unit that works on Mac or PC. This tiny remote fits in the palm of your hand and can operate your music, movie or even presentation software. It comes with a infrared base station that can receive signals up to 40 feet. With the equipment ready to go, all you need are the right programs to get started watching movies or listening to music.

Cool Screen Effects

If you are a Mac user, the multimedia software choices should be already installed on your system. For video, there is Apple's DVD Player and for music, iTunes. The DVD Player includes zoom features, screen size formats and an equalizer. iTunes offers quick access to your music library, and full-screen visual effects as you're jammin' to the tracks. Check out the cool screen effects to the right.

For PC folks, you can use Microsoft's Windows Media Player to access songs, streaming audio, or movies. Windows Media Player has its own customizable effects such as skins and dynamic graphics. To play DVDs, Windows Media Player can be used, but some DVDs rely on other software provided by the DVD manufacturer such as InterVideo. These programs give you some control over the screen settings for better video viewing.

Using your existing laptop to create a multimedia experience on your TV is easy and can save you a few dollars. Taking advantage of your computer's built-in capabilities is a better alternative than purchasing separate uni-task equipment. With the right cables, you can have super-cool system at your fingertips

Shop Online:
Keyspan Express Remote
Apple DVI to VGA Adapter
Apple mini DVI to S-Video/Composite Adapter
Apple Video Adapter Kit
JBL On Stage
S-Video to Composite Video Adapter
Grand Tech Universal VGA to TV Converter

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