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Connecting Your Mac to Your TV

All current (and many older) Mac models can be easily connected to a television and/or sound system for audiovisual content. In the past, displaying computer output on a television involved purchasing a relatively pricey scan converter or video card support TV output and sacrificing much of the quality of a computer display. Thankfully, things have changed in the past few years.

If you own a digital TV, particularly a flat-screen plasma or LCD model, chances are that you can simply attach your Mac to it. Many digital TVs include support for DVI- or VGA-style video input. Others include support for HDMI, a next-generation video connector. You might need to use an appropriate adapter for the DVI output included on current Mac models. Apple has, however, made this process relatively simple. All shipping Macs include a DVI-to-VGA adapter (traditionally used for connection to an older or less-expensive monitor). A DVI-to-HDMI adapter is also available from Apple (as well as other companies) if you need it.

In many cases, you can simply attach the appropriate cables, and Mac OS X will adapt its display settings to match the TV. With some models, however, Mac OS X might not be able to automatically determine the optimal video resolution and color calibration for your TV or that your TV might require a resolution not supported by Mac OS X. In these cases, you might need to manually adjust the resolution of your Mac using the Displays pane in System Preferences and figure out the appropriate resolution by trial and error. Likewise, you might need to use the Display’s pane to create a custom Colorsync profile for your TV. Apple provides additional information, including information on selecting the appropriate resolution for a digital TV on its Mac mini accessories page (although this applies to all Macs with a DVI port). If you find that you cannot set Mac OS X to an appropriate resolution, DisplayConfigX is an inexpensive utility that adds support for a broader range of resolutions than is available in Mac OS X by default.

If you have an analog CRT television, you can still connect your Mac to your TV without much effort or expense. Apple sells a $19 DVI-to-video adapter that provides both S-Video and composite (RCA) video output. The quality provided by this adapter is surprisingly good for its price (comparable to many higher-priced scan converters). It also offers DVI-to-TV video outputs as opposed to scan converters, which require converting from DVI to VGA before converting to S-Video composite video.

Keep in mind, however, that CRT televisions process data at lower resolutions and quality than virtually all computer displays (be they CRT or LCD). Although the resulting video from Apple’s adapter is more than fine for Front Row, with its oversized fonts and graphics), you will notice that for general computer use, the quality is below almost any computer monitor and likely to cause eyestrain (that is, this adapter is for home entertainment, not using an analog TV as a replacement monitor).

There is another option for those with the money and ample wall space: using an AV projector and either a projection screen or a blank wall as your display. If you choose a good-quality projector, this approach can really give you a movie theater experience at home like little else. As the cost of projectors has come down, they have become an affordable option for home theater systems. Many projectors offer multiple inputs, and several models today include DVI as an input option. Virtually all offer VGA, and most also offer either S-Video or composite video. Although projectors by themselves offer no TV capabilities, most digital cable and satellite receivers offer various video output options (check with your provider). Also, third-party solutions such as eyeTV (discussed in part 2 of this series) can offer you the ability to use your Mac as a TV receiver.

As far as audio goes, all current and recent Macs include audio output that can be connected to speakers, TV inputs, or a home theatre stereo receiver. The lineup of Intel Macs, along with Macs that were introduced late last year, support both a one-eighth-inch miniplug connector (such as that used by standard headphones and computer speakers) as well as optical digital audio output. Previous Mac models typically supported only the miniplug. Adapters are readily available to convert a standard miniplug output to stereo outputs. However, they do not offer the full surround sound support offered by digital audio, although many stereo receivers and other devices that support surround sound can approximate the effect when receiving analog audio input.

Whatever type of TV you are connecting your Mac to, keep in mind that Front Row is only displayed on a Mac’s primary display. If you are working with a Mac mini and your TV alone, this is not an issue because the TV will be the primary display. However, if you are using a MacBook, MacBook Pro, or iMac, the internal display will be considered the primary display. In such a situation, the default solution will be to mirror the same display across both the internal and external displays. Macs do, however, support using multiple monitors as extensions of a single Desktop or working space. If you choose to use a Mac in this fashion, you will need to designate the TV as the primary display, which contains the Dock and menu bar, for Front Row to display on it.

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