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Editor's Note: Play Movies on TV From Your Laptop for Cheap

Sep 24, 2010, 23:02 (11 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Carla Schroder)

by Carla Schroder
Managing Editor

An easy and cheap way to connect any laptop with a VGA-out port to a TV or home theater receiver. Use your TV as a big computer screen or watch movies.

This won't be a big deal to ace multimedia gurus, but it's a medium-big deal to me. It's been on my to-do list for a long time to make a multimedia PC to serve up music and movies to my home theater system. There are all kinds of great media servers in Linux-land, like MythTV, GeeXbox, XMBC, LinuxMCE, and many others. Until I build one of those, I wanted a simple way to play movies from a laptop, especially since I discovered that VLC will play movies from .iso files. This is perfect, because I can copy my movies to disk for both playback and backup.

The hardest part was finding out what hardware to use. Maybe I've been looking in the wrong places, but getting the straight story on hardware has not been easy. Finally I corraled a smart person at my local electronics store, and he said get a cheap VGA-to-TV converter. So I did, the Sewell PC to TV (VGA to RCA) Converter. This works with any computer than has a VGA-out port, which most laptops have. (If your computer has a TV-out port then you don't need a converter.) It comes with a decent manual that shows how to connect it, and pretty good instructions, though they are obviously translated. Like this example from the troubleshooting section:

"Hems of the PC screen not displayed on TV or black hems found along TV screen."
I believe they mean "borders", though I rather like hems. They also refer to "Wry screens." Wry can mean twisted, so it makes sense.

It outputs to S-video and RCA video, so this isn't high-definition digital. But it works fine with my old laptop and CRT television. That's right, a big old heavy low-res picture tube TV. My hi-fi receiver has S-video, RCA video, and RCA stereo inputs on the front panel, so I hook up the laptop when I want to watch a movie or two, then put it away. It goes like this: USB from Sewell to Thinkpad. VGA out on the Thinkpad to VGA in on the Sewell. Yellow RCA video from the Sewell to my hi-fi. Stereo Y-splitter from headset port on the Thinkpad to left and right stereo ins on hi-fi.

The converter gets its power from the USB port. First hook up everything, and then reboot. You have to reboot first or it won't work, which is an important bit of information not in the instructions. When your computer comes back up you should see your computer desktop on the TV. It may be at a different resolution; on my Thinkpad it runs at 1024x768 on both screens. Both KDE and Gnome have display managers to control resolution and which screens you want to be active. The Sewell has an onscreen menu that only appears on your TV, and you can use this to size and position the display correctly.

If your TV or receiver doesn't have RCA or S-video inputs you're out of luck.

The Sewell doesn't need any client software, so it works on any computer, and it comes with all the cables you need. All in all, it's a pretty nice deal for $25.00.