About 10 years ago, I wrote a column about hooking up a computer to the TV in the living room so you could switch over to email, video chat or do a quick web search during commercials.
Sure, it could be done, but was it really worth it? Well, in retrospect I don't think so, at least not then anyway.
What I found after the project was completed was that it was just too much of a pain to switch over to the computer so it hardly ever got used. The "old school" TV that I successfully hooked my machine just didn't have the clarity to be able to read and having a loud tower humming away in the entertainment center was too much of a distraction.
Fast forward to 2012 and things are a little easier and a lot more practical.
Today's high-resolution TVs are a far cry from the old heavy picture tube monsters that we were stuck using back then. And most of the TVs available today already have the proper connections already in the back so you don't have to go out and buy a special video card to make it work.
Most new TVs today have a standard PC video input connector in the back as well as two, three or even four HDMI connections available.
And even more encouraging is the fact that most new laptops also come equipped with an HDMI output connection meaning you can connect to the TV with just one cable to carry video and sound.
OK let's go over what is needed in a typical set up to connect your computer to your new TV.
First, you'll need a laptop (preferably one with an HDMI out jack). Yes, a desktop or tower will work, but I've found it's easier with a laptop simply because it's quieter and doesn't require a permanent space in your entertainment center dedicated to computer that's always on. Plus, you can quickly unplug the laptop and take it with you for more up-close-and- personal use when you need to.
Looking at the back of your TV you will want to find either a "PC in" connection or (if your laptop has HDMI) an open HDMI connection. Usually, right next to the PC in connection on the TV you will find an audio in jack that you can use to connect your computer's speaker (or headphone) output into the TV so you can control the volume with your TV remote. If you use an HDMI cable you won't need this, HDMI transmits audio as well as video.
If you choose to connect to the TV with the "PC in" connection you will need a standard 15 pin VGA cable and a 3.5 mm male to male audio cable. But if your laptop does have an HDMI output jack, that's the better way to go.
Next you will probably want to use a USB wireless keyboard and mouse. You can set things up without it, but a wireless keyboard and mouse combination means you can control things from the comfort of your easy chair without having to stretch cables across the room.
Power the computer up and set the TV's input selection to either PC in (or HDMI if you've gone that rout) and at this point, you may be looking at your computer's desktop on your TV. Or you may not.
Once you've connected your laptop to your TV there are a couple changes you may need to make. Some laptops automatically transmit the video out when connected to an external monitor but some require pressing the "Fn" button along with the monitor button to send the signal out to the TV.
Others may require you to go into the computer's control panel and access the video settings to tell it you are using an external monitor.
Another adjustment you will want to make is in the power settings. Frequently, laptops will be set to "go to sleep" when the cover is closed, so you may need to turn that off on the computer's control panel so you can close the lid and store the computer next to the TV when in use.
Unlike 10 years ago, today's TVs are capable as acting as a monitor without eye strain. A few adjustments to font size and the like and you may find using your TV as a monitor is actually quite viable this time around.
Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at (888) 752-9049 or help@ComputeThisOnline.com (no hyphens).