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Using an HDTV as a Monitor - What You Need?

written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 5/18/2011

If you've decided that you'd like to use an HDTV as a monitor, then your next step is to figure out what you need. Fortunately, the equipment needed to hook an HDTV to your PC isn't difficult to come by and won't break the bank (that's what the HDTV is for).

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    So You're Taking the Plunge

    If you're thinking of using an HDTV as a monitor for your PC, and you've stumbled across this article, the the first thing I would encourage you to do is to read the first part of this series, entitled You Can, But Should You? An HDTV is an expensive piece of tech, and before you decide to lay down the dough, it’s best to make sure that an HDTV is a suitable solution for what you need.

    Oh, you've made up your mind? Okay, great. Then we can get to the task at hand - figuring out what kind of equipment you need to use an HDTV with your PC. There a couple different ways to connect an HDTV to your PC, and it is possible that your PC already has the hardware it needs. If so, great. If not, don't worry. The hardware you need to make use of an HDTV is much less expensive than you'd think.

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    Make the Connection

    There are three ways that your PC can potentially hook up to a HDTV - DVI, HDMI, and Displayport. The first two are the most common, but Displayport is beginning to show up on a few HDTVs. In practice, they all achieve the same goal, and provided that you're simply planning to use an HDTV as a computer display - not as part of a dedicated home theater system - they are virtually identical in performance.

    DVI is the most common, and is the mostly likely method you'll choose to connect your HDTV and your computer. All modern day video cards use DVI out, and the majority of HDTVs will accept PC input through a DVI connection. Note I said most, however. Some budget models do not have the capability, so be sure to get the dirt on the HDTV you're thinking of buying.

    HDMI is also very common, and is becoming increasingly easy to use now that both AMD and Nvidia are providing full HDMI support with their video cards. In fact, some video cards - mostly those meant for home theatre systems - include a HDMI connection. If there is no HDMI connection, you can buy an adapter that turns the DVI connection into an HDMI connection.

    Lastly, there is Displayport. Displayport is being pushed most heavily by Apple. It has some functionality which is supposed to make it easier to use with PCs, but in the situation we're covering here it is unlikely that functionality will come into play. It is simply another way of connecting, and will be the simplest method if you own a new Apple with Displayport.

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    Bring the Hardware

    In order to drive the HDTV display, you'll need a graphics solution. The power of the graphics solution you need depends on how you plan to use your HDTV. If you plan only to use it as a desktop extension and to watch high-resolution video, then a good integrated graphics chip or a cheap HTPC video card will be perfectly suitable. However, if you plan on playing games on your HDTV, you may need some more serious hardware. Games, even those which are several years old, can be surprisingly demanding at a 1080p resolution. You'll also want to make sure that you have the latest drivers available for your hardware installed, as well as the vendor's software.

    If you own a recent computer, it is likely that you already have either a decent integrated graphics solution or a video card capable of supporting an HDTV. That said, there are some things to be wary of. Intel Integrated Graphics should be avoided like the plague. These graphics solutions tend to support a limited number of resolutions, and are so lacking in power that they will often struggle to run a Vista Aero desktop at 1080p. You'll also want to avoid cards which are so old that they do not provide a DVI output. VGA actually can be used to connect an HDTV, using adapters, but there is some loss of video quality. In addition, any card that is old enough to have only VGA-out is probably not going to support HDTV resolutions.

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    A Place for One's HDTV

    The last thing you need (besides the HDTV, obviously) is someplace to actually put the HDTV. A 30" screen can fit most places, but you'll need to do more planning if you're buying a 40" or larger screen, not only because of size but also because of weight. What may not be immediately obvious when looking at an HDTV is that, despite their thin profile, they are still heavy. Not nearly as heavy as a tube TV, of course - but most large LCDs weight sixty pounds or more. This may not seem like much, but I know you. You're a PC geek - you're buying an HDTV for your computer, after all. If you have a solid setup with a nice desk, great. But if you're like me, and set your PC up on a card table because you know that a decent desk is just going to be scratched by the hardware being shuffled across it, then be careful. Nothing is more embarrassing than losing an HDTV to a flimsy desk's structural failure.

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    Last, But Not Least...

    Obviously, we're still missing the HDTV. Don't worry. The HDTV is such an important choice that I'm dedicating an entire article to it. There are many choices to make when choosing an HDTV for a PC, and because HDTVs are not specifically made for use with PCs, most TV manufacturers do not make it clear what will and will not work well. The jargon isn't hard to decode, however, and a little detective work will go a long way.

How to Use an HDTV as a Monitor

Using An HDTV as a monitor is not difficult, and is a good idea if you use for computer as a media center more often than not. But there are certain pitfalls that you must avoid, some of which can badly hurt your pocket-book should you mistakenly fall in them.
  1. Using an HDTV as a Monitor - You Can, but Should You?
  2. Using an HDTV as a Monitor - What You Need?
  3. Using an HDTV as a Monitor - Buying a HDTV
  4. Using an HDTV as a Monitor - Hooking it up