Laptop HDMI: Picking the Right GPU and Getting it Working
written by: M.S. Smith•edited by: Simon Hill•updated: 9/28/2009
Many laptops now have HDMI available. Not all of them are good at displaying images on HDTVs and other products that accept an HDMI connection, however. A GPU with a fair amount of power is required to watch video via a laptop's HDMI out.
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An increasing number of laptops are supporting HDMI and an increasing number of people are trying to use their laptops to connect to an HDTV via HDMI. There are many reasons why a person might want to do this. It is an excellent way of displaying photographs, PowerPoint presentations, and other simple media. It also allows a person who only owns a laptop PC to use it as a kind of part-time HTPC, displaying video on a larger HDTV that would be underwhelming on the smaller laptop screen.
Not all laptops are equipped to do the job, however, and the mere presence of an HDMI port doesn't mean a laptop will be able to provide a satisfactory experience when used with an HDTV. This brief guide will cover the video card a laptop needs to support HDMI and cover a couple of related troubleshooting topics.
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Using the Right GPU
Without a doubt the most important contributing factor to the experience you can expect when making use of the HDMI connection on a laptop to connect to an HDTV is the video card. There are many types of video cards that can be used by laptops, and they are not all built the same.
Unfortunately, the existence of an HDMI connection doesn't always mean a laptop has enough power to put it to good use. The main offenders are some higher-end Intel integrated graphics solutions which support HDMI but sometimes struggle with 1080p resolution. They should be capable of 720p, however. Intel integrated graphics are also poor when it comes to 3D graphics.
Even the basic mobile GPUs offered by ATI and Nvidia are much better than what Intel makes available, and should be able to display 1080p video even on a system which is otherwise lacking in performance. Mobile GPUs can also provide much better 3D graphics performance, but they'll still struggle at 1080p resolution when playing a 3D game, with the exception of the very fastest models like the Radeon 4870M and the GTX 280M.
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Troubleshooting Laptop HDMI
The most common problem one will have when trying to use Laptop HDMI is dropped frames while watching an HD video. This results in video playback which is choppy. Dropped frames indicate that the laptop's performance is not sufficient to play back the video smoothly. Laptops are not easy to upgrade, so options for boosting performance are limited to software solutions. Make sure that all background programs that might be hogging resources are closed. Also make sure that the video being played is using a codec and a program which supports GPU acceleration. For example, VLC is a popular free media program loved because it supports a huge variety of codecs. However, its support for GPU acceleration is somewhat limited, which can result in lower than expected performance during video playback.
Another common problem is the failure to display video to the device which is connected by HDMI. Remember that HDTVs tend to be more finicky than a standard PC monitor with regard to what they will display. If the resolution is not what it is expecting it will often reject the signal. Be sure to set the secondary display resolution to the proper setting before connecting the laptop to the HDTV.