So, you’ve picked up an HDTV for use as a computer monitor. If you followed the steps listed in this guide, then the HDTV you have should be a prime candidate for the job. Ideally, you’ll have ended up with a reasonably sized LCD HDTV with a high resolution relative to the size of the screen, and all the inputs you need to connect the HDTV to your PC. It should also have traits that make it a good HDTV (independent of its use as a monitor) such as a good viewing angle, excellent color accuracy, and black levels that look good in a darkly lit room.
If you’re on this last and final step, then congratulations. Most of the hard work is over. Monitors are traditionally plug-and-play affairs, and although there are quirks with using HDTVs that must be explained so that connecting your beautiful new HDTV does not result in any unexpected problems, most people who are at this stage are not going to run into any major problems. These televisions may be expensive, but they’re also highly reliable. As long as you don’t drop it on its head, it should work correctly. Speaking of which…
The first thing that you’ll need to do with your new HDTV is put it where you want it to be viewed. Ideally, you already have a fairly good idea about where you want it to go, how it will fit, and how far away from it you might be sitting. But things don’t always go according to plan.
When placing your HDTV into its new home, make sure that it is on something stable. Most of these LCD HDTVs are not very heavy, but they are much heavier than a computer monitor normally will be. They also require substantially more space. My 22" monitors, for example, have an actual foot print of about 16 by 8 inches. A 40" LCD HDTV will likely have a footprint two to three times that. Make sure that, once you have the HDTV put onto the desk or stand you’re using, that the base does not overhang in any direction. Also make sure that the desk or stand does not wobble in any fashion. And make sure you check the front-to-back stability, as well. Most people will give their HDTV’s stand a good side-to-side wiggle, but if an HDTV is going to topple over, it will be going forwards or backwards, not to the side.That’s why you don’t want it hanging over the back edge of the desk.
Also make sure you have calculated your view distance correctly. Being to close to the screen can reveal flaws in the picture that might otherwise be hidden, and will also force you to focus your attention more to certain areas of the screen than to the screen as a whole. Sitting too far, on the other hand, can cause eye strain and make the picture appear too muddled. The Viewing Distance Calculator website is a good place to go for making adjustments. I don’t consider its recommendations to be rules, but if you’re sitting three feet away from a 40" screen, well, you probably should figure out some other place to put the HDTV.
Prepare Your PC
Before finally hooking up your PC to the HDTV, you should do a few things to make sure that your PC is ready. First, do some house-keeping of your video card drivers. It is easy to forget to keep them up-to-date, but you really should, particularly if you’re running a video card that is a couple years old. New drivers often add new settings and new resolutions, which will help make sure you don’t run into any roadblocks during the initial connection. Also, I suggest downloading the software suite that comes with your video card’s drivers if you have not done so already. ATI’s Catalyst Control Center, for example, has HDTV options including the ability to load settings tuned for specific HDTV inputs (such as 720p or 1080p) as well as options that will help reduce problems like overscan and underscan.
Also, if you’re using HDMI to relay both video and audio to your HDTV or receiver, make sure that you have disabled your other audio drivers before hooking up your HDTV. This will reduce the chance that your HDMI audio driver and other audio drivers on your PC will clash, resulting in a lack of audio or audio that doesn’t work expected. Finally, if possible, set the resolution of your computer to match the HDTV’s native resolution. This isn’t always possible. For example, a 22" monitor isn’t going to even give you the option of setting it to display 1080p. However, if you’re purchased a 720p HDTV, then it should be fully possible to switch your computer over to that resolution before you hook it up to your HDTV. This reduces the chance of any errors that might be caused by feeding the HDTV a resolution it doesn’t know how to work with.
Hook It Up
Hooking up the HDTV will be, in most cases, fairly simple. DVI, HDMI, and VGA are all fairly straight-forward connections, although you may need to use some kind of adapter - for example, many modern video cards will require use of a DVI-to-HDMI adapter if you’re planning to use HDMI as your primary connection. If you’re not using HDMI, then you’ll also need to hook up your sound card’s connections to your HDTV or receiver. This can be simpler than you might think, as there are many adapters available that will convert a headphone jack to an RCA adapter. If you’re looking to run full 7.1 audio from a sound card to an receiver, then things can become very complex and you’ll need numerous adapters - it would be much easier, and maybe even cheaper, to buy a cheap sound card which supports HDMI.
One issue you may run into when hooking up your HDTV is cable length or cables, period. Some HDTVs come with a cable or two, and others do not. If your HDTV does not come with cables, then buying them from your local big-box retailer is a good way to waste money. One of the great myths of home theater is that “premium” cables offer a substantial quality increase over cheaper cables. This simply isn’t true (particularly with digital cables, only the absolute, top-end, gear will show an improvement). Fortunatly, you can find numerous online websites that will sell you HDMI and DVI cables for a few dollars. My person favorite for cables and adapters is Monoprice, which will sell you 6-foot HDMI 1.3 compatible cables for just over three dollars.
The Moment Of Truth
You’re almost there. Now crack open the user manual and look for anything in the index about PC support.
Why? Because, it will make your life easier. There is no actual standard about how an HDTV should support with a PC, or about how an HDTV should handle resolutions that are not the same as its native resolution. Feeding an HDTV a 640x480 resolution over HDMI, for example, could have unexpected results. What results might those be? Hard to say. Rumor has it that some HDTVs can be broken by doing this, but it must clarified that this is a rumor. I’ve never seen it happen and never seen anyone provide evidence that it happened. But since there is nothing saying that an HDTV should work with that sort of resolution, it is best to be cautious. Keep an eye out for any warnings and instructions that your user manual gives you. If you don’t see any warnings - and you probably won’t - then great. Go ahead and plug it in. If you do, then do what the manual says. At the least, you probably won’t get a picture until you follow the manual’s instructions.
Having read the manual, the moment of truth arrives. Plug in all connections and fire up the computer. Chances are good you’ll have to do that before attempting to change the HDTV to the proper input, as many HDTVs will not allow you to scroll through inputs that are not receiving a signal. And that’s probably it. If your computer auto-detected the HDTV and changed all settings as needed, like it is supposed to, then you should not even have to change the resolution. If your computer did not auto-detect correctly, no problem. Simply set the resolution to what it should be, as you would with any other monitor.
And that’s it. In the end, actually getting the HDTV to work correctly is much easier than finding the right HDTV and making sure your PC will support it properly. Now go to Hulu, ABC, or any number of network websites and enjoy some free, high-def content!
This post is part of the series: 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.