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How to connect a Mac to a TV

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It’s easier than you might think to connect a Mac to a TV. With the right cables, or an Apple TV, you can mirror your Apple Mac display on any television screen in no time.

You can play movies from your Mac on your TV, stream programmes from catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer, or even show off your gaming skills on a larger display. Many companies now use large-screen televisions in the boardroom instead of projectors, so this is also a handy tip for those who have to give presentations.

It’s straightforward to connect an Apple Mac to a television, but there are a few different techniques to choose from. These can be divided into two main strategies:

  • Use an adaptor and a cable to connect the Mac to a TV.
  • Use an Apple TV to mirror the Mac display on a TV.

In this feature we’ll look at these options in turn, starting with a range of adaptors and cables you can use to hook up your Mac to your TV.

Which type of connection does your Mac have?

Your Mac will have one of the following connections that can be used with your TV:

HDMI

If you have HDMI on your Mac and your TV, this is a good option as it will transfer video and audio via the one cable. The following Macs have HDMI ports:

  • Mac mini (Mid 2010) and later
  • MacBook Pro with Retina display (Mid 2012 to Mid 2014) 
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013)

Thunderbolt

There are three generations of Thunderbolt port. The first two look like this:

The following Macs have Thunderbolt 2 ports:

  • MacBook Air – Thunderbolt 2
  • Mac mini – Thunderbolt 2
  • Mac Pro – Thunderbolt 2

If your Mac has a Thunderbolt 2 port, you can use either a Thunderbolt or Mini DisplayPort adapter as the port is the same shape.

Since 2016 Apple has started to introduce Thunderbolt 3 ports. The Thunderbolt 3 port (below) resembles USB Type-C, so you’ll be able to use an adaptor that works with either standard.

The following Macs have Thunderbolt 3.

  • iMac – Thunderbolt 3 (since June 2017)
  • iMac Pro – Thunderbolt 3
  • MacBook Pro – Thunderbolt 3 (since October 2016)

Note: if you have one of the Macs listed and it is more than a couple of years old it will have a Thunderbolt 2 port, as above.

USB-C

The 12in MacBook doesn’t offer Thunderbolt 3, but it does offer USB-C. For that reason you can use the above USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter here too.

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Mini DisplayPort

If your Mac is older than those mentioned above, chances are it has a DisplayPort connection. This can be a bit confusing as Thunderbolt 2 looks the same as DisplayPort port. But you will need a Mini DisplayPort adapter to connect it to the TV as a Thunderbolt connector won’t work.

Micro-DVI port

Again, this is only likely to show up on much older Macs, like the original MacBook Air. It’s smaller than the Mini Display Port. Apple no longer sells these adaptors, but you might find one on Amazon or eBay.

Which type of connection does your TV have?

You need to find out what your TV video input port is. If it’s a modern TV it’s likely to have an HDMI port – this type of port will transfer audio and video from your Mac to your TV. If your TV has an HDMI port it will look like this:

If your TV is older it you may have a DVI port. DVI connections don’t transfer audio so you will need a separate solution for that. They look something like this:

If your TV is really old TV you may need a composite adapter. We think it’s unlikely that you would be looking to hook your Mac to such a screen, especially since it’s easy to pick up low cost TVs with HDMI ports.

Buy an adaptor to hook up your TV and Mac

Now you know which ports your Mac and TV have, you need to buy an adaptor to connect them. We look at each type of adaptor below.

If you have a HDMI ready TV and Mac then all your need is an HDMI lead.

The other options are USB-C to HDMI or Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adaptor (since this will work with the Thunderbolt port).

USB-C to HDMI Adaptor

If your Mac has USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 (which works with USB-C adaptors) there are lots of adaptors available for connecting it to your HDMI equipped TV.

Apple makes a USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter, £69, that will allow you to connect your Mac to an HDMI TV or display.

If you’re looking to achieve the same results but not looking to spend quite that much, Choetech has an adaptor for around £19.99, it can be found on Amazon US for $23.99. The adaptor can mirror your Mac at 1080p at 60Hz or UHD (3840×2160) at 30Hz.

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Once you have the adaptor, it’s as simple as plugging in the adaptor via its USB-C connection to your Mac, and then using a HDMI cable from the adaptor to your television. You’ll need to buy a HDMI cable, which can be found for as little as £6.49, although if you’re anything like us you’ve probably got an HDMI cable lying around the house somewhere.

Note that any adaptor will slowly drain the battery of your MacBook, so ensure you don’t leave the adaptor plugged in when not in use.

Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adaptor

If you have the older Mac – in other words, one that hasn’t got Thunderbolt 2, Thunderbolt 3, USB-C or HDMI – you’ll need to buy a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adaptor. 

Apple doesn’t make a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adaptor, despite making various other cables (such as Lightning to Digital AV and Mini DisplayPort to VGA). However, there are options from other manufacturers.

One option is the Belkin 4K Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adapter, £27.99. This cable will allow you to connect your Mac to an HDTV. But note that audio support is available only on MacBook computers released after mid-2010. Older MacBook computers need a separate 3.5 mm-to-3.5 mm cable for audio.

You can also pick up this Proxima Direct Mini Displayport to HDMI adaptor (£4.95). Bear in mind you will also need a HDMI cable. If you don’t have one, you can pick up the official Apple HDMI to HDMI cable (£19), or a non-Apple-branded one for a little cheaper at £6.49.

All you do is plug the MiniDisplayPort to HDMI adaptor into the Thunderbolt connection on your Mac, plug the HDMI cable into the adaptor, and finally the HDMI cable into the television.

Organise your audio setup

If you have a HD TV and your Mac has HDMI or a Thunderbolt port, you should be able to send the audio from your computer to your TV via the cable.

If your Mac only has a Mini DisplayPort (not Thunderbolt) or an older port it may not be able to send audio to your TV so you will probably need to use an AUX cable to hook up the Mac and laptop in addition to the other adaptor.

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To check if your Mac will be able to send audio without a separate cable you can click on the Apple logo in the top left, choose About This Mac > Overview > System Report > Audio (Built In). If you can see HDMI Output or HDMI/DisplayPort Output in the list, your Mac will be able to send audio via DisplayPort.

To make sure your TV plays the audio sent from your Mac, go to System Preferences > Sound > Output.

How to mirror Mac to TV

On your Mac, open System Preferences > Displays then click on the Arrangement tab.

If you want to mirror the Mac display choose Mirror Display, otherwise arrange your displays by dragging them – the one with the white bar at the top will be the main display. So if you want that to be the TV then make sure the white bar appears on the new screen.

Note that your mouse pointer will move between the displays as if they are in the arrangement you choose here.

Mirror Display in Arrangement settings

How to connect Mac to TV wirelessly

You don’t have to use a cable to connect a Mac to a TV – you could also use the Apple TV and connect to your TV wirelessly.

The Apple TV connects to your television via HDMI and uses a Wi-Fi connection to connect to your Mac. You can use AirPlay to stream content from your Apple laptop or desktop to the television, as well as using the Apple TV to stream other content from the web. 

To share your laptop screen to your Mac using the Apple TV look for the AirPlay icon in the menu bar, it’s a square with a triangle below it. When you click on the AirPlay icon you can choose to play videos or mirror/extend your display to your TV.

We explain how to use the Apple TV here. For more information about the Apple TV read our review we also have a comparison of the Apple TV vs Google Chromecast Ultra.

You may also be interested to find out how to get US Netflix in the UK.



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