Ask the Laptop Advisor: Connecting to a TV?

Computers are a big part of today's home theaters, and it's easier than ever to connect them to HDTVs. Read how.
By , Last updated on: 12/3/2014

We took last week off in honor of the great Bostonian holiday known as Marathon Monday. We’re back to it this week, with a sharp question from reader Joe:

“What is the best laptop for streaming videos or sports to an HDTV.”

I’m surprised we haven’t heard this question yet. Computers are becoming as much a part of home theater systems as cable or satellite boxes, disc players, and game consoles. They go where more purpose-built machines and even “connected” devices cannot. Traditionally, it’s been a hassle to hook up a computer to a TV -- I know I wasn’t the only kid who watched my teachers and professors wrangle with projectors -- but these days it’s much, much easier.

Since most laptops can connect to TVs in one fashion or another, there is no “best” one. But you’ll probably end up using one of these two connections:

HDMI Port

The ubiquitous HDMI standard connects most high-def devices these days. HDMI supports full 1080p video and top-quality sound through a single cable, so you’ll get the most out of your video. The downside is that you have to physically connect your computer to the TV. If you want to pause, rewind, adjust settings, or whatever, you’ll either have to get up and walk to the computer, or buy a cord long enough to stretch across the room. Most late-model laptops have HDMI ports, but double-check the spec sheet just to make sure.

WiDi

Intel’s Wireless Display (WiDi) technology syncs a laptop’s display with a HDTV’s. Set it up once, use it whenever you want, without any cords or cables. WiDi is a buzz feature, so capable machines are prominently displayed at big-box retailers, and even on sites like Amazon.com. Look for the logo on the right. WiDi has a few inherent flaws, but they probably won’t be deal-breakers for most folks. There’s a very slight lag in the video, no support for physical discs, and a max resolution of 720p. But the lag is only a problem for gaming, the restriction on discs doesn’t matter for streaming or downloaded content, and most streaming video is 720p at best, so you’re not missing out on anything. You’ll also need Netgear’s Push2TV box to enable WiDi, but it’s usually bundled with WiDi-capable machines, and costs as little as $60 if it isn’t included.

While there are literally dozens of machines to recommend, the Sony Vaio EA that we’ve highlighted at the top of the page is a good place to start looking. It has both an HDMI port and WiDi capability, so you might find that it’s a good bet. Anybody else out there have any good suggestions? Clever connections of your own? Chime in below.

- The Laptop Advisor

Do you have a question for the Laptop Advisor? Please feel free to submit it in the comments section below, or to editorial@digitaladvisor.com. We can't send personal responses, but we may select it for next week's column.

Previous Columns:

4/11: What's a Good Laptop for a Software Developer?

4/4: Can I Just Get a Word Processor?

3/28: I'm Switching From PC to Mac.

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