Connect A Computer With Microsoft XP Home Edition To A Plasma TV

by on November 13, 2007

Q: What is the best way to connect a PC running Microsoft XP home edition to a Plasma television with HDMI and all of the typical inputs? I would like to use it as a picture and home movie viewer?

A: Your question is a simple one with many complicated answers. I will try to make things as simple as possible. My explanations assume that you are connecting your computer directly to your television.

This is the easiest option: Many televisions now come with what they call “PC video” and “PC audio” inputs. PC video uses a VGA cable to connect to your computer. 99.9% of computers today have VGA outputs. VGA is compatible with 1080p — the highest quality digital television picture. VGA will also display video regardless of any HDCP restrictions (see below). PC audio will probably use a 3.5mm stereo jack. The same kind of 3.5mm sound port should exist on your computer too. 3.5mm to RCA audio adapters are widely available should your television require one.

HDCP stands for High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection. A fancy name for an annoying technology! This is basically the entertainment industry’s answer to piracy. In this context, piracy is the illegal copying of content such as television shows, movies, etc. I am not advocating piracy. But the release of HDCP-compliant hardware and content has been managed poorly, in large part do to legal delays. This has resulted in many digital televisions not being HDCP-compliant. This could become a big problem in a couple of years, once HDCP-enabled movies are released in large numbers. What HDCP does is prevent video from properly displaying on your television unless all of your hardware is HDCP-compliant. HDCP filters that can remove the HDCP restriction are available, but may not be legal in all countries. Again, what an annoying technology! In my opinion, consumers should fight HDCP! I’ll discuss HDCP more in a moment.

HDMI supports video and sound through a single cable. However, many of the HDMI ports on PCs today are video only — they are not able to send sound to your television. If your computer is one of the few that can do both video and sound through HDMI, all that you will need is an HDMI cable to connect your computer to your television. WARNING: all HDMI cables are not created equal! Be sure to get a cable that is HDMI 1.3a compliant. If your computer has an HDMI output without sound support, you might be able to convince your television to accept HDMI for video while using S/PDIF, RCA audio, or 3.5mm stereo connections for audio. Cables that allow you to connect your computer to RCA audio inputs are widely available. HDMI is capable of delivering 1080p picture. You may have noticed that there are different versions of HDMI. Version 1.3a or newer should give you guaranteed compatibility with HDCP. Note that 1.3 and 1.3a are not the same. You may or may not be able to access HDCP-enabled content using older versions of HDMI. Consult the instructions that came with your computer and television or contact their respective manufacturers to determine your HDMI versions.

If your computer does not have an HDMI output of any kind, it might have a DVI output. Some televisions have DVI inputs. DVI to HDMI converters are widely available. DVI will not support sound, even when using an HDMI converter. It is unclear how DVI will behave with HDCP-enabled content. S-Video may also be an option, depending on your computer and television. S-Video should function regardless of HDCP. Your television should allow you to use S/PDIF, RCA audio, or 3.5mm stereo sound at the same time you are using DVI or S-Video. RCA video to VGA adapters are also available, should your hardware situation demand.

Remember, televisions have computers inside them now. So check the television manufacturer’s website for software updates made especially for your television. I hope that this post is helpful.