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How to connect a PC to an HD-Ready Digital TV?

 

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*Notice - Since this article was originally written, there have been advances in the type of TVs as well as products in the market.  For list of latest converters for PC to TV, see Guide to PC to TV Converters.

If there is one question that we receive here on a daily basis, that would be "how do I hook up a PC to my HDTV?".  The value of being able to use the big screen in the family room as a PC monitor is compelling, entertainment melding regular broadcasts with web surfing, 3D gaming, DVD video playback and access to special features, and MP3 jukebox storage and playback.  

The combination in theory sounds like a match made in heaven, a high frequency display and a computer, but manufacturers have not been so cooperative.  Recently, DVI based HDTV displays have appeared on the market which may allow you to by-pass this article, but video timing issues as explained still apply.  It is not a simple task, but one which is possible with a little persistence and more importantly, the right gadgets.  

The introduction of the HDTV brought us the high-band Component input, otherwise known as Y-Pb-Pr.   While the internal working of the HDTV set had similarities to a PC monitor, the new format is not compatible with the PC standard of VGA otherwise known as RGBHV.    

It seemed that the two would never come together until RCA introduced their first HDTV tuner box, which prompted two manufacturers to step up to the plate to create the VGA to Component trascoder.  Originally designed as a solution to connect RCA's VGA based DTC-100 HDTV tuner to component based HDTV, the transcoder soon became popular with the PC and home theater enthusiasts that wanted to use their PC's DVD player and other entertainment applications on their brand new HD-Ready/HDTV.  The result is a product that will receive a computer/HDTV signal from RGB/VGA format, convert and re-send the signal to the Progressive Component (Y-Pb-Pr) input of HDTV sets.  The models of transcoders currently available, see Basic Guide to PC-to-TV Converters.

Now, the caveats......

It's important to know the limitations of this solution as there are no existing standards between the two connection/signal types.   The important details are:

1.  This converter will not work on a standard analog NTSC interlaced TV. Your TV must be an HD-Ready set.

2.  Resolution is limited by the Digital TV used.  While the PC is capable of outputting high resolutions, the HD-Ready set is often fixed to the high-definition TV standards of 480p or 1080i at mere 60Hz cycle (known as refresh rate on a PC).  A proper signal must be generated from the PC to display an image, and not adhering to the signal frequency can damage your HDTV.

3.  The consumer TV often suffers from overscan, cutting of screen information that may make navigation difficult.  Image on the right below is an example of overscan.

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Properly sized screen

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Overscanned image

The above limitations can be overcome providing that your PC's hardware can support special resolutions, and you are able to properly configure the output.  One resolution that will require no special modification is 640x480 (480p) @ 60Hz which should work on virtually all HD-Ready TV.  For those that want to use a higher resolutions (more ideal for web surfing and DVD playback), an application by Entech called PowerStrip can set custom resolutions/timing to match the optimal frequency of your HDTV (normally 1080i, sometimes 720p)

For more information on how to configure your HDTV to a PC, read Wayne Harrelson's Excellent Guide to PowerStrip

Point of Interest:   Reverse transcoders are available to connect a Progressive Component output (Progressive Scan DVD, XBox) to RGB/VGA for use with a PC Monitor. 

Key Digital KD-VA5 Component to/from VGA Bi-directional Converter

 

 
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