How To Connect Your Mac To Your TV

Would you like to stream a movie from Netflix to your computer and watch it on your TV? Would you like to show iPhoto pictures on your TV? If so, you’ll want to read about how to connect your Mac to your flat panel TV to send both audio and video to it.

[Nov 2014 Update: This article talks about how to connect your Mac to your TV using cables. A few years ago, Apple added a feature named AirPlay which lets you wirelessly send (stream) audio, video or pictures from a Mac, iPhone or iPad to an AppleTV and ultimately to your TV, via the AppleTV (which is connected to your TV set using an HDMI cable.) Look for a forthcoming article about Airplay. Use this Apple article to see if your Mac supports Airplay.]

Don’t be intimidated by the length of this article. You’ll only need to read part of it. All you need to do to connect your Mac is this:

  1. Determine your Mac’s Model Identifier, which lets you figure out if you should follow Method 1 or Method 2.
  2. Buy one or two cables and maybe an adapter as specified in Method 1 or Method 2.
  3. Be aware of idiosyncrasies and variations for various Mac models that I list within each Method.

Important Note About Cables and TV Ports – The types of ports on flat-panel TVs vary from model to model. I’m only going to address VGA, DVI and HDMI ports since they are the most common types. VGA and DVI cables only carry video signals while HDMI cables can carry both audio and video. For this reason, I recommend using a TV’s HDMI port whenever possible.

Most Macs made between 2006 and the end of 2008 will need two cables, one for video and a second for audio. Because Apple switched to Mini DisplayPort connectors in 2009, most Macs can now use just one cable to carry both audio and video from the Mac’s MiniDisplay Port to the TV’s HDMI port. One idiosyncrasy to be aware of: when using HDMI or DVI to connect your Mac to your TV, you might have to change your TV’s display settings to turn off overscan.

Determine your Mac’s Model Identifier

If you don’t know how to determine your Mac’s Model Identifier please read this previous Tech Tip. Then, find your Mac listed in either the Method 1 or Method 2 sections below.

Method 1

Buy a DVI to HDMI cable and a 3.5 mm analog stereo audio cable.

The DVI cable will carry the video output from your Mac and connect to the HDMI port on your TV. The 3.5 mm (aka 1/8″) stereo audio cable will carry the audio from your Mac to the audio in port on your TV.

Use this method if your Mac’s Model Identifier is in this list: Macmini 1,1; Macmini 2,1; MacPro 1,1; MacPro 2,1; MacPro 3,1;  MacBookPro 1,1; MacBookPro 1,2; MacBookPro 2,1; MacBookPro 2,2; MacBookPro 3,1; MacBookPro 4,1; MacBook 1,1; MacBook 2,1; MacBook 3,1; MacBook 4,1; MacBook 5,2; iMac 4,1; iMac 4,2; iMac 5,1; iMac 5,2; iMac 6,1; iMac 7,1; iMac 8,1; MacBook Air 1,1.

Variation 1 – If your TV has a digital audio input port, sometimes called Digital Optical audio or Toslink, you could substitute a digital audio cable for the 3.5 mm analog stereo cable. Recently I’ve encountered some TVs that only have digital audio input ports, so you may have to use this digital audio cable instead.

Idiosyncrasy: All of the Mac minis, MacBooks and MacBook Pros have a combo audio output port that can accept either an analog 3.5 mm audio cable or a digital Toslink audio cable. The MacPros have separate analog and digital analog ports, so make sure you use the correct one.

Variation 2 – If your TV’s HDMI port(s) are already in use then you could use a DVI to DVI cable in place of the DVI to HDMI cable as long as your TV has an unused DVI port.

Variation 3 – If you have one of the MacBook or iMac models listed below then you can use the two cables listed in Method 1 and just add a Mini DVI to DVI adapter in order to connect the DVI cable to your MacBook. Model Identifier: MacBook 1,1; MacBook 2,1; MacBook 3,1; MacBook 4,1; MacBook 5,2; iMac 4,1; iMac 4,2; iMac 5,1; iMac 5,2; iMac 6,1; iMac 7,1; iMac 8,1.

Variation 4 – If you have a MacBook Air, model identifier MacBook Air 1,1, then you can use the two cables listed in Method 1 and just add a Micro DVI to DVI adapter to connect the DVI cable to your MacBook Air. [Update Sept 2015: This adapter is no longer available on Apple’s website and other attempts to locate it have produced no results. It is unlikely that this adapter is available any longer.]

Method 2

Buy an HDMI cable and a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter.

The MiniDisplayPort adapter plugs into the Mini DisplayPort port on your Mac, then you connect the HDMI cable to it. The other end of the HDMI cable connects to an unused HDMI port on your TV. Apples current Macs currently have Thunderbolt ports which are identical to Mini DisplayPorts, but with extra features.

Use this method if your Mac’s Model Identifier is in this list: Macmini 3,1; Macmini 4,1; Macmini 5,1; Macmini 5,2; Macmini 5,3; MacPro 4,1; MacPro 5,1; iMac 9,1; iMac 10,1; iMac 11,1; iMac 11,2; iMac 11,3; iMac 12,1; iMac 12,2; MacBook 5,1; MacBook 6,1; MacBook Air 2,1; MacBook Air 3,1; MacBook Air 3,2; MacBook Air 4,1; MacBook Air 4,2; MacBook Pro 5,1; MacBook Pro 5,2; MacBook Pro 5,3; MacBook Pro 5,4; MacBook Pro 5,5; MacBook Pro 6,1; MacBook Pro 6,2; MacBook Pro 7,1; MacBook Pro 8,1; MacBook Pro 8,2; MacBook Pro 8,3.

Idiosyncrasy: Typically this configuration will carry both audio and video from your Mac to your TV. However, the first few Mac models with Mini DisplayPorts port do not carry audio signals. They only carry video signals. I’m not sure why Apple designed these Macs this way since Mini DisplayPort ports can carry both audio and video, as evidenced by subsequent models. Apple doesn’t clearly list which Mac models with Mini DisplayPort ports only carry video so if you find that your Mac is one of them then you’ll need to use either a 3.5 mm analog stereo audio cable or digital audio cable to carry audio from your Mac to your TV.

Note: MacBook Pro models 8,1; 8,2 and 8,3; iMac models 12,1 and 12,2, as well as Mac Minis model 5, 1; 5,2 and 5, 3 all have Thunderbolt ports instead of regular Mini DisplayPort ports. Thunderbolt ports look and act the same as regular Mini DisplayPort ports, but they offer additional features as well.

Variation 1 – Macmini models 4,1; 5,1; 5,2 and 5,3 have HDMI ports (as well as MiniDisplay Port ports) built-in so you don’t need to buy the Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter. All you need is the HDMI cable.

Variation 2 – If your TV has a digital audio input port, sometimes called Digital Optical audio or Toslink, then you could substitute a digital audio cable for the 3.5 mm analog stereo cable. Recently, I’ve encountered some TVs that only have digital audio input ports and no longer have a headphone port so you may have to use this digital audio cable instead.

Idiosyncrasy: Using a digital audio cable is not an option for MacBook Airs 2,1; 3,1 and 3,2 since their audio output port is analog only.