Maybe you’ve got friends coming over to watch a movie, or you need your family to watch this one really great YouTube video. Or maybe you’ve just got a slideshow of photos to show off to no one at all because some of us are still stuck at home in the midst of a pandemic. Whatever the reason, you’d rather put your computer’s screen on the TV than watch something on a smaller laptop.
Luckily, we have multiple solutions for getting your computer’s screen on the TV with minimal fuss (and cash). It’s worth noting that most of these solutions will require either installing an additional app on your TV or buying additional hardware, either a set-top box, a dongle, or something as simple as an HDMI cable.
Good news: You can Chromecast from your computer. If you’ve got one of Google’s smart dongles stuck in the back of your TV (or if your set runs Android TV, which includes casting capabilities), you can send windows over to it from Windows and macOS—as long as those windows are Chrome tabs. It works on Chromebooks, too, of course.
Dive into Chrome’s menu (click the three dots to the top right), then choose Cast. Pick your Chromecast from the list, and you should see your current browser tab show up on screen. You can switch to other browser tabs (and apps), but the Chromecast will continue to show the tab that you first cast from.
Because of the lag involved, this is better for websites and photos rather than videos, although some video sites (including YouTube) can interface with the Chromecast directly. You’ll see a Chromecast button on each YouTube video, which works just like casting something from your phone, so the video is pulled directly from the web, not from your laptop.
You don’t get a whole lot in terms of customization options—just a volume slider—but it’s simple and works well. When it’s time to end the cast, click the Chromecast button that will have appeared on the toolbar, then select the device again and Stop casting.
The Chromecast isn’t the only smart dongle that can put your computer screen on your TV. Roku sticks and boxes can do it too, though it’s more easily done with a Windows computer than a Mac. Everything is handled by a protocol called Miracast that comes built into the newest Roku devices and Windows 10.
In Windows, open the Action Center by clicking on the notification icon on the right of the taskbar, then choose Connect. If your Roku is powered up and on the same wifi network, you should see it appear on the list—click the device name to start mirroring.
You’ll need to approve the request on your Roku device, and you can also opt to approve all future requests from the same device. To manage your approved and blocked devices, choose Settings from the main Roku menu, then System and Screen mirroring (mirroring can be enabled and disabled from here, too).
We haven’t tested Mac-to-Roku mirroring ourselves, but you need a third-party fix to get it working. Take a look at AirBeamTV for Mac, which seems to be the best of the options out there, albeit with a few lag problems. It’ll set you back $10, but a free trial is offered.
If your computer runs macOS, and you have an AirPlay device—like an Apple TV—plugged into your television set, then getting your Mac’s display up on the big screen couldn’t be easier. It’s probably the simplest solution for those who are all-in with Apple hardware setups. Apple is now rolling out AirPlay support to a lot of smart TVs from other manufacturers, too, making this option even more widely available.
Assuming you’ve got your AirPlay device connected and configured, and it’s connected to the same wifi network as your Mac, it should appear automatically when you click the AirPlay button (the arrow pointing into the box) in the menu bar. Choose your AirPlay device, and the screen automatically extends to include the TV.
If you don’t see the icon, or to configure the feature further, open the Apple menu, then System Preferences, then Displays. You can opt to mirror your Mac screen on the TV, or use it as a second extended desktop (in which case you can use the Arrangement tab to position your screens). Tick the Show mirroring options box if you want to keep an AirPlay icon in the menu bar.
The mirroring is speedy enough to, for example, play YouTube videos. But the AirPlay button also appears in certain media apps, like QuickTime and iTunes, so you can broadcast videos directly from there. When you’re finished, click the AirPlay button on the menu bar again, then Turn AirPlay Off.
Plex doesn’t actually mirror your computer screen on your TV, but it can get pretty much any kind of media, including videos, music, and photos, from one place to another. If it’s on your computer, it can be streamed to your big TV screen.
One of the benefits of Plex is that it has apps for many streaming boxes and dongles: everything from the Apple TV to Android TV. If you’ve got a smart stick or box that plugs into your television set, chances are there’s an official Plex app for it.
First you need to set up the Plex server program on your Windows or macOS machine, which will catalog all the media on your local hard drive and get it ready for streaming. The app running on whatever device is connected to your TV then connects to your computer over your home wifi network and streams whatever you want to see (or listen to).
You can pay for a premium Plex subscription, which gives you access to more features, like the option to stream content to mobile devices and to devices outside your home. But you don’t need to pay anything to stream from a computer running Plex to another device on the same wifi network.
In some ways, AirParrot duplicates methods we’ve already talked about—it needs an Apple TV or a Chromecast plugged into your TV to work, for example—but it’s slick, packed with features, and offers a few extras that you don’t get with the standard Chromecast and AirPlay protocols.
It also works with Windows and macOS, and can be yours for $16. A free trial means you don’t have to part with your money before checking that it actually works on your system. It can beam your computer screen to other computer displays, or just send the audio to a compatible speaker.
Once you install the software on your computer, it can detect compatible receivers on your local network, giving you the option of mirroring the screen of your laptop or desktop on the TV. You can also stream music, videos, and photos directly, similar to Plex, if you don’t want to mirror the whole screen.
What makes AirParrot a compelling alternative to native options like Chromecast or AirPlay is the ability to multiple devices at once. It also supports better quality streaming (including 5.1 surround sound), and it lets you hook up devices that would otherwise be incompatible (like an Apple TV and a Windows PC).
We talked about how you can connect Windows 10 computers to Roku sticks and boxes using a standard called Miracast. That standard turns up in a variety of other devices, too, including the Amazon Fire TV—though support on Fire TV devices is patchy and non-existent on the most recent models.
If you don’t have any other available options for a Windows 10 wireless connection, you might want to consider buying a dedicated Miracast dongle. Microsoft will sell you one for $50, though you’ll find cheaper options elsewhere (just check the user reviews carefully before buying).
A Miracast adapter like this will also let you mirror screens from Android devices, so that’s an extra bonus to consider if you’re thinking about buying. The range of the official Microsoft dongle is 23 feet, or seven meters, so it should suit most setups.
Once your wireless adapter is successfully plugged in and powered on (it needs a USB port for power as well as an HDMI slot), the connection process is the same as it is for the Roku. Go through the Action Center, or open up Settings and click System, Display, and Connect to a wireless display to establish the link.
The last solution might be the simplest for many: Act like wifi was never invented and just hook your laptop up to your TV directly. You just need to have the right ports and cables available (and have a setup where you can get your computer close to your TV), but you’re guaranteed a fast and stable connection.
If your laptop and TV both have a spare HDMI port and you have an HDMI cable lying around, too, then you’re laughing. Connect one to the other and the second screen should be detected straight away.
Both Windows and macOS are smart enough to give you the options of either mirroring your computer screen on the TV, or extending your computer screen and using the TV as a second monitor (so you’ll need to drag open windows over to it). In Windows Settings, click System then Display to configure your second screen the way you want it. In System Preferences in macOS, you need to choose Displays.
Many of the thin and light laptops have done away with HDMI ports, however, so you’re going to need an adapter to convert your laptop’s video out port to HDMI (or whatever your TV accepts). It’s great for movies and anything where latency needs to be kept low, but you do need all the necessary bits and pieces ahead of time.