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Discover the easiest way to connect your laptop to one or more additional screens with our handy visual guide.
Add "IT Expert" To Your Resume
Working from home during the COVID-19 quarantine has a few pitfalls for those of us who once relied on the company IT technician to solve computer problems on the spot. One of the biggest problems we've been helping our customers with has been connecting an external monitor, TV or combination of screens to their laptop for more effective workflow.
This type of support can be difficult when working with non-tech-savvy people, so we've built this guide around pictures and diagrams to help you connect from A to B. To keep things even simpler, we haven't gone much into the technical details of the technologies we're covering.
For additional information on identifying plugs and sockets and understanding their abilities, take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Cables & Connectors. It has pictures of all the plugs and sockets you're likely to see on Home Theatre gear and Computer hardware, and it's a great reference for additional technical info we won't go into here.
Please Note: This guide is not focused on maximum resolutions, high refresh rates, nor gaming technologies like G-Sync or Freesync. We're looking at basic video connections for office work so you can be productive!
Identify your display connection(s)
The first step is knowing what your TV or Computer Monitor can connect with. Most modern displays will have one or more of four common video connections: HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI or VGA (pictured below). We've listed them in this order for a reason - this is the order of preference we'd recommend when you have more than one option available. Check your screen(s) and note down what you have to work with as it will come in handy very soon.
Monitor Sockets: HDMI → DisplayPort → DVI → VGA.
Note: Some specialty screens from Apple, such as their All-in-One iMac, use a special type of Thunderbolt connection that have their own limitations. When working with Apple tech, it is best to stay in the Apple ecosystem an use Apple products as they often don't play well with regular desktop components. This guide does not cover Apple tech.
Laptops with HDMI out
HDMI is the most common laptop connection. Some new slim models use Mini- or Micro-HDMI to save space, but the connection abilities are the same.
Laptop HDMI to HDMI Screen
HDMI on your Laptop and HDMI on your screen are connected directly with a HDMI cable. We have a lot of HDMI cables available, but the easy choice under 5m is our standard HDMI 2.0 cable. If you want to go further and/or 4K compatibility is important, try the Prolink Premium Certified range. 8K cables are probably overkill, but you could consider them if you want to use your cables for a future 8K TV once you're back in the office.
Laptop HDMI to DisplayPort Screen
This configuration may seem like it should be easy and straight forward, but HDMI sources like laptops can't talk to DisplayPort monitors without a converter in between. This specialty device is in high demand at the time of writing, so you may need to shop around if we're out of stock.
Laptop HDMI to DVI Screen
HDMI and DVI are compatible in both directions, but you only get 1080p resolution despite both technologies supporting higher. If you already have a HDMI or DVI cable available, you might consider using an adapter instead - the end result is the same - you just have to be careful to get the 'genders' right to match the male/female ends you're working with.
Laptop HDMI to VGA Screen
An adapter is required for this connection, and we have quite a few options available. Most support audio for connecting to speakers, stereo systems, TV inputs or just headphones. These adapters don't include a VGA cable, so you'd need to purchase the right length to suit your needs separately.
Laptops with Mini-DisplayPort out
Mini-DisplayPort is very versatile and has been the connector of choice on high-end/gaming laptops. It is seeing a decline as USB-C takes over, but you may run across it on some models. If you have a rare laptop with a full-size DisplayPort socket, we have a wide range of cables and adapters available for it, too (just search "DisplayPort").
Laptop Mini-DisplayPort to HDMI Screen
This connection is as easy as grabbing a cable in the right length for your set-up. You'll get video up to 4K and audio support. We also have some adapters which work with your existing HDMI cable for the same results.
Laptop Mini-DisplayPort to DisplayPort Screen
Again, this is a direct cable connection that gives you audio and video on compatible hardware. No nasty surprises here!
Laptop Mini-DisplayPort to DVI Screen
Modern DisplayPort offers Dual-Mode DP++ output for compatibility with DVI using direct cable connections or a dongle adapter. No audio here, though.
In a pinch, you could use a Mini-DisplayPort to DVI adapter followed by a DVI to HDMI cable (below) to get the same result as a Mini-DisplayPort to HDMI connection. You'd be limited to 1080p though!
Laptop Mini-DisplayPort to VGA Screen
DP++ comes to the rescue again, with dongle adapters available to make the connection. No audio here either.
Laptops with DVI out
DVI is uncommon on modern laptops, but if you've dug out a beast from a decade ago, you might just have one. Apart from the fact this vintage of laptop might be running Windows XP or Vista, it should get your word processing and spreadsheeting done without splashing cash around for a new computer.
Laptop DVI to HDMI Screen
HDMI and DVI are compatible in both directions, but you only get 1080p resolution despite both technologies supporting higher. If you already have a HDMI or DVI cable available, you might consider using an adapter instead - you just have to be careful to get the 'genders' right to match the male/female ends on your hardware and cable(s).
Laptop DVI to DisplayPort Screen
Nothing in our catalogue offers this conversion, and we haven't seen a solution for this on the market. The best bet is looking for a cheap monitor that has HDMI instead of DisplayPort. You could possibly use a DVI to HDMI cable (as above) then the Active HDMI to DisplayPort converter (as above) but this would be expensive and limit you to 1080p. Not recommended!
Laptop DVI to DVI Screen
A basic cable will solve this connection. Dual-Link hardware can support up to 1440p, but don't be surprised if low-end hardware is limited to 1080p.
Laptop DVI to VGA Screen
Only by getting into the technicalities of DVI are you likely to discover if your hardware is capable of this connection. For most modern hardware, the answer will be no, and it is far easier to skip this option in favour of a USB solution (see Example 3 of the Dual Screen section below for more info). We do stock DVI-A to VGA cables, but unless you know for sure your laptop offers DVI-I support it might be best to try the USB to VGA option instead.
Laptops with VGA out
VGA is still commonly included in many modern entry-level laptops as it is inexpensive and still widely compatible. VGA offers middling resolution performance that often isn't quite as sharp as digital. If you have a mix of old and new technology, you may find linking them up requires more than just a basic cable...
Laptop VGA to HDMI Screen
Active converters are required to make this happen. We have a few available that offer separate 3.5mm input for audio support so you can listen to your PC through your TV or even HDMI ARC to your receiver.
Laptop VGA to DisplayPort Screen
Nothing in our catalogue offers this conversion, and we haven't seen a solution for this on the market. The best bet is looking for a cheap monitor that has HDMI/VGA instead of DisplayPort. You could possibly use VGA to HDMI conversion (as above) then our Active HDMI to DisplayPort converter (as above) but this would be expensive and limit you to 1080p. Not recommended!
Laptop VGA to DVI Screen
Only by getting into the technicalities of DVI are you likely to discover if your monitor is capable of receiving a VGA signal into its DVI port. For most modern hardware, the answer will be no, and it is far easier to skip this option in favour of a USB solution (see Example 3 of the Dual Screen section below for more info). We do stock VGA to DVI-A cables, but unless you know for sure your monitor has DVI-I support it might be best to try the USB to DVI option instead.
Laptop VGA to VGA Screen
Grab one of our cables and it's as easy as plug-and-play. We have basic VGA for video only, and we have a combo cable that also has a 3.5mm audio cable in parallel for sound.
Laptops with USB-C
USB-C on your laptop can be either a blessing or a curse. For name-brand hardware of good specification, you'll have an easy time connecting video adapters to your laptop as listed below. For off-brand devices that cut corners to save costs, USB-C can be about as useful as USB 2.0 and not offer true video output functionality. If you have any doubts, read through your user manual to see which of your USB-C sockets supports DP++ or Thunderbolt 3 or USB Alternate Mode (all three are more or less the same thing, just with different names).
Laptop USB Type-C to HDMI Screen
Check out our USB Type-C to HDMI Adapters. They're all plug-and-play without any drivers on systems that support Thunderbolt 3 (also known as 'Dual Mode' DP++) over USB-C.
Laptop USB Type-C to DisplayPort Screen
Check out our USB Type-C to DisplayPort Adapters. They're all plug-and-play without any drivers on systems that support Thunderbolt 3 (also known as 'Dual Mode' DP++) over USB-C
Laptop USB Type-C to DVI Screen
Check out our USB Type-C to DVI Adapter. It's all plug-and-play without any drivers on systems that support Thunderbolt 3 (also known as 'Dual Mode' DP++) over USB-C
Laptop USB Type-C to VGA Screen
Check out our USB Type-C to VGA Adapters. They're plug-and-play without any drivers on systems that support Thunderbolt 3 (also known as 'Dual Mode' DP++) over USB-C
Connecting a Laptop to Dual Screens
If your laptop has multiple video outputs, such as HDMI + VGA, it may be very easy to connect dual screens just by using the guide above - one cable or adapter for each screen. One pitfall here is that compatible resolutions may not match your monitors. Your Laptop's HDMI may handle 4K just fine, but the VGA will likely top out at 1080p, which leaves one of your fancy screens looking a bit blurry.
Example 1: Laptop with HDMI and VGA to Compatible Monitors
In this case, you would simply use a HDMI cable and a VGA cable. The monitors are compatible and the connection is direct and easy. If you're working with 1080p, there won't be any problems at all. If you're working with higher resolutions or a mix of each, expect to notice a difference in sharpness between them.
Example 2: Laptop with HDMI and VGA to Incompatible Monitors
Generally you'd want to aim for having at least one like-with-like connection, then use a converted connection on the secondary display. In this example, we keep the HDMI from before, but the VGA is converted to HDMI using our most cost-effective solution. Assuming you don't already have a HDMI cable for the second screen, we'll add another one as the adapter doesn't include it.
Example 3: Laptop with Only One Video Out - USB Video Adapters
This solution is a catch-all for many common video connectivity issues. Our USB video adapters work like a second video card for your computer. They aren't any good at playing video games, but they do just fine for desktop work like documents and spreadsheets, or even things like Photoshop or Vegas Pro. Putting them to use running a second screen is their ideal use case. All you need is a USB 3.0 port for full compatibility (though USB 2.0 can also work at reduced performance), and that USB 3.0 can be your standard Type-A or a converted Type-C. All you need is 5Gbps if you can get it, and the relevant cable to connect to your monitor (sold separately)
These USB to HDMI/DVI/VGA solutions aren't just for laptops with a single video output. You can use them with laptops that have broken video ports. So long as you can install the drivers, they'll keep a laptop with a flaky video card running past the use-by date.
Example 4: Laptop with Only One DisplayPort Out - MST Hubs
Multi-Stream Transport (MST) Hubs work kind of like a splitter, but instead of having the same image on both monitors, you get the full extended desktop experience. MST is limited in bandwidth, so our Hubs cann't handle Dual 4K. Your options are Dual 1080p, Dual 1440p, or 4K + 1080p. Still, they're very handy if your laptop only has one Mini-DisplayPort socket!
USB Hubs & Docking Stations
Our simple USB hubs offer a single video output and some extra USB sockets so all your USB gadgets can stay connected. They're a lot like the usb video adapters linked above, but they have some extra abilities that may come in handy as well.
Our newest USB Type-C Hub comes with all the bells and whistles you could want for a simple work-at-home set-up that doesn't require a lot of plugging and unplugging every time you need to take your laptop to the couch for a much-needed coffee break. With a single cable you can take care of all your major peripherals plus a HDMI or VGA video output. It even has a stereo jack for a desktop speaker set or headphones, so everything that needs to stay on the desk can stay on the desk!
Unfortunately, we don't currently stock any USB Hubs or Laptop Docking Stations that offer dual video output. The 2-in1 and 3-in1 and 8-in-1 devices above are limited to a single video connection at a time. However, computer parts retailers do stock full-featured USB Hubs and Docking Stations. They often bundle multiple USBs along with ethernet, audio and video adapter hardware all in the one unit so all your peripherals can stay at home while your laptop travels with you. A single connection is all it takes to get everything hooked up again. They can be pricey, but they have many productivity benefits and are worth hunting for if working from home is likey to become the new normal even after we've gotten past social distancing.
Feel free to contact us if we've missed an important laptop video solution in our guide. We'd like to be as comprehensive as possible so that everyone can enjoy this reference guide!