Getting your laptop on your TV
First things first, see the "PC" input on your TV? Only use it if you have no other choice. If you've got an older laptop you may be out of luck — it may only have a VGA port for video out.
Whether you call it the PC port, VGA, DB15, DE15 or otherwise, try
to avoid using it if you can. (Credit: Craig Simms/CBS Interactive)
The reason we don't want to use the PC port is that it's an analog connection. By choosing analog you'd be adding a needless image conversion (Digital > Analog > Digital) into your display chain, and losing quality along the way as a result. So long as your laptop has an HDMI port, an HDMI cable is our best bet for high quality video.
HDMI cable (Credit: Craig Simms/CBS Interactive)
Buying HDMI cables
A word of caution: unless you need a cable that's longer than 5 metres, don't bother going into the local JB Hi-Fi or Harvey Norman, you'll just get fleeced. While it is true that not all HDMI cables are alike, unless you've got heavy duty signal and length requirements, you'll be fine ordering something from the likes of Space Hi-Fi, OzNetics or HDCity. There are often deals listed on OzBargain as well, although make sure to check the reader comments to determine if the dealer is reputable.
Getting your laptop to output to your TV
After plugging in a cable between your laptop and your TV, you'll need to switch the TV's input to the HDMI port that you just plugged in to.
These days most laptops will detect the live connection and automatically mirror what's on the laptop screen to the TV. There are a few things you can do from here. The first is to set up the mode you want.
You'll want to look for a key that looks like this:
(Credit: Craig Simms/CBS Interactive)
It won't necessarily be the F5 key — it could also be F7 or any other function key — the importance is finding something that looks similar to the symbol above it. If you hold down your Fn key, then press that key, you should be able to cycle through display modes (although some manufacturers have an on-screen dialog box pop up that you need to select from with the mouse).
Common display modes include mirror (show what's on the laptop screen on the TV), extend (add the TV as an extra monitor for extra desktop real estate), laptop monitor on only, and TV screen on only.
Things vary a lot here, down to some manufacturers even calling the extra display a projector rather than TV — just play a little and you should get the result you want.
I own a Mac!
If you've got a fairly recent Mac, you'll have a port called Mini DisplayPort. Apple doesn't make its own Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapters, but some companies do. Just make sure that both the cable you get and your Mac support audio. Older Macs won't run audio over their Mini DisplayPort: you'll need to find another way to get the audio to your TV.