Make your dumb TV smart: use your laptop to get it online

About The Author

CNET Editor

Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.

Dealing with overscan

You may notice that when you plug your laptop in the sides of the desktop are cut off. This is called overscan, and is a legacy of the days when the big cathode ray tube TVs ruled the lounge room. It was an effort to ensure that the whole screen was filled, and people weren't presented with black bars if their equipment wasn't up to scratch.

For reasons beyond our comprehension, this carries over into the digital age, and there's a good chance you'll need to adjust your TV to fix this.

If your TV doesn't support the adjustment of overscan (sometimes called scaling), you're going to have to do it from the computer. Keep in mind that this is usually achieved by setting up a custom resolution that's less than the usual, so it's not ideal. To begin with, you should set the resolution output to the TV to the highest possible — likely to be either 1920x1080 (1080p) or 1280x720 (720p).

MacBook Pro


(Screenshot by CBS Interactive)

After connecting your Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter and HDMI cable to your TV, go to System Preferences and select Displays. A pop up will appear with your TV's details (sometimes it appears under the Color LCD dialog). Make sure the resolution is set to the maximum that your TV can support, then use the Underscan slider to adjust the screen size.

Windows: Nvidia


(Screenshot by CBS Interactive)

Nvidia cards are a pain in the neck when it comes to overscan, and have been for as long as we can remember.

Make sure your driver is up to date by downloading the newest one for your card, then connect to your TV and use your keyboard to show your display only on your TV. You have to do this, as Nvidia hides the option for scaling otherwise.

Right-click on the desktop and choose Nvidia Control Panel, then under the Display section click Adjust Desktop size and position (if this doesn't appear you may need this file). Click the size tab, then check Enable desktop resizing, then click the Resize button and adjust as required.

Windows: AMD/ATI


(Screenshot by CBS Interactive)

If you've got an AMD graphics card in your Windows laptop, you'll need to check first whether you've got a hybrid laptop or not. If you right-click on the desktop and you see the option "Configure Switchable Graphics", then this is what you have.

Sadly, this means you're stuck with whatever driver the laptop vendor gives you, and they're notorious for letting them go out of date. You'll also need to ensure you're using your AMD graphics card and not your Intel one — as although custom resolutions are available under Intel's Graphics Properties, they don't work. Depending on the age of your laptop, how you switch to the high performance GPU will vary, and you may even need the laptop to be plugged into the wall.

If you've just got an AMD card, great! Grab yourself the latest update from AMD's website and install.

Either way, at this point you'll want to access the Catalyst Control Center. You'll either find it in the right-click menu on the desktop, or in your start menu (sometimes called CCC).

Once it's open, you'll need to select My Digital Flat-Panels, then select Scaling Options (Digital Flat-Panel). Adjust the slider until the display is correct.

Windows: Intel


(Screenshot by CBS Interactive)

If you've just got Intel HD graphics, after you've updated your drivers from Intel's site, right-click on the Intel HD Graphics icon in the system tray and choose Graphics Properties.

Select Advanced Mode and click OK, then under Display, select your television and change the scaling from Maintain Display Scaling to Customize Aspect Ratio. Intel, sadly, doesn't let you preview the results, so you'll have to engage in trial and error by hitting Apply and tweaking until you get things right.

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idiotphone4lover posted a comment   

Want a smart TV Laptop Computer, with 17.3" FULL HD & HDMI 1.4 out?

Get the Asus G73sw ($2399).
Backlit full keyboard with num pad, 17.3 full HD (1920 x 1080) screen with led backlight, Blu-ray burner, USB3, SDXC, 2 x 500gb HHD, Intel i7 2630QM, Nvidia GTX460m with 1.5gb ddr5 vram, HDMI v1.4 and 8gb of ram. With free Asus mouse & backpack.
With 2 year Warranty.


CampbellS posted a comment   

Sounds like the best thing to do to is use an HDMI connection to play all your media. Wireless is too slow and clunky. You could buy a media box . I have a western digital that plays all movies incl MKV , H264 MP4 , AVI , in fact it has played everything I have thrown at it. Now they come with internet connections , and stream content. The thing is auntil Australia telcos get into some sort of arrangement with US content providers we will forvever be getting 'this is not availble in your country ' for most things. Hulu is useless in Aus for example.


jbray posted a comment   

Ha, that's exactly my HTPC (Antec Fusion). Have been running it for 3.5years now (via Windows Media Center and other bits and pieces), and I still love the setup. Allows you to do anything, and the current SmartTV push by the manufacturers is also a "meh" for me, I couldn't think of anything worse than trying to struggle with the limitations of what's programmed into a TV.

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