Connect your Mac to an HDMI or DVI HDTV

So much of our media is related to the computer. Between iTunes downloads, Hulu, YouTube, DVR recordings, and Netflix Streaming, the days of the disc are ending. Sure, Blu-ray will keep them alive for a little while longer but I wouldn’t call them mainstream yet and HD Movies are available digitally through iTunes.

The Home Theatre PC is all about containing this entertainment / media in one place, digitally and on-demand; storing videos, pictures, music, playing DVDs, games and streaming content. Now that large flat-screen TVs are becoming reasonably priced, what’s better than having a gigantic 1080p LCD TV? Getting your Mac to display video on it!

Why not just use an AppleTV?

Yes, an AppleTV has built in HDMI for audio and video. It’s not really about what the AppleTV can do, it’s all about what the AppleTV can’t do. Play DVDs? Rip CDs? DVR Television? Use common audio / video formats such as Divx, Xvid, Flac, Ogg, or .Avi? Do anything without having to make an iTunes purchase?

The answer to these questions is pretty much – No, No, No, No and No. That’s why a Mac Mini makes a much better HTPC.

Connecting a Mac Mini (or other Mac) to an HDTV:

Before we get started, take a look at the inputs on the back of your TV. If you have a DVI input, you are all set. Just get a DVI to DVI cable and connect the Mini directly. If you have HDMI, read on.

1. Get a suitable DVI to HDMI cable.

2. Properly connect the HDTV to your Mini.

3. Turn on the HDTV and Mac, then view the screen.

Chances are it may look “clipped” or “chopped” and / or have black bands around the desktop. If so, this is a common ailment called Overscan.

How to fix Overscan with a Mac and HDTVs.

1. Open system preferences.

2. Click on Displays.

3. When the Mac is connected to the TV, there should be an Overscan button.

4. Check the checkbox to turn it on. This will reduce the picture a bit to fit it better.

5. If this doesn’t fix the problem, adjust the resolutions until you get one that looks good for you.

6. Try checking and unchecking the Overscan box until your picture looks right.

7. Adjust settings in your HDTV’s preferences if necessary.

Each HDTV from different manufacturers treats overscan differently. Some will give you a hard time, others will just work. It’s really a matter of switching different resolutions and the overscan checkbox in both the OS X and HDTV’s preferences.

Sometimes it takes a little bit of trial and error to get everything to work right. When it does, write down the settings so you don’t have to go through this again. Just remember, to keep the image looking “right” (not squished or stretched), maintain your HDTV’s optimal image ratio – most likely 16:9.

Getting Sound into your HDTV:

With all the video fiddling to get the picture right, you might miss something important – there’s no sound! This is actually normal.

OS X doesn’t send audio over the HDMI cable, even though HDMI supports it. If you’re using DVI, that’s video only. What you can do is use your Mac’s analog output to send audio to your HDTV. You can use a simple 3.5mm headphone to RCA cable if simple stereo is fine for you.

If you’re looking for 5.1 Surround Sound, this article is for you.

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One Comments

  1. Michael says:

    Things are changing very quickly for Apple users where multi-media is concerned and how one can use their Mac hooked up to an HDTV.

    As stated, the Mac Mini can be a very good option for playback to a 720p or 1080p HDTV. A few things to consider would include – types of movie media to play and, what player use. What I suggest is that if you have a Mac Mini 2.26 running CPU or greater, explore the use of PLEX or XBMC. They are extremely flexible home theater front ends on the Mac. There is a small learning curve but they are both FREE and meant to be front ends for your Mac_to_HDTV. The Mac Mini can provide two types of audio output – digital and analogue. The former providing the ability to do 5.1 surround and the latter stereo.

    If you have DVDs and Blu Ray that you wish to archive to a hard drive, enlist the use of MakeMKV. When this software scans your purchased DVD or Blu Ray, it will give you options on what you want to do/save. In most cases, it would be the main movie, audio (5.1) and as needed, subtitles. It is a FREE software for now as it remains long term in beta. The above software can play these types of mkv files. There are of course other tools to convert into either smaller files (Handbrake comes to mind) or more standard formats such as .mt2s or .ts files (more like the original blu ray).

    if you plan to use 5.1 surround, consider running the digital out of your Mac Mini into a receiver capable of toslink input and surround output. Both XBMC and PLEX have avid users who constantly add advice and answer questions in their respective site forums.

    Last – if you like gadgets and to get more bang out of your system, there are ways to merge* the digital/analogue audio out with the dvi/displayport video and end up with HDMI going to your HDTV. What this does is give you one cable to your TV and ideally beyond less clutter, a nice way to to use the audio out passthru of your TV like your other equipment.