What's the best way to connect my MacBook to my TV?

It's easier than you might think to connect an Apple laptop to a TV. With the right cables, or a set-top box, you can get the screen from your Apple MacBook displaying on any television screen in no time.

You can play movies from your laptop on your TV, stream programmes from catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer, or even show off all your photos on a larger display. Many companies now use large-screen televisions in the boardroom instead of projectors, so this is great for those who have to give presentations.

It's straightforward to connect an Apple laptop to a television, but there are a few different techniques to choose from. These can be divided into two main strategies:

  • Use an adaptor and a cable to connect the Apple laptop to a television.
  • Use a set-top box device (such as an Apple TV or Google Chromecast) to mirror the Apple laptop display on a television.

In this feature we'll look at these options in turn, starting with some of the adaptors and cables you can use to hook up your laptop and TV.

1. Find out what type of connection your Mac has

Your Mac will have one of the following connections that can be used with your TV:

HDMI - if you have HDMI on your Mac and your TV this is the best option as it will transfer video and audio via the one cable. The following Macs have HDMI ports:

  • Mac mini (Mid 2010) and later
  • MacBook Pro with Retina display (Mid 2012 to Mid 2014) 
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013)

Thunderbolt 2 - if your Mac has a Thunderbolt 2 port you can use either Thunderbolt 2 or Mini DisplayPort adapters with it as the port is the same shape. The following Macs have Thunderbolt 2 ports:

  • MacBook Air (13-inch, Early 2015)
  • iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014)
  • Mac mini (Late 2014)
  • MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Late 2013) and later.
  • MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Late 2013) and later.
  • Mac Pro (Late 2013)

Mini DisplayPort - if your Mac is older than those mentioned above, chances are it has a DisplayPort connection. This can be a bit confusing as Thunderbolt uses the same DisplayPort connection. But you will need a Mini DisplayPort adapter to connect it to the TV as a Thunderbolt connector won't work.

Micro-DVI port - again, this is only likely to show up on much older Macs, like the original MacBook Air. It's smaller than the Mini Display Port.

USB 3/USB Type C/Thunderbolt 3 - Speaking of similar ports, the MacBook offers a USB 3 port while the MacBook Pro offers a USB Type C/Thunderbolt 3 port (the latter two use the same port)

2. Find out what type of connection your TV has

You need to find out what your TV video input port is. If it's a modern TV it's likely to  have an HDMI port - this type of port will transfer audio and video from your Mac to your TV.

If your TV is older it you may have a DVI port. DVI connections don’t transfer audio so you will need a separate solution for that. 

If your TV is really old TV you may need a composite adapter. We think it's unlikely that you would be looking to hook your laptop to such a screen, especially since you can purchase low cost TVs with HDMI ports.

3. Buy an adaptor to hook up your TV and Mac

Now you know what ports your Mac and TV have you need to buy an adaptor to connect them. We look at each type of adaptor below.

If you have a HDMI ready TV and laptop then all your need is an HDMI lead.

The other options are USB-C to HDMI or Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adaptor (since this will work with the Thunderbolt port).

USB-C to HDMI Adaptor

When Apple released its 12-inch MacBook in 2015, its set of ports was limited to a 3.5mm headphone jack and a single USB-C connection; gone were all the other connections seen on earlier Apple laptops such as Mini DisplayPort and Thunderbolt.

This means that if you've got a 12-inch MacBook, your options are a little more limited. In order for you to connect your 12-inch MacBook to a TV you'll need an adaptor that has a USB-C to HDMI connection.

Thankfully suitable accessories have been developed by various manufacturers; including Apple, which sells a USB-C to HDMI adaptor for £65.

If you're looking to achieve the same results but not looking to spend quite that much, Choetech has an identical adaptor for around £31.99, it can be found on Amazon US for $34.99. The adaptor can mirror your MacBook at 1080p at 60Hz or UHD (3840x2160) at 30Hz.

(It should be noted that the adaptor can be used to mirror your MacBook and also charge your MacBook, but we were unable to test if the adaptor would be able to charge and mirror to a TV simultaneously.)

Once you have the adaptor, it's as simple as plugging in the adaptor via its USB-C connection to your MacBook, and then using a HDMI cable from the adaptor to your television. You'll need to buy a HDMI cable, which can be found for as little as £5.99, although if you're anything like us you've probably got an HDMI cable lying around the house somewhere.

As noted by Apple, any adaptor will slowly drain the battery of your MacBook, so ensure you don't leave the adaptor plugged in when not in use.

Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adaptor

If you have the older MacBook - in other words, one that hasn't got USB-C - you'll need to buy a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adaptor. This plugs into the Thunderbolt socket on the side of a MacBook (MiniDisplay Port and Thunderbolt share the same socket).

For some reason Apple doesn't make a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adaptor, despite making various other cables (such as Lightning to Digital AV and Mini DisplayPort to VGA). But you can pick up this Proxima Direct Mini Displayport to HDMI adaptor. Bear in mind you will also need a HDMI cable. If you don't have one, you can pick up the official Apple HDMI to HDMI cable (£15), or a non-Apple-branded one for a little cheaper at £5.99.

Then all you do is plug the MiniDisplayPort to HDMI adaptor into the Thunderbolt connection on your MacBook, plug the HDMI cable into the adaptor, and finally the HDMI cable into the television.

4. Sort out your audio connection

If you have an HDTV on your TV, and your Mac has HDMI or a Thunderbolt port you should be able to send the audio from your computer to your TV via the cable.

If your Mac just has a Mini DisplayPort (not Thunderbolt) or an older port it may not be able to send audio to your HDTV so you will probably need to use an AUX cable to hook up the Mac and laptop in addition to the other adaptor.

To check if your Mac will be able to send audio without a separate cable you can click on the Apple logo in the top left, choose About This Mac > Overview > System Report > Audio (Built In). If you can see HDMI Output or HDMI/DisplayPort Output in the list, your Mac will be able to send audio via the Display Port.

To make sure your TV plays the audio sent from your Mac go to System Preferences > Sound > Output.

4. Set up your MacBook so you can see the screen on your TV

On your Mac open System Preferences > Displays then click on the Arrangement tab.

If you want to mirror the Mac display choose Mirror Display, otherwise arrange your displays by dragging them - the one with the white bar at the top will be the main display. So if you want that to be the TV then make sure the white bar appears on the new screen.

Note that your mouse pointer will move between the displays as if they are in the arrangement you choose here.

Mirror Display in Arrangement settings

5. Connect your Mac to your TV with an Apple TV

You don't have to use a cable to connect an Apple laptop to a television. You can use a set-top box device such as an Apple TV or Google Chromecast to view content from your Apple laptop on a television.

The Apple TV connects to your television via HDMI and uses a WIFi connection to your local network to connect to your Mac. You can use AirPlay to stream content from your Apple laptop's desktop to the television, as well as using the Apple TV to stream other content from the web. 

To share your laptop screen to your Mac using the Apple TV look for the AirPlay icon in the menu bar, it's a square with a triangle below it. When you click on the AirPlay icon you can choose to play videos or mirror/extend your display to your TV.

Other devices such as Google's Chromecast found for £30 at Maplin, or the Amazon Fire TV Stick starting from £34.99 on Amazon (although you will need to download the relevant app on Fire TV Stick) work in a similar manner. 

For more information about the Apple TV read our review we also have details about How to watch iPlayer and 4OD on Apple TV and a comparison of the Apple TV vs Google Chromecast UK.

You may also be interested to read How to get US Netflix in the UK.