How do I connect a computer to an old CRT television?
February 2, 2010 5:17 AM   Subscribe

I need to display the picture from a computer onto an old 1999 CRT television. I've seen a few products but all the reviews of them say that they don't work. Any recommendations on ones that do?

I need to connect a range of different laptops and computers to the television in my house (not all at the same time!). They all have VGA (either natively or via a DVI to VGA adapter) and line-out/headphone connectors in common. The television has SCART, S-Video and red/white/yellow RCA inputs.

Entering "VGA to SCART", "VGA to RCA" or something similar into Google gets an assortment of cables and boxes with comments from people saying they either don't work or work the wrong way around (eg. they'll get a picture from an old VCR onto a modern monitor, which is not what I want).

I know that if I bought an HDTV then I could connect them with very little problems and have a much higher resolution - however I cannot afford that and work won't let me put that on expenses!

If this is not possible then I'd consider VGA and S/PDIF or DVI and S/PDIF as an acceptable compromise - even though it would mean that some of the hardware would not work or need additional adapters.

Any suggestions? It needs to support both picture and sound and ideally be available to buy in the UK.  Thanks.
posted by mr_silver to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If the TV has an S-video in, and your computer has an S-video out, then you should be fine. If you hook the two up and nothing happens, you have to go into your video card's configuration options to make it duplicate displays (it's often called "clone display").

If your computer doesn't have an S-video out, it may not be possible.
posted by AugieAugustus at 5:45 AM on February 2, 2010

I've done this, connecting my Macbook Pro's DVI output to an S-Video adapter and then S-Video to the TV. What you need to realize is that the TV will only display at 640x480, whereas most of the laptop displays will be 1024x768. So, you'll have to adjust the resolution of what you're outputting and that will suck. Trust me, 640x480 sucks for displaying computer content. You may wish to rethink what you need to do and how you're going to do it.
posted by The Michael The at 6:02 AM on February 2, 2010

I have one of these. I use it a few times a year and it works pretty well. Make sure to set your computer to the lowest resolution available.
posted by gregr at 6:23 AM on February 2, 2010

Sounds like something like this should do it...
posted by xqwzts at 6:31 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Definitely do not spend much money to do this, because it will look terrible.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 7:52 AM on February 2, 2010

mr_silver, I would like to express a note of caution at this point. I can say categorically that you cannot possible visualize just how bad this is going to look. To be clear, it is going to suck.

You also might want to consider that you will be spending a fair amount of money on adapters to get this working. And the cost of small LCD televisions and monitors has plummeted recently. You could get a 23-25" LCD monitor for under $200, which would perform infinitely better than a 1999 CRT. And a set of cheap speakers would run you perhaps $20.

I realize this is not the answer you want, mr_silver--but it is the answer you need. The Dark Answer. (sorry, I had to.)

There comes a point where throwing money at old technology will not be helpful, and I fear that you have reached that point. Spending five bucks on a cable means wasting five bucks that could go towards an actual solution to your problem. And when the time comes for a new television (of course, it already has) it will be harder to justify because you'll be ditching the nest of adapters you just bought. I've been there, and the cheap way out is a waste of money.
posted by Phyltre at 7:54 AM on February 2, 2010

The TV might have composite in. Lots of graphics cards have S/Video out, and there's a cheap, simple adapter for S/Video to composite. (This works in theory, but my first attempt to actually do it this past Sunday failed.)
posted by Zed at 7:57 AM on February 2, 2010

I think the search term you want is scan converter. I used to have one years ago. It was my first attempt at computer on television and I remember the quality not being great... but that's what we all got for not having a unified monitor/TV connection.
posted by Gainesvillain at 10:41 AM on February 2, 2010

Mac-specific answer, but I've used an Apple DVI to Video adapter to send video from my MacBook to an older CRT TV which had a yellow composite RCA input.
The image quality was similar to broadcast TV - fine for watching videos from Hulu or doing a photo slideshow, but it wouldn't be very useful as a monitor.
posted by zombiedance at 11:55 AM on February 2, 2010

I agree with others that you don't really want to be doing this. On the other hand, the alternatives aren't great: LCD TVs are still a bit overpriced compared to monitors, but adding TV tuner to a monitor is also expensive. So, maybe you actually do want to do this :P

I expect that most of your devices already have the ability to output either composite or s-video. Please post some specs so that we can look into it more closely.

If you really have to convert VGA to s-video or composite video, you do need a scan converter. One classic line is the AverKey. You can pick them up pretty cheap on eBay. They work, but for obvious reasons the output looks like it is being played over a standard definition TV. So they basically suck for anything but watching VHS quality video.
posted by Chuckles at 12:44 PM on February 2, 2010

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