$20 projector! Now what?
April 7, 2011 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Can I project from my laptop with this $20 projector? If so, how?

So I just bought this snazzy little "entertainment projector" on clearance at Staples for $19.95. The catch is that it's designed for projecting video games and movies, and only has an RCA input. (Well, the red, yellow and white three plug input. I'm not too familiar with these things.)

If I can only use it to show movies, that's okay, but it would be amazing if I could use it to project lectures from my Macbook Pro. My computer identifies itself as a MacBookPro5,5 and in addition to USB inputs has something that looks like the hilighted input thing, although the layout doesn't really look like my laptop. Is this a DVI plug? Mini-dvi? Is there any kind of adaptor I can use to send the video and audio signals from my laptop to the ultra cheap little projector?

Sorry if this is an extremely elementary question, but I have never connected my laptop to anything before and this is completely new to me. I'm hoping some wise computer savvy individuals will be able to show me the way, or direct me to some info that will help me understand this.
posted by ladypants to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
That's a mini displayport (as it says in the url for the image -- this is different from dvi). Google around for a mini displayport to composite cable adapter, then you will probably need a composite video cable to go to the projector. Somebody may have a specific recommendation for an adapter, but those are your google terms, and such things exist.

You could also use the regular dongle that probably came with your mac that converts mini displayport to vga, and then get a vga to composite? That seems like an unnecessary extra step though.
posted by brainmouse at 10:20 AM on April 7, 2011

The MacBookPro5,5 has a Mini DisplayPort like in the image you linked. You'll need both a Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter and a VGA to video adapter.

Older MacBooks with Mini-DVI ports instead can use the much simpler Mini-DVI to video adapter instead.

The quality will be passable for movies, and pretty miserable for anything with text in it.
posted by zsazsa at 10:24 AM on April 7, 2011

This , this, and this should do it; not very elegant but doable.
posted by TedW at 10:24 AM on April 7, 2011

Oops, missed the part about mini display vs. mini DVI; you can also get a mini display to DVI adapter, but what zsazsa said about needing an extra adapter looks correct. So you will spend more on connectors and cables than your projector cost.
posted by TedW at 10:27 AM on April 7, 2011

Thanks guys! I think I already have the minidisplay port to VGA adapter (at least I have whatever adapter came with my laptop). It sounds like now all I need is a VGA to RCA adapter, and I'm seeing several for under $5 on amazon and ebay. Cool! Now it's just a matter of how crummy text looks. If the resolution is terrible, I'll at least have a way to watch cute cat videos from YouTube REALLY BIG.
posted by ladypants at 10:40 AM on April 7, 2011

Resolution is 480 X 240. I'd be surprised if print is actually legible on that thing after converting to composite.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 10:46 AM on April 7, 2011

Assuming that projector has speakers -- that probably won't get you sound -- VGA is a video only output. So you can do that to get video (you actually would only need the yellow part of the composite cord). To get sound you'll need to get a cord out from your headphone jack -- something like this.
posted by brainmouse at 10:47 AM on April 7, 2011

I have a similar kiddie "entertainment" projector, and yeah. You'll definitely be able to use it to project movies in a DARK room.

The resolution is too low to display text, and the bulb is not bright enough to project a large image in a room that is not pitch black.

That said, I think you got a pretty good deal for $20. You just need to understand that this isn't a $1000 projector, and you'll be fine.

(For what it's worth, I'm planning to use mine as part of halloween decorations, by having it overlay video onto a blank head.)
posted by mattybonez at 11:10 AM on April 7, 2011

Be wary of the cheap $5 VGA to RCA adapters like this one! They're made for specific types of laptops/video cards and won't work for you. You'll need something that's a box that actually converts the signal.
posted by zsazsa at 11:39 AM on April 7, 2011

Thanks zsa zsa. Darn, I was hoping to get away with exactly that kind of cheap adapter.

Thanks mattybonez! I was thinking I got a pretty good deal on a $100 projector, but yeah, as far as I know, half way decent projectors start at $350 and go up from there. I love your Halloween idea. One of my favorite museum experience was at the Whitney Museum at closing time when I saw one of the security guards have an extended conversation with a sculpture by Tony Oursler.
posted by ladypants at 1:28 PM on April 7, 2011

You'll also need to switch screen resolutions. You can do it with System Preferences but it's a bit of a pain. Check out SwitchResX, it's cheap & works well. You can even define custom resolutions if you need.
posted by scalefree at 7:41 PM on April 7, 2011

Right. First things first, a cheapie vga-to-composite video (the yellow RCA plug; red and white are for sound) won't work. VGA and composite are different types of signal. However, some laptops ALSO output composite/tv video output via the VGA connector; and that plug will use the hardware in the laptop to do the heavy work, it's literally just a physical adapter. If the laptop doesn't natively do analog composite video output - and the macbooks with mini-displayport don't - you need something cleverer than those.

This page should sort you out with what you need.

Long story short, you want a mini-dp to vga cable (which you have, by the sounds of it) and an active converter box; this $18 one is being tested and seems ok; the grandtec $50 one definitely works.

Resolution won't be great. You could get away with video, and fuzzyish large print projection-style keynote slides. Web-browsing, or small text documents will be illegible. This is down to composite video being 480i resolution at best, i.e. 640 × 480 pixels, and even then because it's all smushed together into one analog signal (unlike say, RGB scart or svideo) it's even more blurry. This projector only does 480 x 240! Ouch. You can probably play spot the pixel with it.

Digital projectors generally can be 1024x768, or 720p (1280x720) even for the cheapest.

That said; as long as you keep your expectations reasonable, it's a decent bit of kit for $20!
posted by ArkhanJG at 3:36 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

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