What cables connect a laptop to a video projector?
February 18, 2018 4:22 PM   Subscribe

I have a 2018 Dell XPS 13 which it seems has Displayport and Thunderbolt ports. I want to be able to reliably connect it to video projectors at academic conferences around Europe. What cables and adaptors do I need?

This feels like a basic question, but when I research it I find a scary number of people unable to connect their laptops to video projectors consistently. I do not want to ever have a problem connecting to a video projector, so please tell me what cable or cables will reliably connect to all the projectors I am likely to find in lecture rooms and conference venues.

If it makes a difference this is for presenting slides etc. rather than video.
posted by Busy Old Fool to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Looks like Thunderbolt 3 uses the USB-C standard connector, so I'd make sure you have USB-C to HDMI and USB-C to VGA, both of which look like they're widely available. I'd be surprised to see projector setups where one of those two won't work for you.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 4:33 PM on February 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

Throw in a dvi dongle too, though those seem to be pretty rare.

However, just having a dongle and cable is in no way a guarantee of a successful connection to a projector. There are just too many variables between your laptop and the projector, and too many types of projectors, for everything to go off spotlessly every time.
posted by rockindata at 5:44 PM on February 18, 2018

Always have a thumb drive with pptx and PDF versions of your presentation with you, as sometimes it is easier to drop your presentation on the conference computer beforehand than fuss with making the connection yourself.
posted by rockindata at 5:46 PM on February 18, 2018 [6 favorites]

And nowadays, when some devices have USB-A and others USB-C, you should have a dual-port thumb drive (like this one). Don't lose your kingdom for want of an adapter.
posted by vasi at 6:28 PM on February 18, 2018

The display port will be more reliable than the usb-c/thunderbolt port.

they make dongles with all three (vga/dvi/HDMI).
posted by noloveforned at 7:15 PM on February 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

There are just too many variables between your laptop and the projector,

I hear that and also the advice to have a backup presentation on a USB flash drive. Assuming those points taken to heart, there's one answer suggesting Displayport adapters and another suggesting Thunderbolt. More answers, especially from those with relevant experience, would be appreciated to help form a consensus. Also whether brands matter etc.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 11:59 PM on February 18, 2018

If I'm reading the specs of your laptop correctly, you have Thunderbolt ports which use the DisplayPort protocol. So you need the USB C connector, rather than the older "DisplayPort" connector.

Brands don't matter. Monoprice.com is my usual source for these kinds of cables and adaptors (or Amazon) - find the cheap versions and buy two so you have a backup.

Also note that the adaptors are just short little dongles, you'll probably want some 10 to 25 foot cables so you have some flexibility in where you put your laptop.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:29 AM on February 19, 2018

While it's not connector related, since you're on the topic of strange new projectors in unknown conference rooms I thought I'd offer another tip.

Format your presentations for 4:3 (the old VGA-style aspect ratio). You may build a beautiful deck on your 16:9 laptop, and Powerpoint will offer that ratio from the start since it looks great, but if you land in a conference room with a VGA-style projector you will have to make a compromise that won't work well.

Usually that means clipping the sides of the show, squishing the entire display to make it fit, or some mix of the two that looks awful. It also means your show will probably be pillarboxed on better projectors, but that's usually overlooked by audiences.
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:42 AM on February 19, 2018

The problem with where we are on these ports right now is that there are, apparently, 80 billion names for the same thing (or slight variations on the same thing). You only have one kind of port on the side of your laptop: they are either called "Thunderbolt 3" or "USB-C" depending on who you talk to; they are effectively the same thing for getting adapters.

As soundguy99 points out, the waters are muddied by the laptop advertising that it uses the "Displayport" protocol; this is all well and good, but matters NOT AT ALL for getting an adapter. You don't have a Displayport PORT on your laptop; just Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports.

As someone who often plugs in his computer to external projectors, I would encourage you to get an adapter (or adapters) that supports HDMI and VGA. I have never had an experience where either HDMI or VGA weren't acceptable. As others note above, the third option is DVI, but at this point I think you're MUCH more likely to encounter HDMI than DVI (and even when you would encounter DVI, VGA is offered as an option).

So, what I would recommend you get is one of these HDMI adapters and one of these VGA adapters. You could get a combo adapter like this, but I've had those flake out on me more than the single-use adapters I've used; I have no idea if that's just my weird experience or something specific to those adapters.

Pssst! Laptop makers! Can we please just agree that all of you should be putting an HDMI port on the side of your laptop in addition to all the other bullshit ports? That'd solve a lot of our problems. Thanks! -Betelgeuse
posted by Betelgeuse at 3:14 PM on February 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

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