Play TV shows from your Mac through a TV

Play TV shows from your Mac through a TV
Mac Tip #517, 21 December 2011

I often watch TV shows on my MacBook Pro via a web page. In New Zealand we can use the On Demand services of the major TV channels, in the US Hulu and similar services offer TV shows. Presumably in other countries there are also similar opportunities. This Tip explains how to show such videos on your TV’s screen from your Mac.

You can also use this technique for displaying on your TV anything you can see on your Mac’s screen, such as photos. It may be a bit fiddly or tedious to set up the first time, but it’s worth doing if you like to watch videos on your TV screen. It’s definitely handy for when more than one person will be viewing.

My Mac has a Mini DisplayPort.

My Mac has a Mini DisplayPort.

This Tip should work for any Mac that has a Mini DisplayPort. Go to Apple’s Tech Specs page and enter your Mac’s serial number to see detailed specifications for your machine.

Quick Start

  1. Connect a cable that has a Mini DisplayPort connector at one end, an HDMI connector at the other and that also sends audio.
  2. Turn on the TV and any connected systems such as sound, and set to the correct input.
  3. Set your Mac to the correct sound output.
  4. Set your Mac’s screen to mirror or drag the correct window to the icon for the TV screen in Arrange Displays.
  5. Play the video and enjoy.

Want more detail? Read the full Tip below.

Use the right cable

Obtain a cable that has a Mini DisplayPort connector at one end, an HDMI connector at the other and that also sends audio. See Apple’s About Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapters for more detail. Not all of these cables also support audio, so double-check that when buying.

Kanex Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Cable 10 ft (3 m).

Kanex Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Cable 10 ft (3 m).

While on a visit to Melbourne, Australia, I bought the Kanex Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Cable 10 ft (3 m), a brand I’d never heard of before. It’s working well.

Also think about where the Mac and the TV will be positioned and how long the cable should be.

Connect the cable

Plug the Mini DisplayPort end of the cable into your Mac’s Mini DisplayPort.

The ports on my MacBook Pro.

The ports on my MacBook Pro.

Plug the HDMI end of the cable into your TV’s HDMI port. The TV may have more than one HDMI port.

When you do this the display on your Mac may ‘shimmer’ or change in some way.

Turn on the TV

Turn on your TV and set it to the correct HDMI input. You may need to refer to the manual for your TV for this step.

Once you have the TV set to the correct input you may suddenly find yourself viewing your Mac’s Desktop on the TV screen, but perhaps not the web page or whatever you expected to see. We’ll sort that out in a moment.

My TV and Mac are connected, but each is showing a different thing.

My TV and Mac are connected, but each is showing a different thing. The TV is showing a window on top of the default Lion desktop. On my Mac I changed the Desktop to a solid blue, and have a window open.

Set the correct sound input and output

Remember to also turn on any other devices you may need, such as the sound system and also set the sound system to the correct input. Again, refer to the relevant manuals for your setup.

Select the correct Sound Output.

Select the correct Sound Output.

On your Mac call up the System PreferencesSoundOutput window and ensure the correct output is set. My screenshot shows I have selected SONY TV HDMI as the output.

If a Sound Output device isn’t connected it doesn’t appear in the window. For example, I can’t set the output to my TV if the cable between the Mac and the TV isn’t connected. Once I connect the cable then the TV is listed in the window.

To change the volume use the control for your sound system, not the Mac’s Volume control as that will have no effect.

Arrange Displays

Most Macs can either mirror displays or show different things on different screens. Mirroring means the same thing is displayed on both screens — the Mac’s built-in screen and any connected display — though perhaps at different resolutions.

If your Mac allows different things to be displayed on different screens then you’ll need to arrange the displays and perhaps drag some windows around.

After you connect your TV it may just show a generic Mac Desktop image and not the web page you thought you were looking at.

In that case you need to drag the window you want to view, such as your web browser, to the other screen. Simply drag it all the way to the right or left of the Mac’s screen and keep dragging. It should appear on your TV screen.

The cursor works in the same way with multiple displays — just drag the mouse all the way to left or right to see it appear on the other display.

My Mac still shows the Arrange Displays window, while the TV is showing a TV programme.

My Mac still shows the Arrange Displays window, while the TV is showing a Christmas Special TV programme available through the On Demand service.

Read the sections starting Mirror the Screen in the Tip How to use your iPad or iPhone as a second monitor for full details and screenshots on how to arrange monitors.

Make notes

Now you’re all set up.

Make notes on how the connections work for your setup. Note which cable goes in which slots, which settings you need for your TV and audio systems. Bookmark this Tip so you’ll remember which steps to take.

And if others in your household will be using the setup make sure the notes are clear enough for them to understand too.

Play the video

If your Mac, like mine, announces events such as new Mail or incoming tweets you may like to quit those apps before you start watching your movie.

Now sit back and watch the TV show on your big screen.

Special Tip: while watching TV shows or movies click the icon they usually provide to fill the screen with the image. To get back to a small window within the screen press the esc key on the Mac’s keyboard.


  1. Cable connected?
  2. TV on?
  3. TV correct input?
  4. Sound system on?
  5. Sound system correct input?
  6. Mac Sound correct output?
  7. Mac Displays correctly arranged?

What do you think? Did you try this Tip out? Tell us in the Comments online how this Tip helped you.

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  1. Wieland said:

    I don’t know anything about the Apple-TV device but I am wondering if an Apple-TV could be used to cover greater distances than those available via an HDMI cable; I believe HDMI cables have a rather short “maximum distance”.

    If an Apple-TV can be wirelessly connected to a laptop or an iPhone as a source and a projector / TV screen as a target, that may be very useful in a classroom / lecturing / workshop situation. Maybe also useful for a semi-mobile setup, like a sales / demo / club situation. If the Apple-TV has multiple outputs, such as HDMI, VGA, separate audio & video as used in VHS recorders, then one only needs the connection between Apple-TV and projector and “look Ma, no hands”.

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      Wieland, the Apple TV has only 2 outputs: HDMI and optical audio.

      I must say, here in New Zealand the Apple TV doesn’t offer as many useful features (eg no Hulu) and I’m growing increasingly disappointed with it.

      It seems to cause problems every time we use the wireless connection, so now tend to plug the HDMI cable between Mac and TV for guaranteed good performance.



  2. Patrick said:

    Thanks for the info’, but the iAdapt20 is being offered at just under $60 – not a viable option!

  3. Miraz Jordan said:

    Thanks Patrick and Paul, I appreciate the input. I didn’t realise there was a problem with sound on the older machines – how frustrating!

  4. Miraz Jordan said:

    Paul emailed:

    Good tip – but after a little checking it seems there are a few pitfalls since the cable will not work perfectly for those MacBook Pros built before mid-2010. I contacted Kanex and here’s their reply re my MacBook Pro (which was built in late December 2009):

    “That cable will work for your MacBook Pro, however it will not work fully. You will not have audio passthrough as audio was not embedded into the MacBook pro’s until mid 2010. In order to obtain both audio/video you will need our iAdapt20 or iAdapt51. Now, if you don’t plan on hooking this up to an HDMI equipped home audio receiver for 5.1 ch audio, i would recommend going with our iAdapt20″ “

  5. Miraz Jordan said:

    Patrick emailed:

    “Hmmmm – great tip BUT if your MacBook Pro is pre 2010, the system will send only picture through the HDMI cable – no sound. A second cable is needed from the headphone socket to the TV – THEN the TV may require a jack OR phono plugs ! VERY disappointing AND expensive.”

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