Apple has used a handful of video outputs over the years, and there are also a lot of different TV input options. Due to the sheer variety of possible combinations, there is no Mac to TV cable that will work in every situation. In order to find the right cable, it’s necessary to identify the output port on the Mac and then select an available input jack on the television. An appropriate Mac to TV cable will have the proper connections to plug into the video output on the Mac and the video input on the television.
Depending on the model and production date, a Mac may have a VGA port, DVI connector, Mini DisplayPort, or a Thunderbolt jack. Televisions can have most of those connections, but they typically also feature composite, component, and HDMI inputs.
High Definition vs. Standard Definition
There are six video input connections that are commonly found on television sets, and each one can be used in conjunction with a proper Mac to TV cable. In order to display a high definition resolution, it’s necessary to use an HDMI, DVI, VGA, or component input. HDMI and DVI connections provide the best possible picture quality, but only HDMI is designed to transmit audio and video at the same time. That means a single HDMI Mac to TV cable may be used for both surround sound and high definition video.
Composite and S-Video connections offer significantly lower resolutions, but they can still be used with Mac to TV cables. These connections are typically associated with standard definition televisions, but high definition televisions usually have them as well. If a high definition television set doesn’t have any free HDMI or component inputs, then an adapter cable that uses an S-Video connection may be a viable option.
Macs with Mini-DVI and Micro-DVI Connectors
DVI connectors have been around for a while, and MacBooks have featured two different versions of the DVI interface. Mini-DVI connectors can be found on MacBooks and MacBook Pros that were sold prior to late 2008, and the original MacBook Air shipped with a Micro-DVI connector. Both of these are miniaturized versions of regular DVI connectors, which means they can send high definition signals to any compatible television. However, DVI isn’t designed to transmit sound.
In order to obtain the best possible picture quality from a Mac that has a DVI connector, an adapter or cable that has an HDMI plug should be used. While the Mac won’t be able to transmit sound via the HDMI connection, it will be able to output a full 1080p resolution. The same picture quality is possible from a regular DVI cable, but not all televisions have that type of input.
Macs with Mini DisplayPort and Thunderbolt Connectors
The Mini DisplayPort was introduced in 2009, and it’s capable of transmitting both audio and high definition video. It also looks identical to the Thunderbolt port, which was introduced in 2011. Since Mini DisplayPort and Thunderbolt connections are both capable of transmitting audio, the best way to connect them to a television is via an HDMI connector. Regardless of whether the output is a Mini DisplayPort or Thunderbolt, a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI cable will work.
Mini DisplayPort and Thunderbolt connectors can also be used with VGA, component, and other types of adapters and cables, but those connections require additional audio inputs.
Mac to TV Audio Cables
There are a few circumstances where a single cable can transmit both audio and video from a Mac to a TV, but hardware that’s more than a few years old isn’t capable of doing so. If a Mac doesn’t have a Mini DisplayPort or Thunderbolt connection, then an additional audio cable is necessary. That’s also true if the television doesn’t have an open HDMI port.
If a Mini DisplayPort or Thunderbolt connection isn’t available, then the only way to transmit audio from a Mac to a TV is via the headphone jack. In most cases, the correct cable will need to have a 3.5mm TRS connector on one end and two RCA connectors on the other end. The RCA connectors can be plugged into any open audio input on the television. If the television supports advanced audio options, that audio input can then be used in conjunction with the corresponding video input from the MacBook.