Reader Qs: Feeding TVs from a Laptop & DVD Player

One of the things I enjoy about this blog is that it's given me the opportunity to help people in churches all over the place. I love getting e-mails from people asking for advice; which I'm happy to oblige if I have anything intelligent to share. Being a little CDO (that's OCD in alphabetical order), I tend to put a lot of effort into replying to said questions. It occurred to me that there may be others who might have a similar issue and could benefit from the response. It's also selfish on my part as I can kill two birds with one stone--answering an e-mail question and generating more content for the blog. It's what I like to call a win-win-win.

So here's our first question: Michael (no relation) writes:

I am in charge of the limited technical needs at my church which is about 4 years old, in an auditorium that seats about 80 or 90 max. We just bought two 42" hd lcd tvs (720p, 1080i) to use as our first screens. I'm planning on running them from my laptop for a while. (not sure if it matters but the laptop is widescreen and is running Vista.)

[W]ould you be able to point me in the direction of what I need to convert the vga signal from my laptop to something the tvs can use? I bought a vga to s-video cable but found out that's not enough. :) The tvs do have vga inputs, but I need to convert the signal so I can run it through a switcher along with a dvd player.

And here is my response:

Based on what you've told me, you have a few options.

Option One

First, you could downconvert your computer signal to video (either S-video or component), then run that and your DVD player into a switcher and send either S-video or component video to your TVs. As you've discovered, you lose significant quality when you go that route. If you were to do this, you'd want a high quality can converter (like a Scan Do Select--$1,200), and a S-Video/audio switcher (like an Ocean Matrix OMX-9019YC--$575). The Ocean Matrix might be a bit overkill--it's 4 in, 4 out, but since you need 2 out already, this saves you the expense of a distribution amplifier (which you'd need otherwise to drive your 2 TVs). There are less expensive options out there, but these two products would do the job well, or serve as a standard to judge others against.

Ocean Matrix OMX-9019YC Ocean Matrix OMX-9019YCOption Two

Second, you could upconvert your video to the same resolution as the computer video, then run VGA cables from the switcher to the TVs. A great solution for this application is the Analog Way Easy Cut ($1,450).

Analog Way Easy Cut AV Analog Way Easy Cut AVIt as 4 inputs and will convert everything to the native resolution of your TVs. You can feed it VGA from your laptop, component video from the DVD player and up to 2 more sources. Send it out on VGA to a VGA DA (like a Communication Specialties Twin Split--$265), and off to the TVs. This would give you very high quality playback of both your laptop and DVD sources. This saves you a little $$, and will be much higher quality. Again, there are cheaper scalers than the Analog Way, but I really like their stuff. You can also control it from your PC via their control software, which is very slick. Stay away from inexpensive scalers (under $300 or so). They really bugger up the computer signal and really aren't that much better than your VGA to S-Video cable.

Option Three

Third, you could abandon the DVD player altogether and just use your laptop. If you're not using one already, I would strongly recommend a dedicated presentation program such as ProPresenter (for the Mac) or Easy Worship (for the PC). Either program would let you run sermon notes, lyrics, videos and DVDs right from your laptop. At this point, all you would need is the VGA DA and some VGA cables. This would the least costly option, and give you the most power. We're doing this in our new sanctuary. We won't have anything but my MacBook Pro playing back all of our media for every service. It's completely seamless and works great. Of course, you may have other events that would require a DVD player, so the second option would be the best for you in that case. Or you could combine #2 and #3.

If you go with option 2, make sure to set your scaler to the same resolution as the native resolution of the TV 1366x768. That will give you the best picture. If you are playing back 4:3 aspect ratio, standard def DVDs, you can tell the scaler to preserver the aspect ratio so it's not all stretched out.

All the products mentioned can be found at my favorite video supply store Markertek, or a local dealer who specializes in installed presentation equipment.