Connect a Video Monitor to Your Computer

Posted on by Larry

[ This technique was first published in the January, 2005, issue of
“Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter.” Click here to subscribe. ]

This technique came from a request by Alberto Hauffen, who writes:

For your upcoming newsletters, I have a request: [Can you present] a guide to use a Powerbook and an NTSC (or PAL) standard TV set to monitor FCP editing. I’ve tried to follow the instructions both of my PB and FCP but somehow the image that I get on the TV is cut off at the bottom (and with noticeable distortion).


This technique works for video monitors and TV sets that have video inputs. It won’t work on a TV set that requires all video signals to be on Channel 3; that is, a TV that only has an RF, or antenna, input. This technique also assumes that you don’t have a camera or deck you can attach to your computer to feed the monitor. Monitors attached via a camera or deck will display video more accurately than feeding video using your graphics card.


And, as an editorial note. I don’t like using TV sets as monitors. The colors of a TV set are very often over-saturated and emphasize certain colors, like flesh tones or reds. For this reason, it is always preferable to use a video monitor, rather than a TV set. Also, the resolution of a monitor is better than a TV set, making it easier to see what you are adjusting. On the other hand, TV sets are cheap and if you are creating your production for the price of a used shoestring, using a TV set for a monitor is better than not using a monitor at all.


The process of hooking up a monitor is simple — IF you have the right cable to attach to the back of your computer. In this example, I’m connecting a G-5 computer, but this technique works with PowerBooks and G-4s.


You’ll need one or two cables:


1. A video cable to connect to the monitor. S-video is preferable, because the quality is higher, however, a composite cable, using an RCA connector, will do.


2. For G-4’s and G-5’s, use a DVI to Video adapter to connect the S-video cable to your computer. PowerBooks, and some other Macs, have an S-video connection built-in. If your computer has a built-in connector, use it.


3. While it isn’t required, it’s always a good idea to connect monitor cables when the power is off. So, turn the power off both the monitor and your computer and connect the DVI adapter to the computer’s second port on the graphics card (the Apple part number for a G-5 adapter is M9267G/A). (If you have a PowerBook, most recent PowerBooks have an S-Video connector built-in.)


4. Connect one end of the S-video (or RCA) cable to the DVI adapter and the other to your video monitor.


5. Go to the Blue Apple > System Preferences



6. Select Displays



7. Click Arrangements and move the small monitor to whichever side of your computer monitor is correct.



8. The video monitor will display a dialog that allows you to set screen size and refresh rate. In this case, since I’m in the U.S., I set the Refresh Rate to 60 Hertz for NTSC, (50 Hertz for you PAL users) and the resolution to 720 x 480, (720 x 576 for PAL).


(As a side note, if you are setting a PAL monitor, set the Refresh Rate before setting screen resolution.)


9. Click the Options tab. If you want this to accurately represent how your images will look on TV, be sure to check both “Best for Video” and “Overscan.”


10. You can click the color tab and calibrate the monitor, however I’ve found the standard NTSC/PAL settings to be reasonably OK to work with. Then, again, if I’m doing serious color work, I’ll connect the monitor to my camera or deck to get a more accurate video output, rather than using my computer’s video card.


And that’s it. The benefit of using a TV monitor is that you can check graphics and other images on the monitor in PhotoShop while you are working on them to make sure they look OK. This is especially useful in checking how the interlaced, low-resolution of video will effect your design.


Finally, if you are hooking up a recent-edition PowerBook, start with step 4.


[ A side note. As I was writing this article, the monitor connections worked perfectly. When I went back later to get one more screen shot, the video monitor had lost sync and was rolling uncontrollably. In order to stabilize the signal, I needed to reboot my computer. ]

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