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Using Your MacBook With a Digital Projector

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One of the main things laptop computers are used for is presenting slideshows at trainings, conferences and other meetings. In this article, you will learn how to:

Connect your MacBook to a digital projector

Change between mirrored displays and extended desktop

Change other display settings useful for working with external displays

Connecting Your MacBook to a Projector

  • Turn on the projector and your MacBook.
  • Locate the Mini-DVI to VGA adapter cable that was provided with your MacBook. It looks like this:
Mini-DVI to VGA

Mini-DVI to VGA

If you have lost your adapter, you can order one from the Apple Store.

  • Connect the VGA cable from the projector to the Mini-DVI to VGA adapter. Refer to the projector’s instruction manual for more information about connecting devices to your projector.
  • Connect the Mini-DVI to VGA adapter to your MacBook. The adapter plugs into the port with the same markings that are on the adapter. See Apple’s support site for more information about the ports and connectors on your MacBook.


Connect the Mini-DVI to VGA adapter to your MacBook

Connect the Mini-DVI to VGA adapter to your MacBook

Note: Connecting an external display is designed to be “plug and play”. Simply turn on your projector, and connect it to the appropriate adapter. Then connect the adapter to the Mini-DVI port located on the side of the MacBook.

Tip: To make sure that your MacBook automatically detects the projector, be sure you plug the adapter into the projector before you plug it into the MacBook.

Mirrored Displays vs. Extended Desktop

When you connect your MacBook to a secondary display, such as a projector or an external monitor, the secondary display starts out in extended desktop mode. Think of this as a continuation of your desktop immediately adjacent to what you see on the built-in screen. Extended desktop allows you to use the screen area on the second display in addition to the display in your computer. Simply drag your windows to whichever screen you like. Hint: Start by moving your mouse from one screen to the other to get the feel of it.

Some programs, like PowerPoint and Keynote automatically take advantage of the extended desktop. It can be especially useful when giving a presentation, because you can view your notes on the laptop’s built-in LCD screen while your presentation is showing on the projector.

Most people like using an extended desktop for presentations, but some prefer to see exactly what their audience is seeing. Mirroring the displays allows you to view the same image displayed on the MacBooks display on an external monitor, television or projector. Mirroring the display is also helpful if you are demonstrating a website or other application running on the main display.

Changing Between Mirrored Displays and an Extended Desktop

  • Open System Preferences.
  • Click on Displays.
  • Click on Arrangement. Note: each display has a preferences window, but only the primary display has the Arrangement setting.
  • Check or uncheck Mirror Displays to switch the display mode.

Note: you can also press F7 to toggle display modes between extended desktop and mirrored. The icon with two overlapping rectangles on the F7 key are there to remind you.

Display Arrangement setting

Display Arrangement setting

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. All I see on my projector screen is my desktop background. What’s wrong? Where are my icons and my dock?

A. Nothing is wrong. Your computer and projector are working just like they’re supposed to. The MacBook is using your projector as a secondary display.

Q. I’m not getting anything at all on my projector screen. My program starts in 3 minutes. What do I do? Help!

A. First, take a deep breath. It’s not the worst thing in the world if your audience ends up looking at you instead of the screen! Now that you’re calm, use these steps to troubleshoot the problem:

  • Make sure the projector is turned on and warmed up. You should see some light coming from the projector. If you see no light at all, the bulb may be burned out. Replace the bulb or try another projector.
  • Make sure all of the cables are hooked up correctly. Refer to the instructions at the beginning of this article for more information.
  • Make sure the proper input mode is selected on your projector. Most projectors have connections for DVD’s and VCR’s as well as computers. Some have more than one connection for each. Some new projectors will “autodetect” what is connected to them, but most do not. Look for a “mode” button on the projector or the projector’s remote control. Consult your projector’s owner’s manual for more information.

Written By

Janyne Kizer, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionJanyne KizerTechnology Support Specialist Call Janyne Email Janyne Extension Information Technology
NC State Extension, NC State University
Page Last Updated: 4 years ago
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