Too often, we plug all of our computer presentation equipment in, fire up our presentation and … nothing happens. We can see our presentation on our computer, but nothing shows up on the screen. Before you get that panicked feeling, check these six most common problems with computer presentation displays.
Problem #1 – Display toggle
Laptops have multiple display modes. The four most common are: 1) laptop display only, 2) external display only, 3) duplicate the laptop display on the external display, and 4) extend the laptop display onto the external display. The computer may not be in a mode that displays the presentation on the external display properly.
There are two typical modes that presenters use. The duplicate displays mode allows the laptop and the projector/TV to have the same content. This is the mode that most presenters use. Some presenters use the extend display mode because the Presenter View option in PowerPoint requires this mode. Presenter View allows you to show your slides on the external display while the laptop has a view that contains the current slide, upcoming slides, and your notes. While this mode sounds appealing, it does depend on the hardware capabilities of the laptop and the projection system, which most presenters have no control over. I don’t suggest you rely on this mode working all the time.
Some laptops default to extended display mode when they are connected to some projectors or TVs. To switch display modes in Windows 8 or 10, press Windows+P (hold the Windows key and press the letter P). You can now use your arrow keys to select the mode you want and press Enter when done (or use your mouse to click on the desired mode). Many laptops also have a key combination that will allow you to rotate between the display modes. If you have Windows 7, this will be the method you use to change display modes. Look for a key (usually one of the function keys) that has a picture of a display on it. You usually have to hold a special Function key (usually labeled Fn) and press this key to switch between the different modes. After you press the key combination, wait at least five to ten seconds for the new setting to take effect before you toggle to the next setting.
Problem #2 – Cables Loose
It is amazing how many display problems are caused by loose cables between the computer and data projector. Make sure all cables are securely connected to the appropriate port. With many laptops requiring dongles to convert between mini DisplayPort or USB-C ports and a VGA or HDMI cable, check each connection is secure. Remove and re-seat each cable/connector to make sure.
Bonus Tip: Getting the best image when connecting to a projector or screen for your presentation
The best connection from your laptop to a projector or screen is achieved when using a digital connection if it is available. How you connect will depend on what ports your laptop has. Here are the most common options and the equipment I recommend using in each case.
Laptop has a full-size HDMI port
If your laptop has a regular HDMI port, you can plug an HDMI cable in and you are ready to go. If the projector does not have an HDMI cable, but has a VGA cable instead, use this HDMI to VGA adapter. I have used it with a very long high-quality VGA cable and it worked perfectly. If the HDMI cable to the projector is not long enough to reach your laptop, you can use an HDMI extension cord and F-to-F HDMI adapter to connect the extension cord to the projector cable.
Laptop has a mini-DisplayPort port
To connect your laptop to a projector cable you will need an adapter. I recommend one that gives you multiple output options, like this one that offers an HDMI, VGA, and DVI outputs. This is the one I use at my desk and when travelling. If you need to extend the projector connection, use the HDMI cable and adapter listed above.
Laptop has a USB-C port
Newer laptops are moving to just offering a multi-function USB-C port instead of a port that is just for video output. If your laptop has this type of port, you will need an adapter that offers video outputs and a charging port if your laptop only offers charging through the USB-C port. The USB-C adapter/hub market is still developing and the one that looks best to me is this one from Anker, a company I have found reliable for adapters. Since this adapter (& most USB-C adapters) only offer an HDMI port, if you need to connect to a VGA projector cable or the HDMI cable is not long enough, use the links above to connect your laptop to the projector or screen.
Problem #3 – Projector Input Source
On data projectors that are often used with multiple input sources, the input source selected on the data projector may be using a different input source than the one your computer is connected to. There is usually a button on the top of the projector or on the projector remote control which allows you to toggle between the different input sources. You may have to go into the data projector menu to change the input source on some older projectors.
Problem #4 – Power Switched On
Incredible as it seems, power being turned on is one of the common problems. This happens because when we turn on our laptop, if it is not plugged in, it will still run on battery. We don’t realize that the projector has not been plugged into the power outlet and when we turn it on, nothing happens. Check that the power cord is in the wall outlet if the data projector does not turn on.
Problem #5 – Projector Standby Mode On
If you plug your computer into a projector that someone else has just been using and your display does not come up, check if the projector’s standby mode is on. This standby mode keeps the projector fan running but does not light the bulb. It is usually used for cooling a projector after a presentation.
Problem #6 – Projector Cover Loose
When data projectors are moved or transported, the cover can sometimes come loose. When this happens, they will power up but not turn on the bulb for safety reasons. Turn off the projector and check to see that all covers are securely on. Never check for loose covers with the projector on, you will risk being electrocuted or burned by hot components inside the projector.
Next time you have everything plugged in and nothing is displayed, check to see if one of these six problems is the cause.
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