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Karel Kosman photoThere are several reasons why you might want to use multiple monitors with your computer. One might be for work reasons, if you need to spread out your programs on several screens. Another might be for display purposes, if for example you are making a presentation to a customer, so that they could watch the same image as you but from the comfort of their own chair and not have to crowd in next to you. Or you might want to hook up a TV to your computer so that more of you could comfortably watch a movie, while you use your computer's sound card to create excellent surround sound, plugging that into your stereo system.

Virtually every computer, even a laptop, has a VGA output for a second computer monitor. Depending on your video or graphics card, whether your computer is a desktop or laptop, you might also have an output for a television. You can find this out by looking at the back of your computer and studying the various jacks and outputs. Typically the output for a TV uses an s-video output, but there are also other types. If you do not know, you can take a picture of the suspected outputs with your digital camera or draw them on a piece of paper and take that to your local video store, to see if they sell the cables for it. If plugging into the TV, you will also need to know what kind of inputs are available on your TV. This can get a bit complicated and require a certain amount of computer geekness, but with a bit of saviness and experimentation, you should be able to figure it out.

Depending on the sophistication of your video card, you could even use more than two screens, such as two computer monitors and a TV.

For our more simple case, lets take the standard situation of two computer monitors. Whether you are using two computer monitors or a TV, the settings on the computer are generally the same.

Go to the Start menu, Control Panel, Display, and press the Settings tab. You should already have your second monitor plugged in and turned out. Remember to never plug in a device, such as a computer monitor, while it is on. Make sure it is off, plug it into the computer, then turn it on. You should also take the precaution of screwing it in moderately tight, to prevent it from accidentally disconnecting while the monitor is on. Such a mistake could accidentally fry a part of your motherboard and destroy your computer.

If the monitor does not show up properly in your Display settings, you can always restart Windows while keeping the second monitor turned on. This can often resolve most problems.

When in this window you should see your two monitors numbered as 1 and 2.
The number 2 monitor would be your second monitor. You can press on the number 2 and then the Advanced icon. Here you will have to play around and experiment, because each video card would have different options. Before making any drastic changes, you can always make sure to save your Theme as a special name: one for your normal settings when using only one monitor, and a second name for when you use more monitors.

There are some basic principles you should keep in mind:

* different monitors can have different qualities or resolutions, and your graphics card can have limitations. If you plug in a monitor with higher resolution than your graphics card can handle, or vice versa, the output quality will always be according to the lower quality of the two. When in the Settings tab, if you press on the 1 or 2 monitor, you should be able to see the possible resolution settings for each monitor. If watching movies, you will usually try for the best possible resolution and colour settings.

* once you have chosen the appropriate quality, resolution and colour etc. settings for each of your monitors, you will also want to decide whether each monitor displays the same image, or different images. With different images it is referred to as "Extending your desktop".

Extending your desktop is good if you want to view different programs on different monitors, as such increasing your workspace. If you attach a large LCD second monitor, you can size certain programs next to one another, such that many programs are visible to you at the same time.

But for watching movies on a TV, I found I often had to extend the desktop and drag the movie viewing program into the extended desktop space, which would be your TV or larger LCD monitor. I found I often ran into problems when double clicking on the movie program (meaning it maximises to the entire screen) and had to leave it in reduced window size for it to work properly. In such a case it should not be a great problem to size the window so that it fills up most of the screen.

For viewing movies I often found Windows Media Classic rather useful (should be freely downloadable from the internet), because you can adjust the size of the image (stretch horizontally etc.). With this program you can even time shift, in case the sound is not perfectly aligned or in sync with the video image. This is something you may have to piddle around with, but piddling is always where you learn. You can download this free software as part of a pretty useful codecs pack. It comes with FDD show and Divx extensions (they appear in your system tray once you run a movie), I haven't had any problems opening a video file, and it is quite versatile. I was told VLC player was also quite good.

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Published - June 2010

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