I discovered a few days ago that with the right adapters and cables, Hulu Desktop playing from my MacBook onto my TV looks quite acceptable. How to do it depends on both your Mac and your TV. Even if you buy an expensive $29 adapter from Apple like I did, it won’t cost more than $50, and it could instead run under $20. Here’s how I did it, and I’ll suggest a few alternatives along the way:
First, let’s note what my hardware setup is. I have a MacBook (13-inch, Aluminum, Late 2008). Its video output is a Mini DisplayPort. But as mentioned below, this solution works (with some changes) with any modern Mac.
My TV is a Samsung 61″ rear projector. That doesn’t really matter; what’s important is that it has a HDMI/DVI video input, and a set of stereo audio jacks that are assigned specifically for use with that particular HDMI port. In the picture of my TV’s connection panel below, those ports are numbered 4 and 5, respectively.
OK, so here’s what I did:
Planning on doing presentations from my MacBook, I had previously bought the pricy ($29) Apple Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter, so I used that. I had also bought the Apple Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapter (also $29), which would work as an alternative using a VGA cable if your TV has a VGA input (sometimes labelled PC In, as in the picture above).
I wanted to keep the video signal all digital, so I bought a DVI to HDMI adapter from Monoprice.com. Then I used a cheap male-to-male HDMI cable that I also got at Monoprice to make the connection to the TV. So the hookup is:
MacBook > Apple Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter > DVI male to HDMI female adapter > HDMI cable > TV.
Some alternatives: if I were to do this from scratch today, I would use something from Monoprice that wasn’t available when I bought the Apple adapters, namely a Mini DisplayPort to HDMI adapter. Then all I would need would be the HDMI cable. If I had an older MacBook Pro with a DVI port, I could get by with just the DVI to HDMI adapter and the HDMI cable.
The HDMI standard says that an HDMI cable can carry both video and audio. However, the MacBook’s external video output only does video, so you need to deal with audio separately. I used another cable from Monoprice, the 3.5mm Stereo Male to 2 RCA Male Cable. I plugged the stereo RCA jacks into the TV, and the stereo plug on the other end of the cable into the MacBook’s headphone port.
Update: A wise commenter points out that modern Mac headphone jacks are also optical digital audio jacks, which put out full surround sound. That doesn’t help you much with Hulu, which is currently only stereo, but I expect them to upgrade that in the future. Then I’d buy a mini-Toslink to Toslink cable from Monoprice for about $3, and switch the whole setup to run through my home theater receiver. This works great today if you want to use any current Mac as your home theater PC to play DVDs as well as do streaming video; for example, it would work well with a Mac Mini.
I switched the Samsung TV to its HDMI/DVI input, and turned on its internal speakers (normally the sound comes from my home theater receiver). The MacBook immediately recognized the TV as an external display. I left the MacBook in display mirrored mode. I fired up Hulu Desktop for Mac, pressed Command-F on the MacBook to put Hulu Desktop into Fullscreen mode, and I was up and running. I was able to relax back on the couch and use the little Apple Remote to navigate to the shows I wanted to watch. Both the video and audio quality were quite acceptable. The MacBook was getting the Hulu stream via 802.11n WiFi, but 802.11g (or wired Ethernet, of course) should work just fine.
In the future, I may connect the HDMI and audio outputs of the MacBook to the home theater receiver, so the sound comes through the far better home theater speakers, rather than the ones built in to the TV. But for now, the current setup works pretty darned well.