Can You Use a Macbook as a Monitor?

So you recently bought a new MacBook and you’re wondering if you can use it as a monitor. The most recent MacBooks have IPS display panels with Apple’s Retina technology.

You think you can connect another device to your MacBook, and use it as a monitor, taking advantage of Mac’s clear display. Having said that, it’s not an easy project, and there are some important things you need to know.

Can You Use a MacBook as a Monitor?

You can’t natively use a MacBook as a monitor because MacBook’s do not support HDMI input. To use a MacBook as a monitor you can use software such as Space Desk or a video capture card. I’ll expand on both those solutions in this article.

First things first, most MacBooks don’t even have an HDMI port, except for the Mac Mini which has a single HDMI port. You should never plug a device that outputs video signals into another one that also outputs signals.

Can You Use a Macbook as a Monitor

Most laptops, computers, consoles, Blu-ray players, and other media devices, only output video signals. HDMI ports are backward compatible, but you could damage hardware if you connect two out-only sources to one another. You don’t want to do that.

However, you can use a MacBook as a monitor using either software or a video capture card. I’ll explain how to do that now.

Using Virtual Monitor Software

You can use software to turn your MacBook into a virtual monitor. This method will only let you use a MacBook as a secondary display and not the main display for other devices. It’s still a handy feature you should know about.

The most popular software is called Space Desk. It works over the local area network, and no cables are required. However, Space Desk requires two devices, one to act as a host, and the other to connect to the server.

It works best when a Windows machine is the host and the MacBook is the secondary display. In other words, the Windows machine will be the main monitor and the MacBook will be the second monitor.

Currently, it’s not possible to make the MacBook the host (MacBook as the main monitor, Windows as secondary) because Space Desk can’t be installed on Macs at the moment.

Note: You can use an iPad as a second monitor for your MacBook with a built-in feature called Sidecar.

How to Use a MacBook as Secondary Display with Space Desk:

  1. Install Space Desk on a Windows machine
  2. Run the server, take note of the IP Address
  3. Open http://viewer.spacedesk.net/ on your MacBook
  4. Type in the IP address of the host machine and click connect
  5. The MacBook should show the Window’s desktop
  6. Now you can use the MacBook as a second monitor for Windows

If you’re having connection problems, make sure both devices are connected to the Wifi network. The connection process is very straightforward and the performance is decent but there is a slight delay.

spacedesk

Unfortunately, the Space Desk option only works from Windows to MacBook and not the other way around. Nevertheless, it can be an easy and free way to get some more screen real estate for office tasks. You can also use it to turn a tablet into a second monitor too.

Here’s another idea:

Use a Video Capture Card with Your MacBook:

If you want to use your MacBook as a monitor for a console, the only solution is to use a video capture card. There are lots of options, I recommend ZasLuke USB 3.0 Video Capture Card. There are plenty of 1080P 60Hz video capture cards. Video capture cards with more features such as 4K will cost a lot more.

Before I get into the details, I want to warn you that there will be significant input delay when playing games with a video capture card. The amount of input lag varies depending on the type of capture card. Most budget and mid-range capture cards have very noticeable input delays.

A video capture card is a small HDMI device that captures video signals and converts them into a digital format. The main reason people use video capture cards is to record footage from consoles on a PC or Mac. It’s also used for streaming console games using OBS.

The good news is there are plenty of USB video capture cards out there. Bear in mind, if your MacBook only has USB-C ports, you’ll need a simple USB-C to female USB-A adapter. Once connected to your MacBook, connect your console to the other HDMI input side of the video capture card.

Setting Up OBS:

Next, install OBS on your MacBook, and open the app. In the menu at the bottom of the screen, hit the plus icon, and select “Video Capture Device”. Enter any name, and click okay.

In the next tab, select the device from the drop-down list. It will show all your capture devices, including your webcam. If you don’t see the capture card, you might need to install some drivers. Edit all the information as needed.

It’s recommended to set the resolution to 1920×1080, video format to YUY2, color space to 709, color range to partial, and buffering to disabled. You might need to play around with some settings to find the best ones for your capture card.

From there, if everything is connected, you should see the user interface of your console in the OBS app. You can either record the footage or play the game by looking at the OBS player on the MacBook. You can also set up OBS to record your microphone too.

The Bottom Line:

While it’s not possible to use your MacBook as a monitor via an HDMI cable, you can use software or a video capture card. The software (Space Desk) mainly works to use the MacBook as a secondary display for Windows computers.

With the video capture card option, you can either record or play games from a console on your MacBook’s screen. It’s an interesting project and the good news is there are plenty of budget video capture cards out there, most of which are under $100.

Categories Mac
About Tim Gagnon

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