Connect Surface to External Display

Connect Surface Tablet to External Display

Connect Surface to External Monitor or Projector:

One of the awesome things about the Surface is its portability; so, it makes an excellent machine for giving presentations because it’s light and powerful. Not to mention, unlike Apple or Android tablets, it can run actual PowerPoint.

So, if you are one of us unlucky folks who have to get in front of a room of people and do presentations, you’re going to need to know how to connect your Surface to an external display or projector. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to do but there are a few gotchas that might trip you up a bit if you’re not careful. With this post, we’ll cover them for both the Surface Pros and Surface RTs. Hopefully this way, you can concentrate on your presentation instead of fighting with the displays.

First Things First

Before you get up there to make your presentation, you’re going to want to make sure you have the proper display adapter to connect your Surface to the screen or projector. The Surface Pros and  Surface RTs use different adapters but you can easily find out which one you need from this post: Video Port on Surface RT vs. Surface Pro.

Also, it will be helpful if you have a keyboard and mouse. This is because the easiest way to switch between multiple display modes requires a keyboard. And the mouse just makes it easier to work on the second screen, especially because it probably isn’t touch capable like the Surface.

Both the Touch and Type covers have a track pad built into them that will meet this need adequately.

Plugging in your Display Adapter

Here is a case where the  Surface RT is easier to use than the Surface Pro. The Pro uses a Mini Displayport as it’s external video connector. Unfortunately, this means that you can accidentally plug your adapter in upside-down. It won’t work if it’s upside down.

It’s a good idea to mark your adapter so that you are sure to plug it in right-side-up on the first try. You don’t want to be in front of a board of directors or classroom fumbling around with your technology – at least not if you can help it.

The RT, however, uses a MicroHDMI connector which can’t be plugged in upside-down so you don’t have to worry about it.

Projecting to Another Screen

Now that you have your Surface plugged in to the display or projector, it’s time to “tell” Windows to use it. This is where having a keyboard is really handy. If you have one, all you have to do is hit the Windows Key+P.

If you didn’t bring a keyboard, you can still do it. Just follow the instructions below:

  1. Swipe in from the right of the screen to bring up the Charms Menu
  2. Tap the Search Charm
  3. Search for “Project”
  4. Under Settings, select Project to a second screen

In either case, you should now see this popup on the right side of the screen.

From here you have the following choices:

  1. PC Screen only: This option ignores the second display.
  2. Duplicate: This option simply duplicates the screens, so that you see the same thing in both places.
  3. Extend: This simply adds a second display to the Surface and works exactly like a PC with multiple screens. It doesn’t cause the primary display to resize.
  4. Second screen only: This mode turns off the display on the Surface and uses only the external display.

Using the Duplicate option is common for a lot of folks hooking up to an external display but there’s a catch: To work in duplicate mode, both screens must be set to the resolution and the “lowest-quality” screen will determine what that is.  So, for example, if you’re using a projector with an old VGA connector, it tends to make the Surface display “squish” into a square to match a maximum resolution of 1280×1024.

For this reason, I usually don’t recommend this option unless your external display is capable of showing the same resolution as the Surface.

Useful Information: Microsoft Surface Screen Resolutions
Surface RT: 1366×768
Surface Pro: 1920×1080

(If these resolutions seem low to you, you might be interested in this post on Neowin)

The Second Screen Only mode works really well if you’ve set your Surface up as a desktop replacement. Unfortunately, it robs you of the touch screen capability so make sure you have a mouse if you go this way.

Personally, I almost always use the Extend option. This is because few screens will have exactly the same screen format as the Surface (especially the VGA connected projectors mentioned above); so you don’t have screen resolution issues because the Surface screen can stay in its native format and the 2nd screen can be in whatever format works best for it. It has the bonus of giving you a screen that only you can see. Thus, you can dig through your files or notes “privately” and only show what you want to show to your audience on the second screen.

Some software (like PowerPoint) takes advantage of the Extend functionality and displays the slides on the external screen while giving you a control panel view on your Surface that is quite handy.

I hope you find these tips helpful and as always, if you have questions or comments, let me know.


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