How To Use A TV For Tabletop Gaming
GGetting started with using a TV for your tabletop gaming sessions may seem daunting at first, but it’s actually quite simple!
- Lay a TV on your table
- Connect a PC or laptop to the HDMI (or other input compatible to your computer)
- Put the content you want on screen, either a map video, static map, or other information pertinent to your game.
- Impress your players and have tons of fun!
I will of course elaborate on the above in case you’re curious, and share some of my own experience in doing these set ups to provide some tips, gotchas, and some of the tools and resources I have found extremely beneficial in running games with a TV tabletop gaming setup.
Before you get started, do you need inspiration for your TV tabletop gaming set up? Take a look at the Spotlight section for some wonderful creations from the community and links to many how-to articles and videos.
Benefits of using a TV or Projector for your tabletop games
There are some wonderful benefits to using technology like a TV or projector for your tabletop games beyond the beautiful and immersive worlds and maps you can display for your players;
- Game Flow: Having the maps ready to go from a laptop or PC allows for a very efficient change in scenes, just loading up the next area, vs. having to clear your map table space to lay down a new paper map, or draw one if you use dry erase.
- Additional data: You can present additional data to your players quite easily, using the tech to display not just maps, but information on anything you want such as characters, stats, etc.. in between, or layered on top of, your map presentations.
- Player story absorption: People learn and retain information in a variety of ways, some are more auditory learners, where the story you tell and world you craft verbally assists them, some are more visually inclined for their learning style, which a tabletop TV assists with greatly. Others are more tactile learners, which having mini’s and models provides the data they like to fill out the story in their imagines. With a tabletop gaming TV set up, your story telling, and mini’s on the map, you’re delivering all three of these for a very well rounded experience your players will love!
Ideas for obtaining a TV for your tabletop gaming sessions:
The above didn’t cover step 0. “Obtain a TV for tabletop” gaming. I’ve put some ideas below on how you might be able to accomplish this if you need the advice.
- Borrow your main one for game night.
- Have a secondary TV in the house you could re-provision?
- Is your primary TV a 1080p device? Maybe it’s time to upgrade to 4k; prices have dropped a lot, and 4k content is gorgeous for movies and such. You can then take your old TV and purpose it for tabletop gaming.
- Buy one.. If you’re on a budget, you can get 40-50+ inch TV’s now for $200-$300 for off brand names with basic features. I personally bought this 49″ TCL (currently listed at $249) for around $225 during an online sale. https://www.amazon.com/TCL-49S325-Inch-1080p-Smart/dp/B07G9M6XCV/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1547492147&sr=8-3&keywords=tcl+49
What TV Size is needed?
The bigger the better in my opinion, but it all depends on the amount of space you have for your gaming table set up, your available TV options, and your budget. I personally use a 49″ off brand, that all the animated maps (“Fragments”) here on AtlasFragments.com have their square and hex grids sized to be 1″ on.
What features/technology should the TV have?
TV’s now come in a variety of technologies with many features. From OLED, to LCD, to QLED, a variety of ports, and “Smart TV” features.
- Connection – If your laptop or computer has HDMI out, then make sure the TV you use has HDMI in.. Which most TV’s of the past 10-15 years do. You can also utilize an adapter if needed to correct some port situations. For example, if you have a bit of an older laptop that only has a VGA out port, you could use this adapter from Amazon to convert to HDMI input on your TV: https://www.amazon.com/Adapter-FOINNEX-Converter-Connecting-HDTV-Male/dp/B071SHJ1S3
- Smart TV – “Smart TV”s usually just allow network connectivity either via an ethernet (wired) connection, or wi-fi. They offer a built in menu system that usually presents various applications for use like Netflix, YouTube, and other streaming services. This feature is not necessary if you plan to use downloaded maps and content from a Laptop or computer, but it could come in handy if you only plan to stream content from online, or if you connect a USB device to the TV, if the TV supports it, to play content from that.
- Viewing Angle – This is the area I feel you should pay the most attention to. With the TV in the middle of your gaming table and your players at a varying distance and angle from the screen, the TV should provide a decent image at those varying angles. Usually OLED have excellent viewing angles, but they are also much more expensive than LED/LCD. With LED/LCD TV’s you will have a variety of experiences with viewing angles. Usually most newer TV’s seem pretty good, but still differ. Here is an extensive report on what technologies and TV’s have good viewing angles if you really want to dive deep into it, but really, taking a look at one at your local electronics store, or reading online reviews may give you the info you need. The super cheap TCL I purchased on Amazon works fine for viewing at an angle.. It’s not perfect, but it is definitely visible and nothing myself or players notice a degradation of.
- Other misc feature thoughts – Think about the HDMI port placement if you’re building a frame, or table to house the TV, consider both side and back HDMI port placement, for whatever fits your design best. Another design feature to think about is the screen and bezel. It’s best to put a piece of plexiglass over the screen to protect it, and depending on your design for the TV placement, you may not want the screen to be too far back from the bezel.. or perhaps for your design, you want the plexiglass to fit inside the bezel, and having it protrude more from the screen provides a good way of “holding” the plexiglass in place.
Connecting your TV and Computer.
Get the appropriate cable, then plug in your computer to the TV. You can either mirror your computer screen to the TV, or use the TV as a secondary screen to your computer (On Windows 10 this usually just works when you plug it in.. If not, hit Windows Key + P.. Or read more here:
- Win10 – https://www.windowscentral.com/how-connect-and-set-multiple-monitors-windows-10
- Win7 – https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/976064/guided-help-dual-monitor-setup-is-easy-in-windows-7
I recommend you use it as a secondary screen, as it will allow you to use other tools on your laptop/PC screen while players look at maps. One of my favorite tools, “DynamicDungeons Editor and Player”, is built for this set up.. And I highly recommend you get this tool.. more details on this later, but basically if you want a dynamic grid overlay (square and hex), fog of war, the ability to seamlessly transition maps, and some other great features, this is the tool for you: https://sites.google.com/view/dynamicdungeons/buy-now-dynamic-dungeons-editor-and-player-1-0-1
You could just lay the TV on it’s back (be gentle, make sure you don’t see any odd screen distortion, and if so, place some type of support.. Maybe foam or other methods to not allow pressure to come through the back onto the screen. TV’s are built to stand up, with their legs or on wall mounts, so we’re using them slightly different than they’re designed to be used, but as long as you’re gentle I doubt any long term harm will come to your device (I’m sure there are risks, but I personally haven’t had any TV damage doing this for quite a few years.. I suppose this is where I put the disclaimer that says I’m not liable for damage to your TV; it’s on you to treat it like the fragile piece of glass and electronic components that it is).
Some problems with it laying flat on it’s back is that it can teeter/not be stable, and it usually creates an overhang of sorts with the upward facing screen, where dice, pencils, miniatures, and other items can easily slip out of your sight under, making for a frustrating hide and seek of your, and your players accessories multiple times during your game sessions. To correct this, consider building a frame, or even better, a gaming table with the TV built into it.
- Visit my Spotlight Section on great gaming table and frame builds for inspiration, and how to guides and videos here.
Consider getting some clear acrylic, aka plexiglass, to put over your TV screen. This will help protect the screen from scratches and dings, especially when that one player of yours that loves to roll dice like they’re in Vegas starts to get a bit wild. More details on how I cut (you really just score and snap) my plexiglass to size in the article above about building the TV frame.
Once your TV is on the table and ready to serve content, you just need content to display. You can get animated maps right here on Atlas Fragments to download and play on the TV, setting your media player to loop for a constant seamless play. You could also use our static maps if desired, and content from many other great creators. I’ve listed some of my personal favorites below:
- Atlas Fragments | Right here on AtlasFragments.com you can download a wide variety of maps. They can be purchased via the site, or becoming a Patreon member can allow you to access all the maps and downloads for free!
- Dynamic Dungeons | Video/Animated Maps, with modular map systems, and a massive library of creations: https://www.patreon.com/dynamicdungeons
- Dynamic Dungeons Editor and Player | This tool/program is fantastic! It allows you to lay out your maps for a campaign or game night ahead of time, enable all kinds of grid overlay options to perfectly fit your TV size, and provides an excellent Fog of War overlay that you can easily control. FOG OF WAR! It’s a must! I use this tool for every game night. https://sites.google.com/view/dynamicdungeons/buy-now-dynamic-dungeons-editor-and-player-1-0-1
- Tabletop Things | Video/Animated Maps : https://www.patreon.com/tabletopthings
- MapHammer | Gorgeous Static Maps: https://www.patreon.com/maphammer
- 2minutetabletop | Hand drawn Static Maps: https://www.patreon.com/2minutetabletop
Setting up a TV for tabletop gaming is a fairly simple task, and if you’re anything like me, the first time you get it up and running displaying a beautiful animated map you will run to grab some of your miniatures to place on there, and then sit and watch; enjoying the subtle map activity and ambient sounds, thinking about the great adventures you and your players will have together on your new TV tabletop gaming setup!