Rob Pegoraro, Special for USA TODAY
Question. I'm getting the NFL Sunday Ticket through EA's Madden deal. How would I play that on my TV from my laptop?
Answer. You're looking at a single wire or one of three wireless systems.
About the Madden reference in the question: This came from a New Yorker who bought Electronic Arts' $99.99 Madden NFL "anniversary edition" game in time to claim a season-long free trial of NFL Sunday Ticket online. That's an incredible deal compared to DirecTV's standard $299.95 price for streaming and satellite delivery; it's also an interesting example of an established TV property making a play for online-only viewers instead of pretending they don't exist.
To play it on a TV from a laptop, a plain old HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) cable, which carries both audio and video, is the cheapest option. You can buy one for as little $3 online; never pay extra for name-brand HDMI cables, which can't transmit more or less data than generic ones.
But wiring a laptop to the TV can trip you up in a few ways.
One is literally: If you keep the laptop parked on a coffee table so you can still use it, you'll have a thick HDMI cable running across the floor.
You can park the laptop next to the TV, but then you need some way to control it remotely (and can't employ it for much else until you move it back). A Bluetooth mouse and keyboard or a wireless keyboard with built-in touchpad will give you complete control of the thing from the couch, at a cost of $30 and up.
Apple users face an extra issue here: Since most Mac laptops lack HDMI outputs, they need to spring for adapters to connect an HDMI cable to the DisplayPort or Thunderbolt ports on their machines.
Among wireless systems, the cheapest, most compatible option is Google's new Chromecast. This handy little $35 pod plugs into an HDMI port on your TV and plays video relayed from some iOS and Android apps as well as also most content playing in Google's Chrome browser.
"Casting" video from a Chrome tab comes with a few prerequisites: You need to install a free browser extension from Google in your laptop's copy of that browser, you need a capable WiFi network and you need a reasonably fast computer.
That last part isn't so obvious, but sending video from the browser to a Chromecast requires Google's software to decode and then re-encode the footage. On a mid-2012 MacBook Air, the only sign of that hard work was the Chromecast playing footage maybe a second behind the laptop's own screen, but on a slower model you could see quality suffer.
If you own a second or third-generation Apple TV and a Mac running Apple's Mountain Lion version of OS X, you can use AirPlay mirroring to put the contents of your Mac's screen on TV. This also requires recent hardware: a mid-2011 or newer iMac, Mac mini, or MacBook Air, or a MacBook Pro laptop from early 2011 on.
Finally, some Windows laptops and several newer HDTVs support Intel's Wireless Display technology, which does the same basic job but has been around since 2010.
Tip: One Chromecast limit that may not apply, one that certainly does
Google's documentation for the Chromecast - currently out of stock, but its Play Store reports it will resume shipping in two to three weeks - says you need to plug this device's USB cable into a fully-functional USB port on a TV, not one labeled "service only." (That description usually means that input only works for installing firmware updates or running diagnostic routines.) If your TV only has the latter kind, Google says you need to run that USB cable to the power brick it tucks away in the box.
That hasn't matched my experience and that of some other users. In my case, a 2008 Sony set's service-only USB port provided enough electricity to run a Chromecast loaned by Google PR--freeing me from having to find a spare outlet.
But another limit mentioned in Google's online help, and which many readers have asked about, is for real: The Chromecast won't work on hotel WiFi "captive portal" networks that require you to log in through a Web page. The Chromecast can't handle that because it doesn't have a Web browser of its own. In theory, it could - the cut-down version of Android running inside is powerful enough - but that's something for Google or some enterprising hackers to fix.