Turn off Macbook Pro Display When Using External Display

To use an external display only when watching a movie on an external TV or projector it’s nice to not show the video on your Mac’s main display since it’s distracting. Closing the lid on a MacBook Pro makes it go to sleep and the only way to prevent the MacBook from sleeping with the lid closed is through some serious kernel hacks.

Apple’s Front Row has a feature that makes the secondary screen will go blank and dark when the Front Row is started. The trick to make your main MacBook display go blank when outputting Front Row to the secondary screen is to make your secondary screen the primary display. This is done through System Preferences => Display Preferences.

When you have the DVI to Video Adapter connected to your MacBook Pro and connected to a TV or other type of external display, open up Display Preferences. Within Display Preferences, choose Arrangement. You should see two blue squares that represent each display, main and secondary. On the main display you’ll notice a bar along the top. Simply click and drag this bar from the Main Display (usually on the left and large) to the secondary display, to make it the Primary or Main display. Close Display Preferences. Launch Front Row by hitting Apple key + Esc or by hitting the Menu on your Apple Remote. Front Row will launch and turn off the MacBook main display so that you can enjoy a distraction free viewing experience for your movies and videos on an external display.






35 responses to “Turn off Macbook Pro Display When Using External Display”

  1. uublive Avatar

    this is the ONLY feature I missed from Win based notebook. I still don’t know why is osx you can’t pause the sleep, is it maybe for heat?

  2. deckard Avatar

    I’ve read on various forums that it is in fact a heat dissipation issue.

    Considering how much heat my MacBook Pro (Santa Rosa model) produces… I’d have to say, it might be a good idea to force sleep when the lid is closed. Maybe a solution would be to increase fan speed when the lid is closed…

    As an aside I use SMC Fan Control to boost my default fan speed to keep the internal temperature around 50C or below. Otherwise it would be hovering around 55-60C; A little hot for my taste.

  3. […] This post was due to a comments discussion on how to turn off the macbook pro display when using an external display for Front Row. […]

  4. Arnav Avatar

    Just throwing this (somewhat related) question out there – would appreciate feedback. Can you choose when to disable/enable an LCD display (e.g., a projector?). Sometimes when giving a presentation, I have a few minutes during which I like to make some edits after everything is connected.

    I could do this with my PC (choose which display I want to make active) but don’t know how to do it with the Mac.


  5. Pierre Bernard Avatar

    You may use your MacBook Pro with the lid closed by following theses instructions:

    1. Plug in power supply
    2. Close lid and wait for machine to sleep
    3. Attach external display
    4. Use a USB keyboard to wake you may. Other USB devices may work too.

    BTW, this is not a hack but a documented feature of the MacBook Pro. Ample cooling is provided by the rear vent.

    Pierre Bernard
    Houdah Software s.à r.l.

  6. Jordan Avatar

    How do you get the MacBook pro’s monitor to turn BACK on after shutting it down as described above. The only thing I’ve been able to do is turn it off and restart.

  7. Darren Avatar

    It is VERY easy to get the main monitor to turn back on. You disconnect the external display or just turn it off.

  8. samer Avatar

    thanks for the help worked beautifully! 🙂

  9. mike Avatar

    thanks for the attempt but if you’re not using front row for whatever you’re watching this is pretty useless, eh?

    also, pierre’s solution works, but what if you don’t have a usb keyboard and mouse and/or don’t want your fan blazing when watching a movie or are otherwise worried about heat issues?

    after reading this the following simple fix occurred to me: just turn the brightness all the way down until your built-in lcd goes blank; the brightness controls don’t affect external displays.

  10. Konrad Avatar

    Hey just letting people know that i searched for a way to put one display to sleep while using the my 42″ LCD as my display for watching movies and the only way i could do it was by using this method.

    But I just downloaded the latest VLC player update 1.1 and it seems that they have integrated automatically turning off the inactive display, which would be my iMac display when im watching movies.

    I stumbled upon this by chance which is pretty handy,

    hope this helps people.

  11. Cameron Rogers Avatar

    LED TVs are still expensive but my dad bought me one last month..`-

  12. Ruben Avatar

    As Pierre mentioned before, a simple solution for the problem, without using Front Row, any other program or stupid shortcut is the following…

    (I included some more information to make everything clear)

    Make your secondary screen the primary display as suggested above, then…


    simply put your Mac (I have a Macbook pro) to sleep by closing the lid. Wake it up again with your external keyboard or mouse. Your Mac will wake up again, only activating the secondary screen!

    You might have to open up the lid after working for a long time for the heat. The screen will stay blank/inactive!

    Don’t forget to close the lid again when you’re finished working and put the system to sleep manually (use the same routine again to wake up the Mac).

    Works fine for me!!!

  13. Ruben Avatar

    For activating the main screen again, simply go to: System Preferences -> Displays, and click Detect Displays!

    Or leave the lid open when waking up the Mac…

  14. Ruben Avatar

    one last thing…

    I noticed that this “trick” only works with my Macbook Pro when it’s plugged into the power


  15. Jocelyn Peterson Avatar

    LED Tv’s are more expensive than traditional LCD TVs which are having some massive price drops.*~~

  16. Saleh Avatar

    Well here’s the serious hack! I know it works while plugged in but may work on battery too (not sure)…

    First, plug in the external display then close the lid of the mac and wait till it sleeps.

    Use the apple remote menu button to get your mac to wake up while keeping the lid closed.

    After that you can open the lid for control while running only the external display.

    Alternatively (with no remote) carefully open the lid slightly ensuring the mac is still sleeping and hit space or tap the track pad. If you hear it waking up and don’t see the apple illuminating then you got it right, or right from the top and do not collect £200.

    Why this works? Since the lid sensor thinks the display is not used, it will resort to using only the external display.

    Of course this is no serious hack. It’s serious use consideration by Apple’s engineers.

    What next? Once you detach the external display from the mac, it will automatically detect displays and guess what, it will find the internal display (when lid is open) and life is back to normal.

    If you detach the cable when the lid is closed, it will assume that there is no display and it will sleep till you open the lid and then it will also detect the internal display and life is also back to normal.

    Have fun!

  17. Mariah Barnes Avatar

    i have seen some LED TVs and they do offer more contrast than LCD TVs”:`

  18. Kastner Avatar

    Hey guys, thank you all for the fabulous posts. I followed what Ruben says, it works great for me too.

    Ruben metioned above the case when it’s plugged/unplugged into power, my test turns out to be like this:

    Run Macbook with its battery only, close the lid, it goes to sleep, while I can still activate external display by moving and clicking the mouse (a blue-teeth mouse btw), but the image/signal can be detected and last for only a few seconds then the external display will automatically turn off. I reopen the lid, trying to use the keys to wake up my Macbook, oddly the screen doesn’t turn on?! But, it’s very interesting I find since I open the lid, the external display won’t go off! What a surprise. 🙂

  19. Complete Kitchen  Avatar

    LED TVs are have much better contrast and color compared to traditional LCD TVs-:”

  20. rain Laudisio Avatar
    rain Laudisio

    great tip thanks. i also appreciate the VLC tip too.

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  22. Mike Avatar

    Since the original premise was in turning off the display so it won’t be distracting, I just swivel around my Macbook and put the lid down. Distraction solved.

    But, thanks for the tips. It would be helpful in other circumstances as mentioned by others.

    Property Management San Jose

  23. flavio samelo Avatar

    thank you very very much for that tip, it was killing me how to make it happen, and now makes me laugh…… thanks : )

  24. nathan anderson Avatar


    I have seen you in other blog posts. Interesting that we also bump into each other here. I also use mac and I agree with you in simply putting the lid down to solve the distraction. This blog post seems like a must read for mac users especially when external display is used.

    nathan anderson of Copywriting

  25. personal injury attorney fort worth Avatar

    Why not just close the lap top lip some?

  26. Tito Avatar

    Great I’m watching a movie on my external LG
    led LCD monitor!
    Thanks watching a movie with no distraction from
    MacBook pro!!! 🙂

  27. Karen Avatar

    Not the level of intuitiveness I like to see from Apple, so this is a welcome tip for me. I used to turn the laptop round, but there was always the distraction of the light coming from the screen. Not a problem any more. Thanks.

  28. Mkash Avatar

    or just the back light by pressing F1(next to ESC) until there is no more light. I think it is the simplest way, but you still need to leave the lid open.

  29. Mel Avatar

    Thank you! Was getting sick of switching to camshell mode all the time when I wanted to watch movies on Front Row! Don’t understand why there isn’t a simple “turn off display” option in preferences…?

  30. Steve Nicersons Avatar

    I also did what Ruben said and I agree that it works very well!

    I am going to try what you said and run it with the battery only and see what happens.


  31. Maria Avatar

    great trick! it worked on my Mac book!!

  32. Naveen Avatar

    Turn the brightness to its complete minimum. My screen goes completely blank. I guess it is off

  33. jason Avatar

    This is such a great trick, i never knew before that you can do that, that is one main reason for loving the apple right?

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