my vid card is listed as "intel hd graphis family" - that sounds generic to me, but i installed the drivers
for it straight from lenovo's site. lenovo also lists a driver
for an nvidia card, but that is for the 'switchable' model that i don't have (did try to install it anyway, but it failed having not found compatible hardware).
i got a sony vaio to work on the same hdmi port, so i'm sure the port and cable are good. going to take mine to work tomorrow and test on a tv there. by this point, i'm almost hoping it IS my laptop hardware - since it's still under warranty
thanks for all the input! i'll post back tomorrow after trying on a different tv. next step would be a factory restore...