There are plenty of video connectors you can use to connect your PC to your monitor or a TV. In some cases, you may be limited by what connectors your devices share. If you have the choice, however, choosing one cable other the other can be difficult if you don’t know the difference.
VGA or Video Graphic Array, has a 15 pin design and generally uses a blue connector and two screws to ensure the connector stays attached. It was an almost universal graphics connector in the 1990s but has been obsoleted by the DVI and HDMI standards in modern devices. It may still be found on older computers and display equipment, including projectors.
VGA was an analogue standard capable of displaying a resolution of up to 2048×1536 pixels at a refresh rate of 85Hz.
Tip: The pixel measurement is the horizontal then vertical pixel count. Refresh rate is how often a full image can be transmitted per second, measured in Hz. For both of these statistics more is better, although some people may prefer sacrificing performance in one of them to increase the other.
DVI or Digital Video Interface, supports both analogue and digital signal transmission depending on which connector variant you have. There are multiple connectors using variations of pin layouts and connectors, but all of them use a standard white shroud and have a pair of screws like a VGA connector.
The DVI-D connector only supports digital signals, the DVI-A only supports analogue signals, and the DVI-I integrates both into a single connector. The DVI-D and -I variants both offer a single- and dual-link version. The single-link version supports resolutions of up to 1920×1200 at 60Hz. The dual-link version adds six extra pins and increases the maximum resolution to 2560×1600 at 60Hz.
Neither the VGA nor DVI connectors carry any audio data, which means a separate connection must be made to use speakers built into a display.
HDMI is the primary connector for most devices as of 2020. There are many different versions of the HDMI protocol, these versions need to be supported on both devices and only require a “high speed” cable. The exception to this is HDMI 2.1 standard which requires a new “Ultra High Speed” cable to achieve the full bandwidth.
The most commonly supported HDMI versions are 1.4 and 2.0. HDMI version 2.1 has been standardised but hasn’t been included in most devices as of 2020.
Note: 1080p, 4K, 8K and 10K, have a resolution of 1920×1080, 3840×2160, 7680×4320, and 10240×4320 respectively.
HDMI 2.1 is only able to achieve high framerates for extreme resolutions such as 8K and 10K by using a compression algorithm and by performing chroma-subsampling. While the compression algorithm will have minimal impact of graphical fidelity, chroma-subsampling is another matter. This reduces the maximum number of colours that can be displayed which can lead to visible banding artifacts. These ultra-high resolutions, however, are unlikely to see mainstream use at viewing distances where this effect would be particularly noticeable for some time. The ultra-high resolutions are only capable of running at 100Hz without chroma-subsampling or 30Hz without compression.
Tip: A visual artifact is a visible anomaly or error in the representation of an image. In the case of banding artifacts due to chroma-subsampling, they appear as distinct banding between similar colours that should smoothly blend together.
HDMI includes support for HDR (High Dynamic Range) transmissions with version 2.0 and newer. Enabling HDR will reduce the maximum supported framerate at a given resolution or require the use of chroma-subsampling. Audio data can be transmitted through an HDMI cable at the same time as a video stream. Version 2.1 also includes support for variable refresh rate content, a useful feature for high refresh rate and resolution gaming.
Tip: Variable refresh rate, allows a graphics card to instruct a monitor to synchronise its refresh rate to the speed that the graphics card is transmitting new frames, even if this rate isn’t consistent. Variable refresh rate is used to counteract “screen-tearing”, where the monitor displays parts of two separate frames, as it was given a new frame part way through displaying the first.
One feature missing from the HDMI connector that some users may miss is any form of a locking mechanism. This makes it easier for an HDMI cable to fall or be pulled out by accident.
Display Port is a more recent standard that is almost exclusively used by computers and computer monitors, it’s generally not seen on TVs. Unlike HDMI, the physical connector includes a locking mechanism. Variable refresh rates have been supported since version 1.2a (2013) while audio has been supported in all Display Port standards.
Most high-end computer devices now support Display Port 1.4, support for Display Port 2.0 is rare as of 2020.
Display Port 2.0 offers a massive performance increase over previous generations, while refresh rates for 1080p aren’t published, it can run a 4K HDR monitor at 144Hz, or three daisy-chained 4K monitors at 90Hz. Dual 8K monitors are supported up to 120Hz, with compression. A single 10K or 16K monitor can be run at 60Hz, although 16K requires compression to be enabled. None of these performance figures require chroma-subsampling to be enabled either, avoiding the subsequent reduction in image quality.
Which is best for you?
If you’re using older hardware, for example as part of a retro gaming set up, then DVI or VGA may be your best options. If you’ve got a more modern setup it’s recommended that you avoid these though and choose between HDMI and Display Port.
The primary choice between them should be based on what your hardware supports. If you’re connecting to a TV, you’ll likely need to use HDMI as Display Port is rarely supported outside of PC hardware. If you’re wanting to use high resolutions displays, especially when combined with HDR, high refresh rates, or both, it’s best to research the exact HDMI and Display Port versions your hardware supports and use that to inform your decision.
Tip: You’re not locked into using a specific cable if you decide to upgrade your graphics card or monitor at a later date. If newer hardware supports newer and better resolutions and framerates, you should re-evaluate which connector is best for you.