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HDMI, DisplayPort, VGA, and DVI: Everything You Need to Know

hdmi displayport vga and dvi

People who are serious about their entertainment will likely have heard the words present in our title many a time already, even if they’re still as confusing as the first time you came across them.

It doesn’t matter if you have the best gaming monitor or the cheapest thing you could find; it’s all contingent on the connector cables you’re using.

Gamers, movie buffs, and people with programming or designing jobs will know about the pains of connecting different screens to the computer – either adding multiple screens or following the doctrine of ‘the bigger, the better’, both of which, interestingly, have been shown by Microsoft research to increase productivity!

Even discussions centered around increasing FPS require some knowledge of the hierarchy of video connectors.

Essentially, the debates of Display Port vs. DVI, DVI vs. VGA, VGA vs. HDMI, and DVI vs. HDMI (and we can go on, but it’s good to familiarize you with these names) are debates of what cables to use to connect your monitor to your system.

After deciding between 4k, 1080p and 1440p (which would be much easier if you clicked that link), it’s still all contingent on the connector cables you’re using.

A Rundown of the Cables

Let’s start with a summary or rundown of HDMI, DisplayPort, VGA, and DVI.

  • HDMI: Audio + video signals. Recommended for TV-to-PC.
  • DisplayPort: Audio + video signals. Transmits 144hz up to 4K. Considered the best.
  • DVI: Video signals. Transmits 144hz at 1080p well and works for older systems.
  • VGA: Video signals only.

There’s also USB Type-C and USB4 USB cables, rising fast with their high transfer speeds/bandwidth and fast charging capabilities, but it’s outside the scope of this article.

Of these, DisplayPort (DP) is considered the best, with VGA being considered a ‘legacy’ model that should only really be relied on as a last resort.

Some things are set in stone, at least when it comes to good practice: your graphics card should be hooked up to your monitor using a DP cable as it’ll offer the best bandwidth (our basic demand from the cables we use) and supports adaptive refresh rate features (namely NVIDIA G-Sync and AMD FreeSync).

However, consider that not all video cards are made equal (and hence, might not have the right port) and not all monitors will be able to transmit the best signal, so in different situations, different cables might be better for you.

This is what explains why DP is much less popular than HDMI in the DisplayPort VS. HDMI debate, even when it’s as good and then some, with respect to HDMI. but the latter is still considered good enough to be a high standard, especially when it comes to the latest 2K screens.

On the other hand, DVI is only for DVI-monitors, but issues of FHD (Full HD) screens and DVI computers can be solved with a DVI-to-HDMI cable. Likewise, a VGA connector on your screen and a DVI computer next to it can be fixed with a VGA-to-DVI adapter.

Paying our respects to VGA

It wouldn’t be right not to begin the discussion of the various types of connector cables without acknowledging the oldest of these, the VGA cable.

We’ve had these since the heavy boxy monitors, the cathode-ray tubes with the humming sounds, and they were sometimes simply called “RGB connections”.

Untangling the acronym, VGA stands for Video Graphics Array. A VGA connection is analog, meaning that even though it can “technically” go to 1080p, the image degrades itself as the signal moves from analog to digital.

It might not be all that controversial to say that VGA is practically useless in the current era.

The only other cables they can be compared to is DVI, and even if we go DVI vs. VGA, neither one of them would come out on top, because they’re pretty much equally obsolete in the presence of HDMI and DP, but DVI still has its place in certain setups.

Putting DVI in its place

DVI is actually something that can take on HDMI despite its flaws (hashtag #DVIvsHDMI?)

DVI is video-only, but connecting it to the HDMI adapter also gets it to produce audio. The signal is similar to HDMI, (1920×1200 resolution for single-link cards and 2560×1600 for the dual-link).

It’s specifically DVI-A that’s compared unfavorably to VGA. What’s DVI-A, you ask? The A stands for analog, and DVI-A is joined by DVI-D (digital) and DVI-I (integrated analog and digital signal). Both of these have dual-link versions, but DVI-A doesn’t, that good-for-nothing piece of cable.

In fact, DVI-D is the best option for 144hz at 1080p (as mentioned before), but you won’t be able to achieve 4K – however, for 1440p with high refresh, dual-link DVI cables are the best.

The 144hz/1080p resolution is actually something that HDMI 1.4 doesn’t do that commonly, meaning DVI is the perfect pick for older gaming setups.

DisplayPort vs. HDMI: the conclusion to the boss battle

The HDMI is a popular standard, cheap, and handy. If you consider the HDMI 1.4 outdated, the high-speed HDMI 2.0 and 2.0a match DisplayPort at best, even if at a lower bandwidth that limits 4K to 60hz. Monitor support is also patchy and not certain between different models.

The latest DP cables are able to handle 4K at 120hz and 8k at 60hz, and one single DisplayPort cable can often support multiple screens and monitors (say, two different displays of 4K at 60hz). While HDMI is usually reserved for TVs and media players now, it’s DP that connects computers and monitors the best and most reliable.

Still, HDMI has a universal presence and it’s worth it to have these cables on hand, but in cases where there’s support, DP is just as easy to hook up and get going.

Ultimately, HDMI remains leading, even with the DisplayPort seemingly being the face of the future. This means that you can rely on HDMI in pretty much any situation – TVs, laptops, A/V receivers, simple computer setups in the home and office – but with a discrete graphics card, dedicated gaming setup, hardcore computing rig, and a multi-monitor setup that toots its own horn, you can’t go wrong with DisplayPort.

Unless, of course, Type C takes off – but that’s a story for another day.

About author

A finance major with a passion for all things tech, Uneeb loves to write about everything from hardware to games (his favorite genre being FPS). When not writing, he can be seen in his natural habitat reading, studying investments, or watching Formula 1.
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