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DisplayPort vs HDMI: Which is Better?
December 20, 2018
In the world of audio/video ports, two connectors reign supreme: DisplayPort and HDMI. While they’re both used to connect a PC to an external monitor or device, the nitty-gritty details are what make them suitable for very different purposes.
While some techies swear by DisplayPort, the question of which is better rests entirely on what you’re trying to accomplish. Do you need to project a PowerPoint onto a TV screen? Or are you trying to set up 4K monitors or dual monitors to get the best RPG game experience around?
Whether you’re a power PC user or simply want more flexibility in your home office setup, understanding the different uses of these two popular connector cables will make your computing experience vastly more enjoyable. Take a look at the various pros and cons of DisplayPort vs HDMI to get a firm grasp on their varying capabilities.
What’s the difference between DisplayPort and HDMI?
Before diving into which audio/video connector is best for specific uses, it’s important to know how they differ in both physical appearance and the features they support.
Developed in 2006, the DisplayPort was intended to update the old VGA and DVI standard connectors. The DisplayPort comes in two main sizes: standard DisplayPort and Mini DisplayPort. Both sizes are equipped with 20 pins and feature a locking mechanism that prevents the cable from accidentally being pulled out.
More commonly found on PCs rather than on TVs, there are three standard DisplayPorts you’ll likely encounter:
- DisplayPort 1.2: Supports video resolutions up to 4K (3840 x 2190 pixels) at 60 Hz, most common 3D video formats, and has a bandwidth of 17.28 Gbps
- DisplayPort 1.3: Supports video resolutions up to 4K at 120 Hz or 8K at 30 Hz and a bandwidth of 32.4 Gbps
- DisplayPort 1.4: Supports video resolutions up to 8K at 60 Hz, HDR (High Dynamic Range), and a bandwidth of 32.4 Gbps
One potential downside to a DisplayPort is its inability to transmit Ethernet data. However, it is capable of supporting two monitors at a resolution of 2560 x 1600 or four monitors at 1920 x 1200. There’s even the possibility of daisy-chaining up to six displays at once if your GPU allows several DisplayPort interfaces.
HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) connectors look very similar to DisplayPort but feature 19 pins and no locking system. There are three common sizes: Type A (standard), Type C (mini), and Type D (micro).
It’s possible you’re more familiar with this type of connector because TV manufacturers frequently build it into their products. On modern displays, you could find:
- HDMI 1.4: Supports video resolution up to 4K (4096 x 2160 pixels) at 24 Hz, 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) at 30 Hz, and has a bandwidth of 10.2 Gbps
- HDMI 2.0: Supports video resolution up to 4K at 60 Hz with later versions including HDR capabilities, and has a bandwidth of 18 Gbps
- HDMI 2.1: Supports video resolution up to 10K at 120 Hz, improved HDR and enhanced Audio Return Channel, and has a bandwidth of 48 Gbps
HDMI can only handle one video stream and one audio stream, making it compatible with only a single monitor at a time. They are also equipped with an Audio Return Channel (ARC) that allows you to send audio from the TV to the sound bar or AV receiver.
A disadvantage of HDMI is that there are four distinct cable types, and choosing the wrong one could have a negative effect on your display. Take a look at the differences:
- Standard HDMI cable: Enough bandwidth for video resolution of 720p and 1080i
- Standard HDMI cable with Ethernet: Same bandwidth as the standard cable but includes support for 100 Mbps Ethernet
- High Speed HDMI Cable: Supports video resolution of 1080p and higher, 3D video, and has increased bandwidth
- High Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet: Same features as the high-speed cable but with additional support for 100 Mbps Ethernet
Now that the capabilities of both connector types have been defined, deciding between a DisplayPort or HDMI depends on how you plan to take advantage of the digital world.
DisplayPort or HDMI for 4K movies and video?
Home cinema has never been better. With Ultra HD 4K bringing the silver screen into your living room, it’s important to pick the right connector that will allow you to take full advantage of the incredible picture quality.
The minimum refresh rate you want is 60 Hz, otherwise your 4K experience will be interrupted by jerky images and fuzzy text. It’s more likely that you’ll find an HDMI port on the back of your television, so a 2.0 or 2.1 is essential for optimal 4K viewing.
For an even more exceptional image quality, some TVs are now outfitted with an HDMI 2.0a port that supports High Dynamic Range (HDR). This extra feature makes a huge difference in terms of the depth of colors you receive and the contrast between whites and blacks.
If your TV happens to come with a DisplayPort, version 1.2 or higher will be perfectly compatible to give you the high resolution that you crave.
Apart from TVs, 4K resolution makes a huge difference for PC monitors. A TV has to be pretty large for you to experience the full majesty of 4K while sitting back on the couch. A computer monitor, on the other hand, is usually viewed at a much closer distance and 4K can drastically improve the quality of editing software, video game graphics, and other productivity applications.
When deciding between a DisplayPort or HDMI cable for 4K screens, the main thing to pay attention to is the monitor refresh rate. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, the refresh rate is the number of times the display changes the image onscreen. It’s also referred to as frames per second (FPS) in the film world.
While higher is not always better, a higher refresh rate typically means you’ll get crisper visuals. And make sure your connecting cable supports a refresh rate of at least 60 Hz in order to understand the hype behind 4K technology.
DisplayPort or HDMI for PC gaming?
Is it time to upgrade your gaming rig? Before pulling out your wallet to buy a new graphics card or monitor, make sure you know how to connect it to your gaming laptop to make the most out of each keystroke and command so you can achieve virtual glory.
There’s nothing worse than experiencing significant screen tearing right when you’re in the middle of a big battle sequence. If this is a common issue in your gaming experience, it’s likely that you aren’t using the proper audio/video connectors. So how does DisplayPort vs HDMI shape up for gaming?
This is a simple answer: all serious gamers should probably be using DisplayPort to connect their monitors to a graphics card. Most graphics cards and gaming PCs incorporate this port into their design, making it easy to set up the rig of your dreams.
Additionally, DisplayPort offers a superior bandwidth of 32.4 Gbps which will drastically reduce screen tearing. Because of its 3:1 compression ratio, you’ll experience a lossless screen quality that makes complex tasks a breeze.
But the real deciding factor lies in the fact that NVIDIA’s G-Sync high refresh rate technology requires DisplayPort. AMD’s similar tech, FreeSync, is supported by some HDMI connections but plenty of earlier monitors required a DisplayPort to access all the features.
While it ultimately comes down to your specific gear, DisplayPort offers the most versatility in terms of which graphics cards and number of monitors you can hook up to your rig. Not to mention, any DisplayPort cable will work just fine no matter if hardware updates are made to external devices.
HDMI 2.0 is pretty equivalent to DisplayPort in terms of its overall abilities, but not many high-end gaming monitors are designed with these ports in mind. As mentioned above, HDMI connectors are commonly found on TVs, which only make them a good choice for gamers who want to play on a single large screen.
When gaming through an HDMI connection, remember to grab a High Speed HDMI cable. These cables have the bandwidth to handle resolutions of 1080p and higher, making them perfect for HD and 4K gaming. Picking the proper connector really depends on where and how you want to game, plus your expectation for the quality of the graphics.
DisplayPort or HDMI for visual designers?
While both DisplayPort and HDMI are compatible with 4K resolutions when watching video, how does it change when you’re the person creating the video? Professional visual designers, such as film editors and graphic artists, require high-end 4K monitors to display their work so the slightest details don’t go unnoticed.
In terms of resolution and refresh rate, there isn’t enough of a difference between the two connector types to sway a designer to use one or the other. But in terms of physical functionality, the ability to daisy-chain monitors with a DisplayPort could make a significant impact on their workflow.
Daisy-chaining is the method of connecting multiple monitors without plugging more than one cable into the source computer. With DisplayPort, you can connect to a monitor, and then to another from that first monitor. Several different screens can be added in a row, making it a powerhouse of a work setup for designers who need to keep their eye on many elements at once.
Can I use an adapter to connect a DisplayPort to HDMI?
It’s not uncommon for PC users to run into the problem of mismatched connector ports on their laptops and displays. If you don’t have the ability to directly connect between two DisplayPorts or HDMI ports, there are plenty of adapters that can bridge the gap.
The HP DisplayPort to HDMI True 4K Adapter is ideal for users who want to make the most out of their workstation without sacrificing the high quality of their screen. If you need multiple DisplayPort adapters to connect to a graphics card, the DisplayPort to HDMI Active Adapter will seamlessly transfer information across the differing connectors.
On the flipside, you can easily connect any HDMI monitor to a DisplayPort-equipped computer with the DisplayPort to HDMI Video Converter cable. Keep in mind that this cable only supports a resolution of 1080p and not 4K.
A word of caution: the complicated business of transitioning video and audio between one standard to another can sometimes cause problems with the end result on your screen. Digital signal conversion typically means using the lowest maximum resolution and refresh rate, effectively demoting your viewing experience.
Passive and active adapters
A critical distinction that must be made when choosing an adapter is whether to get a passive or active one. Passive adapters are typically cheaper and rely on DisplayPort sources that support dual-mode.
Active adapters are more expensive because they use additional converter chips to adapt the signal from the DisplayPort. If you plan to connect a DisplayPort video source to several HDMI monitors, you’ll probably want an active adapter since some graphics cards cannot support dual-mode output on multiple displays.
The final word
When choosing between a DisplayPort or HDMI, the devil’s in the details. Because TVs, graphics cards, PCs, and monitors may only feature one option, it can often force your hand toward one or the other. When you do have a choice, it’s critical to assess what you’ll be using the external display for and what qualities matter the most to you.
Generally speaking, HDMI wins whenever a TV is involved. Its easy, single connection is ideal for users who want to attach their PC to a bigger living room screen or a display in a conference room at work. The latest versions are capable of incredible resolution and eARC.
For users who want to set up multiple displays for video gaming or intense office desktop stations, DisplayPort offers more flexibility and power. The locking mechanism is also a nice touch for users concerned about accidentally tugging the plug and losing visibility during important work.
At the end of the day, the infamous DisplayPort vs HDMI debate comes down to personal choice, plain and simple.
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About the Author: Megan Edwards is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Megan is a digital content creator based in Southern California and specializes in creating multimedia content for various industries, including technology.