HDMI vs DisplayPort: Which Display Interface To Choose?

HDMI vs DisplayPort


HDMI or DisplayPort - which one is better and which one should you choose when connecting your device? Let's take a look at what these two interface standards are and how they started before answering the question of which one to choose.

The High Definition Multimedia Interface audio/video interface standard, or HDMI for short, is everywhere. TVs, cable set-top boxes, laptops, video game consoles, laptops and even some smartphones have them.

DisplayPort on the hand isn't as common. You'll find it in the newer laptops alongside the HDMI ports but they weren't so common in older model computers.

So if both audio/video interface standards are capable of sending high-definition video from a source to a display, what's the difference between HDMI and DisplayPort?

Background

HDMI

HDMI was designed back in 2002 by seven founder companies who are all recognizable names in the consumer electronics space - Hitachi, Sanyo, Philips, Silicon Image, Sony, Technicolor and Toshiba. HDMI Licensing, LLC, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Silicon Image, controls the specification. Being a proprietary specification, manufacturers who wish to include HDMI in their devices need to pay a royalty fee.

DisplayPort

The DisplayPort audio/visual specification was developed by a large consortium of manufacturers called VESA. It remains under the control of VESA to this day. DisplayPort was designed in 2006 in order to replace the much older VGA interface that we're so familiar with from the 80s and 90s. Unlike HDMI, manufacturers don't need to pay a royalty fee when including DisplayPort.

If you're interested to learn more about the technical details about the DisplayPort specification, you can visit the official DisplayPort website.

Connectors and Cables

HDMI

Good High Speed HDMI 2.0 Cable
A popular HDMI 2.0 choice

HDMI connectors come in three sizes - Standard (Type A), Mini (Type C) and Micro (Type D). Of the three, 'Standard' connectors are the most common. There;s also a fourth size of connector, the Type E, but they're used mostly in cars.

Regardless of the size, all HDMI connectors have 19 pins. They also typically use a friction-lock, so a tight fit keeps the plug in the socket. Some manufacturers have come up with their own locking mechanisms but these aren't part of the standard.

The confusing thing about HDMI aren't the connectors but the cables. There are four different types of cables and using an HDMI cable that isn't suitable for the task can result in glitches and syncing problems, just to name a few. Here is more information about the four different types of HDMI cables:

The Standard HDMI Cable has enough bandwidth for 720p and 1080i resolution videos.

The Standard HDMI Cable with Ethernet supports 100 Mbps Ethernet in addition to bandwidth for 720p and 1080i resolution.

The High-Speed HDMI Cable has more bandwidth - enough for 1080p resolution video or 4K but it only supports a maximum refresh rate of 24Hz. It can also support 3D.

The High-Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet as the name suggests, supports 100 Mbps Ethernet in addition to the bandwidth for 1080p resolution video / 4K / 3D.

The important thing to note is that if you want to send 1080p or greater video from your input source to your display, then you must make sure that you're buying a High-Speed HDMI cable (Ethernet optional).

Interestingly, the HDMI specification doesn't specify what material the cable should be made out of. While most HDMI cables are made using copper, there are coaxial cables and also those made out of Fiber. Unlike DisplayPort, as you will see later, there is also no maximum length specified.

All HDMI cables can also send audio via the Audio Return Channel also known as ARC. What this means is that you don't need to connect a separate cable just for sending the audio.

DisplayPort

Good Displayport 1.2 cable
A popular DisplayPort 1.2 cable
When it comes to the connectors, DisplayPort is a lot simpler. There are only two sizes available - DisplayPort and Mini DisplayPort. Both have 20 pins so no difference there. Although the official specifications don't specify a locking mechanism, most of the DisplayPort cables we've bought have all come with one to make the connection more secure.

When it comes to the DisplayPort wires, the three most popular options at the moment are:
  • DisplayPort 1.2: Supports resolutions up to 3840 x 2160 (4K UHD) at a refresh rate of 60Hz
  • DisplayPort 1.3: Supports 3840 x 2160 (4K UHD) resolution at a refresh rate of 120Hz
  • DisplayPort 1.4: Supports resolutions up to 7680 x 4320 (8K) at a refresh rate of 60Hz
The main downsides of DisplayPort are that it doesn't have an audio return channel and that it doesn't support Ethernet data.

By using adapters you can connect a DisplayPort source to a DVI or HDMI display. You could also connect a DisplayPort source to a VGA display like an old projector.

Audio/Video Streams

Probably the single biggest drawback about HDMI is that it can only handle a single video and audio stream. What this means is that it can only be used to transmit to one display at a time. For most people this isn't an issue.

Increasingly, however, an ever growing number of people are using more than one display these days. Gamers, traders and even at the office, people are becoming accustomed to having multiple screens and once you're used to the convenience of having multiple screens, it's hard to go back to a single screen setup.

DisplayPort, however, supports a method called daisy chaining which allows you to connect multiple monitors via a single DisplayPort. Taking DisplayPort 1.2 as an example, you could split the 3840 x 2160 resolution to two monitors at 1920 x 1080.

HDMI or DisplayPort - Which display interface to choose?

Back to the question at hand, between the two display interfaces, which one should you choose? Well, it depends. There are scenarios in which DisplayPort works better and others where HDMI works better.

Before we get into that, it's important to bear in mind what the specifications were designed for. HDMI was designed with consumer electronics in mind - your TVs, your video projectors etc. On the other hand, DisplayPort was designed to be the interface for computers and laptops.

When is DisplayPort a better option?

When you want to connect multiple monitors

DisplayPort's higher bandwidth allows you to transmit more signals at the same time, which means that you can connect a computer to more than one monitor. As mentioned earlier, you can split the signal from a single DisplayPort via daisy-chaining.

For Gaming  

DisplayPort supports both G Sync and FreeSync while HDMI only supports FreeSync. G Sync (NVIDIA) and FreeSync (AMD) are techniques used by your video card to prevent tearing and stuttering, making sure the video is displayed as smooth as possible.

When is HDMI a better option?

When connecting your DVD Player to your TV

Remember that HDMI cables have an Audio Return Channel? Here's where it comes in handy. Let's say you're watching a DVD. With an HDMI cable the video is transmitted to your TV while the audio is transmitted to your home cinema set. A DisplayPort cable, which doesn't have an ARC is not able to do that.

Some Final Thoughts

In most scenarios involving computers or laptops, given its higher bandwidth, DisplayPort is the preferred option for higher quality video with a higher refresh rate. Its support for multi-screens is a major plus point and there are also numerous adapter options that you can use to connect to a whole plethora of devices. This is a flexibility that HDMI doesn't have.

One thing that DisplayPort lacks is an ARC which allows you to separate the audio and video signal. If you're talking about connecting your device to your TV and home entertainment system, then HDMI would be a better choice.

If you're interested in picking up a good DisplayPort cable for gaming, do check out our guide on the best cables for 144 Hz monitors where we explore the topic in further detail.
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