HDMI, DVI, DisplayPort: Interconnecting digital video ports

Anyone who wants to connect their PC, laptop or tablet to an external display will sooner or later stumble across one of these terms: HDMI, DVI or even DisplayPort. They are often garnished with additions such as mini, micro, type A, B or C. Who can still keep track of them all? Today, we're going to shed some light on this cable tangle.

Connecting HDMI, DVI, Displayport
What are HDMI, DVI and DisplayPort anyway?
Roughly speaking, HDMI, DVI and DisplayPort are currently the most widely used digital video interfaces. The connectors differ in terms of their capabilities. DVI is one of the oldest digital video interfaces. The connection has been around since 1999. The DisplayPort connection, on the other hand, is relatively new. The first DisplayPort specification was published in 2006.

Different industry partners are behind the individual connections. The HDMI consortium relies on supporters such as Hitachi, Panasonic, Philips, Sony and Toshiba. DisplayPort, which was designed by the VESA organization as a license-free standard, was primarily driven by companies like Dell, HP and Lenovo, but also Apple.

What are the differences between HDMI, DVI and DisplayPort? Features and functions
All three connectors have in common that they can transmit digital video data. This is the biggest difference to older connections like VGA, which worked with an analog RGB signal.

But even digital is not equal to digital. The HDMI, DVI and DisplayPort connections differ primarily in terms of their performance characteristics:

HDMI: The mass standard
Max. Bandwidth: 10.2 Gbit/s (HDMI 1.4), 18 Gbit/s (HDMI 2.0)Audio support: YesFrequently used with: Flat screen TV, DVD, BluRay, consoles, PC, laptop.
HDMI is the most widely used video interface. It is an evolution of DVI, meaning HDMI is backward compatible with DVI.

HDMI connection on laptop
HDMI connection

Especially in modern consumer electronics and home cinema, there is practically no way around HDMI. In addition to extremely high resolutions such as 4K, HDMI also supports other features. These include, for example, Audio Return Channel (ARC), Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. General information about HDMI and HDMI cables can be found in our article HDMI basics compact.

HDMI allows different types of connectors: HDMI type A corresponds to the regular type (as known from e.g. TV sets). In addition, there are mini and micro HDMI types (10.42 mm and 6.4 mm, respectively), which were specially developed for smaller devices. These are also known as HDMI Type C and HDMI Type D, respectively. As if that wasn't enough, there is also a connector type E, but this is only used in the vehicle sector (automotive).

DisplayPort: The power beast
Max bandwidth: 32.4 Gbit/s (1.3)Audio support: OptionalFrequently used with: Apple, PC
DisplayPort was developed by the VESA organization as the successor to DVI. This also means that DisplayPort, like HDMI, is backwards compatible with DVI. DisplayPort was positioned by VESA as a universal interface that was to become the standard for connecting notebooks and PCs to external displays of all kinds (projector, digital LED, analog CRT) in peaceful coexistence with HDMI. Well, that didn't quite work out.

DisplayPort VESA OverviewToday, Mac users are probably most familiar with the DisplayPort connector: Apple introduced its own, smaller variant in October 2008, the so-called Mini DisplayPort . The manufacturer published the specifications shortly after under a free license to accelerate the distribution. Today, Apple has rather turned it into a universal data interface in cooperation with Intel, which is marketed under the name Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt is fully backwards compatible with DisplayPort.

But more and more PC manufacturers like Dell or Lenovo are also increasingly installing DisplayPort ports in their devices. Why? The advantage lies in the high bandwidth and the wide range of applications. In contrast to HDMI, DisplayPort can also be used for plug-and-play connections similar to USB. Or you can, for example, operate several monitors via one cable on one port (daisy chaining). In terms of functionality, DisplayPort is somewhat superior to the HDMI standard. And we will probably hear more about DisplayPort in the future. At least since it is known that DisplayPort will be part of the USB Type-C ecosystem in the future.

However, TVs with DisplayPort input can be found rather rarely. On the one hand, this is due to the strong lobby of the HDMI standard in the entertainment industry. On the other hand, it is also due to the fact that DisplayPort inputs are quite bitchy: DVI to DisplayPort connect doesn't work, nor does HDMI to DisplayPort connect. DisplayPort screens only accept direct signals from DisplayPort outputs, there are no adapter solutions.

DVI: The dinosaur
Max bandwidth: 7.92 Gbit/s (Dual Link)Audio support: No*Commonly used with: PC monitors, beamers
The DVI standard was published in 1999 by the Digital Display Working Group (DDWG), which at that time was backed by companies such as Intel, Compaq, Fujitsu, HP and IBM. However, the working group disbanded a short time later.

DVI connection on a laptop
DVI connection

The DVI spread was accompanied by the introduction of TFT screens, which (in contrast to CRT monitors) required digital data for image display in order to achieve optimal image quality. The switch from VGA to DVI was a quantum leap in image quality at the time.

DVI can transmit either analog (DVI-A), digital (DVI-D), or analog and digital (DVI-I) data, depending on the pin assignment of a connector.

A simple DVI cable (single-link) has 18+5 contacts and is sufficient for resolutions up to 1920×1200 at 60 Hz. DVI cables with 24+5 contacts have two TMDS connections (Dual-Link) for resolutions up to a maximum of 2560×1600 at 60 Hz.

Today, however, the question is no longer simply: "Digital or analog?", but rather: "Digital with which bandwidth?". With a bandwidth of max. 7.92 Gbit/s (dual link), DVI is inferior here. At 2560×1600 pixels @ 60 Hz is the end. That is enough for FullHD - but Retina graphics or 4K content cannot be displayed with it.

Another negative point from today's point of view: In contrast to HDMI and DisplayPort, only video data is transmitted via DVI. DVI requires a separate cable for audio signals.

Nevertheless, DVI is still widely used, especially for PC monitors and beamers. Advantages are low cost for manufacturers and solid compatibility with other technologies.

(*In fact, it is theoretically possible to transmit audio signals over DVI. However, practically this is not supported by almost any manufacturer).

HDMI, DVI and Displayport - How do I connect what?
Despite different manufacturers and eras of origin - the modern digital interfaces are surprisingly compatible with each other. Unless you own a DisplayPort monitor. This can only be controlled with DisplayPort output.

The other combinations with HDMI, DVI and DisplayPort output can be connected via a so-called "passive adapter". This only connects the contacts, but does not perform any active signal conversion.

What with whom? Connecting HDMI, DVI and DisplayPort
What with whom? Connecting HDMI, DVI and DisplayPort
Overview of video output to video input:
From HDMI to DVI: Yes, with passive adapter
From HDMI to DisplayPort: Not possible

From DisplayPort to DVI: Yes, with passive adapter (DVI single link up to 1920p) or active adapter (DVI dual link up to 2560p)

From DisplayPort to HDMI: Yes, with passive adapter (optionally also with audio)

From DVI to HDMI: Yes, with passive adapter (no audio transmission)

From DVI to Displayport: Not possible
And are you smarter now than before? We hope so ;-) If you have any questions or comments, post them in the comments!

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