What's the difference between HDMI, DisplayPort, and DVI?

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Hi PC Gamer, I'm in the market for a new display, and I'm wondering what kind of cable I should go with. Is there a big difference between DVI, DisplayPort, and HDMI? Should I get an expensive one? Thanks. — Arne M.

Hi Arne. I recommend going with an HDMI or DisplayPort cable, essentially just for future-proofing as they both support 4K resolution. DVI is fine, but it's getting a bit dusty. And whichever cable you get, I definitely don't recommend getting an expensive one. Here's what makes them different:


HDMI is the standard for HDTVs, and carries audio, so it's the least hassle if you're going to plug your PC into a TV at some point. If you're going 4K, the old HDMI 1.4 specification only supports 30Hz at that resolution (except with a bit of clever trickery which reduces color quality). But there's good news: HDMI 2.0 is here, and the GeForce GTX 900 series meets the specification.

If you have a video card and 4K display which support HDMI 2.0, you should be able to get 4K/60Hz with full color quality over a standard high speed HDMI cable. Not that you probably are, as 4K is still a baby, but this is important to note in case anyone tries to sell you "HDMI 2.0 cables." Pure bullshit. The HDMI 2.0 specification is not a cable specification. HDMI Forum says so: "HDMI 2.0 does not define new cables or new connectors. Current High Speed cables (Category 2 cables) are capable of carrying the increased bandwidth."

So, make sure you get a "high speed" HDMI cable, but don't spend more than $15. Seriously. You will get the same digital picture as with a $100 cable. You want one good enough that it doesn't break, but don't get ripped off by jargon. If the cable is working, you'll get a picture, and it will be the same picture regardless of how much silver coating is involved.


DisplayPort 1.2a is similar to HDMI, but better designed for computer displays (and you'll have a hard time finding a TV which takes it), which is why I recommend it over HDMI for PC gaming. It's capable of 3840x2160/60Hz, and the latest specification will be capable of driving 5K displays when it's implemented (displays which will support it are coming).

You can also drive multiple monitors with just one DisplayPort output. You can get hubs to do this, or use displays which support daisy chaining (meaning they have a DisplayPort input and output)—the Dell U2414H, for instance.

One of the coolest things about DisplayPort is that it can be adapted for VGA, HDMI, and DVI inputs. So, even though your TV probably doesn't have a DisplayPort input, a little HDMI adapter will fix that.

DisplayPort comes highly recommended from me. Just don't get a rare DisplayPort cable labeled "Reduced Bit Rate (RBR)," as they can only support 1080p. And again, you do want a well-made cable so that it doesn't fall apart, but a more expensive cable does not mean a better picture. Here's what DisplayPort has to say about that:

"While retailers may try to sell you a more expensive cable touting it will provide a better picture quality, we are here to debunk that myth. Contrary to what you may think, the more expensive cable will not give you a better picture quality. DisplayPort uses packetized data, similar to USB and Ethernet, to send digital display and audio data, therefore you either get all of the data or you don’t. Unlike other older video interfaces, you don’t get a 'better' picture or other incremental improvements with a more expensive cable."


Like VGA which came before, DVI is starting to fade into obsolescence. It's still on every card, and this isn't to say there's anything wrong with it; it's essentially carrying the same signal as an HDMI cable, sans the audio. The main reason I suggest going with HDMI or DisplayPort is that they will probably be the 4K standards. That said, Dual-Link DVI is fine and I use one for my 1080p display at home. I like the sturdiness of the connector, and, well, I just have tons of old DVI cables lying around. That's kind of a plus.

And thanks to Raven in the comments for reminding me to mention that if you want support for 144Hz displays, you should go with DisplayPort or DVI. When everything uses the HDMI 2.0 specification, all should be dandy on that front (something I've yet to test, though). My general recommendation is DVI (what'll probably come with your PC or card) or DisplayPort, which you can easily adapt for HDMI input if needed.


As Executive Editor, Tyler spends a lot of time editing reviews and looking at spreadsheets, and whatever time is left over writing reviews. People joke that he doesn't like 90 percent of the games he plays, but he'll tell you he just has very discerning tastes.
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