Understanding HDMI and DisplayPort

Back in the old days – you know, the ’90s – you got one way to connect your computer to a monitor. It was called VGA, and you liked it. Sure, the pins would bend and break off, the little thumbscrews that kept the plug from falling out were impossible to deal with, and the quality was barely above that of your VCR. But you knew that it was going to work, since every computer and every monitor supported it.

Then came digital, and everything changed. First there was DVI (in a variety of plug designs), with its bulky and equally fragile connectors. Then the rise of HDTV brought yet another option: HDMI, and thanks in part to its slim connector and its ability to carry audio along with the video signal, it caught on fast. But a couple of years ago arose another digital connector option – DisplayPort – which also appears to have legs.

HDMI and DisplayPort: What’s the big difference? And which one are you likely to be using in 2012 and beyond?

HDMI and DisplayPort look a lot alike physically, and that causes considerable confusion, but they were designed with different applications in mind. HDMI is primarily a connector designed for televisions. It’s an easy way to get audio and video from a Blu-ray player or video game console to your TV, and because it’s nearly ubiquitous on laptops today, it makes it easy to use your laptop’s optical drive as a DVD player – or have an impromptu slide show on the big screen.

But for a permanent connection to a computer monitor, DisplayPort is now your best bet. DisplayPort is a direct replacement for VGA and DVI connectors, with about double the maximum bandwidth, no DRM controls (like HDMI has), and support for very large displays – at least twice the resolution (3840 x 2160) of today’s most common devices.

So which will you use? Probably both. TVs and consumer electronics are fairly settled on HDMI now, while computers are moving to both HDMI and DisplayPort outputs. Broad support means you can use HDMI to connect a computer to a monitor if you’d like, but if both your PC and display have a DisplayPort connector available, you’ll probably get better performance if you go that direction.

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