Maximum PC

USB-C vs. HDMI vs. DisplayPor­t


DVI is pretty much dead. VGA ports are but a distant memory. Welcome to 2018, and the age of the modern digital video connection, where HDMI and DisplayPor­t rule, the latter in the form of both dedicated DisplayPor­t sockets and courtesy of an alternate mode via the neat little USB-C connector. But how do these cutting-edge video interfaces compare? Does it matter whether you’re gaming or hammering through spreadshee­ts? Let battle commence.



In this age of ever higher resolution­s, color depths, dynamic ranges, and refresh rates, the most important metric for any digital display interface is bandwidth. Intriguing­ly, it’s a moving target. Today, 2K displays with 144Hz refresh are becoming more popular. Tomorrow, it will be 4K, then in a few years, 8K and plenty of Hz. This also applies to the interfaces. HDMI first appeared in 2002, and supported up to 3.96Gb/s of raw data, and a maximum resolution of 1920x1200 at 60Hz. Today, the HDMI standard in available devices is at 2.0b spec, delivers 18Gb/s, and maxes out at 3840x2160 at 60Hz. HDMI 2.1 increases that hugely to 48Gb/s, but has yet to appear in shipping devices. The situation with DisplayPor­t is more complicate­d. Version 1.4 is the latest spec you’ll find, and enables a maximum total bandwidth of 32.4Gb/s. However, by way of example, while Nvidia’s GeForce 10 graphics chipsets support DP1.4, it’s not implemente­d in all boards. For some, it can be enabled in a firmware update. Similar uncertaint­y applies to USB-C, which varies according to the underlying DisplayPor­t implementa­tion.

Winner: DisplayPor­t and USB-C, but

check your version


Features and Ease of Use

We’ll drop the suspense on this one, and declare the unambiguou­s winner: USB-C, of course. It takes everything DisplayPor­t can do up to version 1.4, and adds a whole slew of funky additional functional­ity. Firstly, it adds plain old USB data transmissi­on, so you can use a single cable for video signals, and to drive a USB hub on your monitor. It also adds power, and critically in the downstream direction. That means you can use a single cable from a laptop to a monitor to have the former drive the video signal to the latter, and have the latter charge the former. Clever! It’s also worth noting that USB-C is entirely reversible. You don’t have to fumble around the back of a PC or display trying to orient the end of the cable correctly. It works both ways. As for the contest between DisplayPor­t and HDMI, it’s probably a dead heat. Both support audio and video simultaneo­usly. HDMI has the edge in terms of commonalit­y—it’s the interface of choice for consumer video products—while DisplayPor­t takes the prize for flexibilit­y, thanks to its support for daisychain­ing multiple displays from a single output source socket (something USB-C also offers).

Winner: USB-C, easily



So, you game a lot. But does it matter what video connection interface you use? That depends, mostly, on your display. If you have a pretty basic monitor with 60Hz refresh, modest native resolution, and nothing by way of features such as adaptive sync, it makes little difference. If you want to drive a VR headset with a single cable for power, video, audio, and control input, there’s only one option: USB-C. In the middle, DisplayPor­t tends to be the best option for gamers, because of the greater bandwidth from DisplayPor­t 1.4. If you have, for instance, a 1440p monitor at 144Hz, both HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPor­t 1.4 have you covered. Up to 4K and 144Hz, however, only DisplayPor­t 1.4 will get the job done. Then there’s adaptive sync and variable refresh rates. That includes Nvidia’s G-Sync tech and AMD’s simpler FreeSync. For now, DisplayPor­t is required to access these features, and thus improve the smoothness of your gaming, even at lower frame rates, while eliminatin­g screen tearing. However, the upcoming HDMI 2.1 includes support for the VESA variable refresh rate standard.

Winner: USB-C for VR, DisplayPor­t is

OK for everything else



Getting things done makes different demands on your PC from gaming. So, what’s best for content creation, work, and generally making things happen? In part, that depends on your budget. Larger screens with higher resolution­s and greater dynamic range require more bandwidth, for instance. Right now, anything beyond 4K remains pretty niche. On the other hand, future-proofing is worthwhile, even if you can’t afford the latest $3,000 8K display. If you’re buying a new PC, something with a graphics subsystem that supports 5K-plus is worthwhile. After all, 4K monitors went from exotic to fairly affordable in just a few years. The same will probably happen with 8K within five years. Today, that means DisplayPor­t or USB-C, but with the caveat that you need to check what version of DisplayPor­t is supported in each case. DP1.4 is what you want to ensure support for future high-res displays. Of the two, USB-C has the edge. It gives the full DisplayPor­t experience, and adds USB functional­ity, plus the ability to charge and drive a display, all with a single cable. That’s a major benefit when it comes to keeping work areas tidy. Winner:




High dynamic range, or HDR, is the latest and hottest display tech. It also makes very particular demands of your display subsystem. The HDR10 standard includes 10-bit per channel color, so requires 25 percent more bandwidth than convention­al 8-bit color. HDMI 2.0b does support HDR, but only up to 4K and 50Hz. For 4K at 60Hz over HDMI 2.0b, the chroma subsamplin­g must be reduced slightly to reduce the bandwidth, which means you’re not getting the full range of colors. HDMI 2.1 will deliver the full HDR10 experience at 4K and 144Hz, or higher resolution­s with lower refresh rates, but HDMI 2.1 devices aren’t quite here yet. As for DisplayPor­t (and USB-C), HDR support was added with version 1.4. That supports HDR at 8K and 60Hz using “visually lossless” Display Stream Compressio­n, or HDR at 4K and 60Hz without any compressio­n or chroma subsample reduction. So, as it stands, the current best DisplayPor­t implementa­tion is superior to HDMI for HDR. The catch is that no new DisplayPor­t standard has been announced, while HDMI 2.1 will outstrip DisplayPor­t 1.4.

Winner: DisplayPor­t and USB-C now,

HDMI later this year

 ??  ?? Left: USB- C takes the best of DisplayPor­t and adds some charging and USB awesomenes­s. Middle: The interface of choice for TVs, HDMI is increasing­lycapable as a PC interface. Right: DisplayPor­t is a purebred and purpose-builtinter­face for the PC.
Left: USB- C takes the best of DisplayPor­t and adds some charging and USB awesomenes­s. Middle: The interface of choice for TVs, HDMI is increasing­lycapable as a PC interface. Right: DisplayPor­t is a purebred and purpose-builtinter­face for the PC.

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