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The Complete Monitor Ports Guide – SegmentBlue

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Monitor ports are broadly of two types. A typical monitor will have display ports (for the video signal) and other ports (for peripheral connectivity). The display ports used on monitors include VGA, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, USB-C, and SDI. Whereas the additional ports are mostly USB-A, USB-B, and Audio jacks.

Monitor connection types have changed over the years. With time, they were improved to cope with the latest technologies and do much more than just carrying video signals. The latest monitor ports can handle high resolution, transfer data, and even power the connected devices. With this in mind, let’s go through all the monitor ports in detail. You will know the characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses of each port type used in monitors.

Monitor Display Port Types

Monitor Ports

Display ports we see on monitors have evolved significantly with time. The journey starts with the VGA port in 1987, a very basic port with support for low resolution and analog signal. And now, we have ports like mini DisplayPort and USB-C with Thunderbolt support. These new ports support very high resolution and other features like data travel, power, audio, internet connectivity, and more. Without any further ado, let’s start with monitor ports types and see for yourself what ports do monitors use? and what are they used for?

1. VGA (Video Graphics Array)

Introduced by IBM in 1987

Monitor VGA Port

Characteristics
  • 15-pin connector
  • Analog Signal
  • RGB
Strength?
  • Cheap
  • Found on many devices
Weakness?
  • Lacks Audio Support
  • Susceptible to Noise
  • Bad for 2K and above

VGA is one of the oldest and widely used computer monitor ports types. It is very basic compared to what the new monitor ports can do. VGA connectors are D-shaped 15-pin connectors, these pins are placed in 3 rows where each row has 5 pins. They are capable of transmitting Analog signals in the form of RGB. Video quality on VGA ports is good for low resolution. This port is found on many monitors, multimedia projectors, and gaming consoles. However, it lacks audio support. Back when it was introduced, things were not handy the way they are today, and no one wanted to output both audio and video together via the same cable and connector.

As for its image quality, initially, VGA supported 640 x 480 resolution. But with time, the interface was extended and can now go up to 2048 x 1536. Still, for 1080p and higher resolution, VGA is not recommended.

2. DVI (Digital Visual Interface)

Introduced by DDWG in 1999

Monitor DVI Ports

Characteristics
  • Analog & Digital
  • Single & Dual-Link
  • Faster Transmission Speed
Strength?
  • Digital & Analog Convertible
  • Better Quality than VGA
Weakness?

DVI was introduced by DDWG (Digital Display Working Group). This group was formed by IBM, HP, Intel, Fujitsu, Compaq, NEC, and Silicon Image. The main aim was to shift to digital signals compared to VGA’s analog signals. However, DVI is not restricted to digital signals only. It comes in three different modes DVI-A (for analog signal), DVI-D (for digital signal), and DVI-I (for both digital and analog). The latter is a more accomplished monitor port that can do either digital-to-digital or analog-to-analog.

You also have to keep in mind the digital information format of DVI cables. They come in single and dual-link formats. Single-link cables use one TDMS (transition minimized differential signaling) with a 165MHz transmitter, whereas dual-link cables use two. This doubles the speed and image quality of dual-link cables, hence easily displaying 2560 x 1600 resolution at 60Hz compared to 1920 x 1200 for a single-link cable. DVI was much better than VGA but still could not send audio and had issues with higher resolutions, which is why HDMI was released, which we will discuss next.

3. HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface)

Introduced by HDMI founders in 2002

Monitor HDMI Port

Characteristics
  • Audio & Video
  • Support up to 8K @60Hz
  • Two-way Audio
Strength?
  • Support for High Resolution
  • Good Display Quality
Weakness?
  • Cable Length Issues
  • One Connection per Port

Seven tech and multimedia giants came together to develop HDMI. It is one of the most commonly used multimedia connection types among monitor ports. When released, HDMI was one of the best connectors because it supported the audio and higher resolution. 1080p @60Hz was what HDMI 1.0 was able to deliver. And with gradual increments, the latest HDMI 2.1 can deliver 8k resolution with 60Hz fps, with support for Dynamic HDR. Also, initially, HDMI had a transmission speed of 4.95 Gb/s, whereas the latest HDMI 2.1 introduced in 2017 has a transmission rate of 48.0 Gb/s.

In its physical forms, widely used types of HDMI are the standard HDMI, mini HDMI, and micro HDMI. The standard type is found on laptops, monitors, and TVs. The other two types are mostly found on portable devices like smartphones, cameras, and tablets. Just so it’s clear, the physical form of these ports does not affect the functionality. All are equally functional and capable. You will find HDMI cables with different lengths. However, it is not recommended to use any longer than 50 feet. If you still need a long HDMI cable and do not want the signal quality to go bad, an HDMI extender between cables is a good solution.

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4. DisplayPort (DP)

Introduced by VESA in 2008

Monitor DisplayPort

Characteristics
  • Audio & Video
  • Data Packets
  • Up to 80.0 Gb/s Bandwidth
Strength?
  • Good for HDR
  • Better Resolution than HDMI
  • Multiple Connections per Port
Weakness?

DisplayPort was designed by an association of electronics manufacturers and then standardized by VESA (Video Electronics Standards Association). It has the same functions as an HDMI with added features, but the working mechanism is different. DisplayPort works on the packetized transmission of data, allowing for more data travel using fewer pins. This gave the DisplayPort faster data travel speed and an opportunity for adding more features within the same physical form. When deciding if you should go for an HDMI or DisplayPort, they work almost the same. You won’t see the difference unless you want a very high resolution at a good refresh rate.

The latest standards of DisplayPort can deliver 8k resolution @85Hz with a bandwidth of 80.0 Gb/s. In 2008, Apple introduced mini DisplayPort and started using it on most Macs, but it has been ditched for a more powerful Thunderbolt port. Similar to HDMI, cable length matters here as well. A longer cable will delay data transmission, affecting the resolution quality and frames. Make sure you set up your monitor, so a long cable is not required. The best part about DisplayPort is its support for multi-stream transport. You can connect multiple screens using a single DisplayPort. Either connect monitors among themselves and then connect one of them to the PC. Or you can use an MST hub that splits the video stream and then can be carried to each monitor independently.

5. USB-C

Introduced by USB-IF in 2014

Monitor USB-C Port

Characteristics
  • Next-Generation
  • Small Size
  • Universal Connection
Strength?
  • Reverse Compatibility
  • One port does all
Weakness?
  • Only found on high-end monitors
  • Too many alt modes (confusion)

Among USB ports on monitor, you will also find USB-C on some monitors. USB-C was introduced back in 2014 and is a type of port that takes over all preceding ports’ roles in monitors and laptops with its different alternate modes. It can deliver data, power, video, and audio. This makes it a universal port and is becoming the single most useful port in all our devices. However, understanding USB-C is not simple because it comes in many formats and hardware interfaces. In its simplest form, USB-C only carries data similar to the USB-A port but has the advantage of higher speed and smaller physical form. Also, there is no up or down in it, you can connect the cable to the port in any orientation.

With time, alternate modes of USB-C were introduced. These are DisplayPort over USB-C, HDMI over USB-C, Thunderbolt over USB-C. A single USB-C can carry power, data, audio, video, and even Ethernet connectivity with these alt modes. The latest Thunderbolt 4 alt mode comes with a bandwidth of almost 80.0 Gb/s. Now that we know USB-C is a universal and useful port, you only need to make sure you have the alt mode in your monitor, which you actually need. Besides, if you have a new laptop or mobile, it would be effortless for you to connect your USB-C monitor to any device, and one cable will do all the work for you.

6. SDI (Serial Digital Interface)

Introduced by SMPTE in 1989

Monitor SDI Port

Characteristics
  • For Professional Setup
  • Uncompressed Signal
  • Audio & Video
Strength?
  • No loss up to 300m cable
  • High bitrate in new standards
Weakness?

Since different types of monitor ports are being discussed, SDI could not be skipped. It is a display port mostly found and used in professional setups. You would rarely find this port on a consumer monitor. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) first introduced this interface in 1989. Since then, multiple standards of SDI have been released. The main objective of using this port is to send uncompressed and unencrypted video signals over coaxial cable. It can also send along optional audio.

The different standards of SDI are SD-SDI, ED-SDI, HD-SDI, Dual Link HD-SDI, 3G-SDI, 6G-SDI, and 12G-SDI. The latest addition to these standards was the 12G-SDI in 2015, which comes with a bitrate of 12 Gb/s and can deliver 2160p @60Hz. In addition, what makes it perfect for professional setups is that long cables do not distort the signal quality because they are nicely packed. They have a locking mechanism, so they do not unhook easily. Normally, even a 300 meters cable will send a video signal without distortion.

Other Monitor Ports

Apart from the display ports that carry video signals, there are other ports among monitor port types. The most widely occurring are USB ports on monitor and Audio ports. The purpose of these ports can be multi-fold and are very important to have in your monitor. We have explained what type of USB ports are available on monitors and how to use them.

1. USB Ports

USB ports found on monitors can have different and specific purposes. And you must wonder how to use USB ports on monitor? Some of these ports are for connecting peripherals like keyboard and mouse. While others are for creating a link with the connected laptop or PC. USB ports on a monitor can be differentiated by dividing them into upstream and downstream ports. On a monitor, upstream and downstream ports work as a hub or docking station. Where one of these ports is for connecting to the PC, and others can be used for several connections with peripherals.

USB ports on Monitor

Upstream USB Ports on monitors are those through which a connection to the host is made. In most cases, the host would be either a laptop or PC. Data and power can travel between the monitor and computer through this port. In the old days, there used to be a USB-B port as an upstream port on monitors, and it still is in play among some monitors. But with new monitors and upgraded technology, USB-C has taken the role of the upstream port in monitors.

Downstream USB Ports on monitors are those used for connecting peripherals to the monitor. These ports free you from the mess of multiple cables going all the way down to your PC. Instead, you can connect all your peripherals to the monitor near you and then connect your monitor to the PC via the upstream port. These are mostly USB-A ports to connect a mouse, keyboard, and similar devices.

2. Audio Ports

A monitor will have one (output) or two (input/output) audio ports for audio and sound. These are categorized as audio in and audio out. Like the names suggest, the audio in port connects an audio source to the monitor, and the audio out port is where you connect your headphones or speakers.

Monitor Audio Ports

Audio In port is for connecting an audio source to the monitor. If your monitor is connected to your PC via HDMI or DisplayPort, then you won’t need this connection because audio is already supported by these two mentioned connections. However, if you have a VGA or DVI connection between your monitor and PC, then you also need to connect your PC with your monitor via the audio in port. By doing so, you will be able to use the monitor’s built-in speakers if there are any.

Audio Out is the 3.5 mm jack for connecting headphones or speakers to your monitor, in case you do not want to use the monitor’s built-in speakers. The audio out on a monitor will only work if you have used an HDMI/DisplayPort connection or you have a separate line connecting your computer and monitor via the audio in port as mentioned above.

What is the best monitor port?

When deciding which monitor connection type you should use, it depends on your needs and the availability of ports. You need to understand the difference between monitor display ports. It rarely happens that you get all options on a single monitor, but mostly there are two or three ports to choose from. Among monitor display ports, HDMI and DisplayPort compete with each other. Whereas VGA and DVI can be competing at times. Here is a comprehensive comparison among these monitor ports to decide what type of connection you need.

1. HDMI or DisplayPort

Both HDMI and DisplayPort are widely used and can deliver high resolution with good frames. But there are certain differences between them. Where one wins, the other doesn’t, and vice versa. Three things, the resolution, color depth, and refresh rate is what determine the required bandwidth for a monitor display connection. Resolution is the width and height of a display in terms of pixels, and refresh rate is the number of images displayed per second on a screen. Color depth, on the other hand, is a term not commonly known. It is the number of bits used for each component of a single pixel. So in each pixel, there are red, blue, and green colors, each indicated by its own color depth. Normally, 24-bits represents a single pixel having 8-bits for each color. But this can go up when HDR is in play.

After understanding how bandwidth is consumed by these factors, you can easily decide which port you need to use. HDMI can have a bandwidth as high as 48 Gb/s, whereas DisplayPort takes it almost 80.0 Gb/s in its latest DisplayPort 2.0. The following tables will help you understand which port you will need.

DisplayPort Standards

DisplayPort Version Resolution / Refresh Rate Max. Data Rate
1.0 1440p @ 60Hz / 4K @ 30Hz 8.64 Gb/s
1.1 1440p @ 60Hz / 4K @ 30Hz 8.64 Gb/s
1.2 1080p @ 240Hz / 4K @ 75Hz 17.28 Gb/s
1.3 4K @ 120Hz / 8K @ 30Hz 25.92 Gb/s
1.4 8K @ 60Hz 25.92 Gb/s
2.0 4K @ 240Hz / 8K @ 85Hz 80.0 Gb/s

HDMI Standards

HDMI Version Resolution / Refresh Rate Max. Data Rate
1.0, 1.1, 1.2 1920p @ 60Hz 4.95 Gb/s
1.3 1440p @ 60Hz 10.2 Gb/s
1.4 4K @ 30Hz 10.2 Gb/s
2.0 4K @ 60Hz 18.0 Gb/s
2.1 4K @ 120Hz / 8K @ 60Hz 48.0 Gb/s

Cutting to the chase, when using your monitor for purposes like watching video content at a normal resolution up to 4K, HDMI is a good option. Whereas, for things like gaming, editing, and high-end video creation, you should go for a DisplayPort.

2. DVI or VGA

Both of these monitor port types are thoroughly explained above. VGA is the oldest display port still in use. In contrast, DVI is relatively new and can deliver better image quality than VGA. Out of these two, none supports audio, hence the need for an extra connection for connecting an audio source to the monitor. VGA only carries Analog signals and does not support higher resolution. On the other hand, DVI can carry both analog and digital signals. In addition, DVI can handle higher resolution up to 2560 x 1600 @ 60Hz when you use a dual-link cable. The table below will help you understand the difference between the two and decide which one you should use.

DVI VGA
Introduced 1999 1987
Resolution Support up to 2560 x 1600 up to 2048 x 1536
Signal Type Digital / Analog Analog
Image Quality Precise, Low Distortion Degradable, Susceptible to Noise
Physical Form 29 pins 15 pins
Audio Support No No

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