Future-Proofing Your Display: Choosing Between DisplayPort 1.4 and 2.1

Future-Proofing Your Display: Choosing Between DisplayPort 1.4 and 2.1

DisplayPort technology has been the premier high-end video and audio connector for desktop PCs for the past decade and a half, and with the latest generation of connectors, that shows no sign of changing any time soon. While DisplayPort 1.4 is still the most widely used version of DisplayPort technology, DisplayPort 2.1 is starting to slowly filter into devices and displays and it marks a brand new generation of DisplayPort connectivity.

This latest generation of DisplayPort uses the same L-shaped connector and is entirely backward compatible with all previous versions of the technology. With its greater bandwidth, though, it can support much higher resolution displays and higher refresh rates, and offers much greater support for multi-monitor setups. 

That said, you don’t need to buy one of the latest-generation displays and a cutting-edge graphics card with a DisplayPort 2.1 port if you don’t plan to use all that power. Indeed, DisplayPort 1.4 is still perfectly good for gaming and watching movies at 1080p, 1440p, and even 4K. It’s not quite as good as HDMI 2.1, and certainly falls behind DisplayPort 2.1, but it’s still viable.

But what truly separates these two titans of connective standards? When it’s DisplayPort 1.4 vs. 2.1, just how much better is the newer generation? To find out, follow us down the rabbit hole as we do a deep dive into just how capable these two technologies are.

DisplayPort 1.4

For the best part of a decade, DisplayPort 1.4 has been offering desktop PC users a single solution for all their high-end video transmission needs. With an impressive near-26 Gbps bandwidth, it can support 4K resolution at up to 120Hz, 8K resolution at up to 30Hz, and with Display Stream Compression (DSC), it can reach even higher resolutions and refresh rates – like 240Hz

Cable Matters DisplayPort 1.4 vs. DisplayPort 2.1 Sepcs

Introduced in 2016, it saw increased use among displays and graphics cards in the years that followed. DisplayPort 1.4 is based on the same DisplayPort connector as previous generations, so is entirely backward compatible. It also introduced a number of new features, including HDR support, and it was the first generation of DisplayPort connectors to support DSC 1.2. It also extended the maximum number of inline audio channels from 18 to 32.

One of the great strengths of DisplayPort technology is how it can be used by other cable standards, too. DisplayPort Alt Mode allows USB-C connections to utilize DisplayPort transmission interface to transmit video and audio to and/or from a USB-C port. DisplayPort 1.4 is leveraged by a wide range of USB-C connectors, too, including USB4, Thunderbolt 3, and Thunderbolt 4 cables.

As great as DisplayPort 1.4 was in its day, though, it has fallen behind the times. It can’t offer the same bandwidth as more modern HDMI 2.1 and DisplayPort 2.0/2.1 cables, so it can’t handle the same kinds of high resolutions and refresh rates. It’s still capable, but not as capable, which makes it less desirable for connecting cutting-edge displays.

It might not put up much of a fight compared to its new sibling, but the DisplayPort 1.4 vs. 2.1 debate is far from over.

Cable Matters DisplayPort 1.4 vs. DisplayPort 2.1

DisplayPort 2.1

DisplayPort 2.1 is the latest generation of DisplayPort technology and builds directly off of DisplayPort 1.4 in expanding the capabilities and performance of the standard. It’s functionally the same as the earlier-announced DisplayPort 2.0, but since we started seeing DisplayPort 2.1 devices and displays before 2.0, the newer 2.1 standard will be the predominant version of the technology moving forward.

Where DisplayPort 1.4 didn’t make any major leaps in performance over DisplayPort 1.3, the newer 2.1 standard was much more revolutionary. Its total bandwidth jumped to 80 Gbps, and thanks to the new 128b/132b encoding scheme that is far more efficient, DisplayPort 2.1 cables can utilize most of that bandwidth to deliver a functional data rate of 77.37 Gbps. 

It utilizes three new transmission modes to achieve this kind of data rate, named UHBR 10, UHBR 13.5, and UHBR 20. Not all DisplayPort 2.1 cables support each transmission mode, so when buying a DisplayPort 2.1 cable you need to make sure that yours supports the kind of performance you need. VESA announced new DisplayPort cable certifications in 2022 that included DP40 and DP80 cables, so that buyers can more readily recognize what their DisplayPort 2.1 cables are capable of.

That gives it a huge scope for supporting ultra-high-definition displays. DisplayPort 2.1 can output to a single 10K display at up to 60Hz, completely uncompressed, or a pair of 4K displays at up to 144Hz. Throw on DSC or play with chroma subsampling, and you can get multiple 8K displays at 120Hz, or even a single 16K display at 60Hz with 10bit color. DisplayPort 2.1 is powerful enough that it supports displays that won’t even be commercially available for several more generations of monitors.

During the launch of AMD’s RX 7000 graphics cards – the first consumer GPUs to support DisplayPort 2.1 – it also announced some unique resolution and refresh rate combinations which are possible with this new generation of the technology. DisplayPort 2.1 can technically support a 1080p 900Hz display, or a 4K 480Hz display. No monitors that support these specifications exist at the time of writing, but considering the trend in competitive PC gaming is to improve the refresh rate as much as possible to reduce input lag, it’s certainly possible that we’ll see monitors with these kinds of specifications in the years to come.

As with DisplayPort 1.4, DisplayPort 2.1 technology can also be utilized by USB-C cables in DisplayPort Alt Mode. DisplayPort 2.1 is being used in the next generation of USB4 and Thunderbolt 4 cables to deliver higher bandwidth connections for compatible USB-C displays. Like standard DisplayPort 2.1 cables, these USB-C connections can also be used to daisy chain multiple monitors together on a single cable run.

As with every standard, DisplayPort 2.1 does have its limitations. Without compression there are some resolutions and refresh rates it’s not capable of. However, the biggest drawback to DisplayPort 2.1 is availability. Only AMD’s RX 7000 graphics cards can act as a source device, and there are very few commercially available DisplayPort 2.1 compatible monitors. They will become more common over the next year, but for now, your choice remains limited to very expensive flagship models.

DisplayPort 1.4 vs DisplayPort 2.1

As the newer standard, it’s no surprise that DisplayPort 2.1 offers much greater performance than DisplayPort 1.4. With its functional maximum data rate of 77.37 Gbps, it has close to three times that of the older standard. With its three new transmission modes, DisplayPort 2.1 has support for up to 16K displays with compression, or multiple high refresh rate 4K displays without.