DisplayPort and HDMI are two of the most popular connector types you’ll find on modern TVs and monitors. Although they tend to serve different portions of the market, they’re largely interchangeable in that they both serve roughly the same job of getting video and audio from a source device to a compatible display. But when you look at individual generations of these connectors, like DisplayPort 1.4 vs. HDMI 2.1, then there are very real winners and losers, and reasons for picking one over the other.
So, if you’re looking at a pair of connectors on your display or device and wondering who comes out on top in a head-to-head of DisplayPort 1.4 vs. HDMI 2.1, here’s everything you need to know.
What is DisplayPort 1.4?
DisplayPort 1.4 is one of the most recent generations of the DisplayPort protocol. It was, until the release of HDMI 2.1, the only real standard that could deliver high frame rate 4K gaming experiences for PC gamers, and even now, remains the main connector type used for PC gaming. However, DisplayPort 1.4 sees little use outside of desktop PCs, as most laptops, tablets, and games consoles, use HDMI connections for video outputs.
DisplayPort 1.4 has a rectangular connector with a singular notched corner and uses 20 pins to deliver its maximum bandwidth of 32.40 Gbps or maximum data rate of 25.92 Gbps. It supports 8-bit and 10-bit color and can support up to Display Stream Compression (DSC) 1.2a. It supports the High Bit Rate (HBR), High Bit Rate 2 (HBR2), and High Bit Rate 3 (HBR3) transmission modes, which gives it enough bandwidth to display 4K at up to 120Hz, 5K at up to 60Hz, and 8K at up to 30Hz.
DisplayPort 1.4 also supports static HDR, can manage up to four displays at once, and is seeing increased use through DisplayPort Alt Mode, where the protocol is leveraged through different cables, like USB-C, and Thunderbolt 4.
What is HDMI 2.1?
HDMI 2.1 is the latest version of the High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI), an interface used for transmitting video and audio from devices to displays for the best part of 20 years. It succeeded in supplanting aging standards like DVI and VGA by offering a simple one-cable-for-all approach to audio and video on consumer devices, and thanks to enhancements in the interface over the years, it now offers some of the highest data rates for video streaming of any connector.
HDMI 2.1 builds on the successes of its predecessors with a big boost to its maximum data rate, and support for new technologies which make it the most likely connector type to dominate living rooms and bedrooms for the foreseeable future. HDMI 2.1 increased the maximum bandwidth to 48 Gbps – a huge leap over HDMI 2.0’s mere 18 Gbps – and the maximum data rate to 42 Gbps. It achieves this using higher-quality cable materials, and a new encoding scheme known as 16b/18b. It’s much more efficient than the traditional TMDS encoding scheme used by earlier HDMI standards, aiding the new, greater data rate of HDMI 2.1.
That greater bandwidth improved resolution and refresh rate support for the latest HDMI standard considerably. It has native support for 4K 120Hz gaming on consoles, at up to 4K 144Hz on gaming PCs with powerful enough graphics cards. It supports 5k resolution at up to 60Hz, too, as well as 8K at up to 30Hz. However, with DSC, HDMI 2.1 is capable of handling 8K at up to 120Hz, with HDR.
HDMI 2.1 also introduced several new features to the standard, including dynamic HDR, for scene-by-scene HDR settings changes for an improved picture; an enhanced variable refresh rate to remove stuttering and screen tearing; DSC 1.2 support for greater resolution and refresh rate support; enhanced audio return channel (eARC) support, for 7.1 surround sound and Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio features, and latency reduction features like quick frame transport and auto low latency mode, for gaming.
All in all, HDMI 2.1 is the first and best choice for living room console gaming at up to 4K 120Hz, as well as a great solution for UHD Blu-ray players, and other 4K set-top boxes and streaming devices.
DisplayPort 1.4 vs. HDMI 2.1: Key Differences
DisplayPort 1.4 and HDMI 2.1 are each supported by a wide range of devices and displays, which can sometimes make choosing between them a little tricky. They both support 4K resolution at up to 120Hz, both can transmit audio and video at high definition and without compression, and both are available at a range of lengths, making them suitable for all sorts of installation.
Despite their similarities, though, there are some very real reasons you might choose to use DisplayPort 1.4 or HDMI 2.1, so let’s take a look at the major differences between these two popular connection standards.
From a pure bandwidth perspective, HDMI 2.1 offers far more. Where HDMI 2.1 offers a maximum bandwidth of 48 Gbps. DisplayPort 1.4, on the other hand, is limited to just 32.4 Gbps. That only really means something if you’re looking to transmit at particularly high resolutions and refresh rates, but if you want to run a 4K monitor at anywhere up to 188Hz, an HDMI 2.1 cable can do it, whereas a DisplayPort 1.4 connection will leave you limited to just 120Hz without enabling DSC.
Another main reason you might want to pick one of these connectors over the other is availability. Most living room TVs do not come with DisplayPort 1.4 connection options, instead favoring HDMI and older standards like optical. However, you will need to check that the TV supports HDMI 2.1, rather than older HDMI 2.0 or HDMI 1.4 standards, which are far more common outside of top-end, recent-generation TVs.
The same is true for most living-room devices, like games consoles – even the latest Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5 consoles are made with HDMI 2.1 connections, only – Blu-ray players, and streaming devices.
However, DisplayPort is far more common on gaming PCs, high-end graphics cards, and PC monitors. Although most graphics cards will also have a single HDMI port, only recent generations support HDMI 2.1, and there’s usually only one of them, while there will be several DisplayPort 1.4 connections. Some also support USB-C, which can offer DisplayPort connections using DisplayPort Alt Mode. The new AMD Radeon RX 7000 series graphics cards also offer DisplayPort 2.1 connections, but that’s a whole new generation of connectors and one that’s worth an article of its own.
Most PC monitors will support HDMI 2.1 and DisplayPort in some configurations. If you find yourself unable to find the right port for either your DisplayPort or HDMI connection, as long as you are looking to run your display within the bounds of both connectors’ abilities, you can simply use an adapter or converter cable to switch from one to the other.
That said, HDMI 2.1 has a set of unique features which do give it some notable advantages over DisplayPort 1.4 and won’t carry over if you use a converter.
HDMI 2.1 is the only option if you want to use eARC to simplify your audio cabling for an external A/V system for your TV or other display, as DisplayPort doesn’t offer any kind of function such as that.
HDMI 2.1 and DisplayPort also have vastly different options for cable types and connectors. HDMI 2.1 comes in standard HDMI, Mini HDMI, and Micro HDMI, and you can get Ultra High-Speed HDMI cables (supporting HDMI 2.1 bandwidth and features) as well as Ultra High-Speed HDMI with Ethernet cables, which provide the same functionality but can also support an Ethernet connection.
DisplayPort cables only come in standard and Mini DisplayPort forms, with no option for networking connectivity. However, it can also be delivered over USB-C cables, including USB4 and Thunderbolt 3 and 4.
DisplayPort 1.4 vs. HDMI 2.1 for Gaming
The most common DisplayPort 1.4 vs. HDMI 2.1 head-to-head is when deciding which is best for gaming. Both cable standards offer support for some of the most intense, demanding gaming visuals, but there are some gaming PCs, games consoles, and other devices which are better suited for HDMI 2.1 or DisplayPort 1.4.
If you’re looking to play games on an Xbox Series X/S or PlayStation 5, then an HDMI 2.1 cable is going to be your best bet. It’s the only video-out connector on these current-gen consoles, but though you can use HDMI 2.0 and even older cables, you’ll get the best experience with HDMI 2.1. It unlocks the full resolution and refresh rate support for the consoles, letting you play at 1440p, or even native 4K resolution at up to 120Hz.
The same goes for the Nintendo Switch, although it does only support HDMI 2.0, so you won’t get a great benefit from using an HDMI 2.1 cable. However, since HDMI 2.1 cables that are Ultra High-Speed rated are built to a higher standard than older HDMI cables, you can further guarantee the signal quality that is transmitted when playing your Switch on a TV or other display connected to the dock.
For gaming desktop PCs, however, DisplayPort is still king. If you have an HDMI 2.1 monitor or TV that you want to connect to your PC, by all means, use the HDMI 2.1 port on your graphics card, but note that you won’t be able to use it for multiple monitors without reducing the overall bandwidth available for each display. For every other situation, DisplayPort 1.4 is still a better bet. It provides enough bandwidth for 4K at up to 120Hz, or up to 240Hz for 1440p displays – that gives plenty of headroom for high frame rates at lower detail settings.
DisplayPort is also far more readily available on PCs, so you’ll have plenty of ports to choose from, and it’s easier to set up multiple monitor display systems since you’ll be able to use a single DisplayPort connection for each monitor.
If you’re looking to game on your laptop or tablet, you’ll likely use the built-in display for most of your gaming sessions, but if you want to play on something bigger, you’ll likely be able to use one of the outputs on your device to connect an external display. What you use to do so will be dependent on your laptop, tablet, or another smart device, so that will play a bigger role in your choice of connector than anything else. Very few devices will ship with an HDMI 2.1 output so if you have HDMI and DisplayPort, chances are DisplayPort will be your best bet. Failing that, a USB-C connection that can utilize DisplayPort Alt Mode would be best.
If you’re gaming on your Steam Deck and want the ability to play on a larger screen instead, you’ll be able to take advantage of the Steam Deck Dock to connect to a gaming TV or monitor. However, while the dock does have options for DisplayPort and HDMI, it’s only HDMI 2.0, so in that case, using DisplayPort 1.4 (if you can) would be preferable. You can, if you like, use both connectors simultaneously for multi-screen gaming, as the Steam Deck Dock does support multi-stream transport.
Ultimately DisplayPort 1.4 vs. HDMI 2.1 is a debate that largely comes down to using what’s best available. If you have a display and device that support HDMI 2.1, chances are they’re designed with it in mind and you’ll get the best experience using an HDMI 2.1 cable. Alternatively, if your gaming PC supports DisplayPort 1.4 and you have a compatible monitor, then using that will get you the best experience.
In absolute terms, however, HDMI 2.1 is the more capable and featureful connector, but not every setup will be capable of making the most of it. It also has a contender for its crown on the horizon: DisplayPort 2.0. However, that is largely being skipped over for DisplayPort 2.1, which is almost identical, but features more efficient DisplayPort tunneling over USB-C, and moving forward, all devices will need to meet DisplayPort 2.1 specifications to be certified, offering up to 80 Gbps bandwidth in some cases. Watch this space for an HDMI 2.1 vs. DisplayPort 2.1 explainer in the near future.