If you've owned a high-end monitor or graphics card in the past half a decade, chances are you've come across that asymmetric connector with the L-shaped header. DisplayPort. It's not as commonplace or as universal as HDMI, but it is one of the most important because as far as connectors and cables go, it's far more capable.
But DisplayPort is more than just a cable. It's a set of standards. If you want to get the most out of your PC, your graphics card, or your monitor, then learning what DisplayPort is used for is an important step to take.
At its core, DisplayPort is a digital interface designed to deliver video and audio over a singular cable. Much like HDMI, it can connect a monitor to a data source, like a graphics card, and deliver the video and sound that it's outputting to the display screen.
The DisplayPort connector and cable, as sold by Cable Matters, is most commonly found in its full-size form, where it has 20 pins fitted into an L shape connector. That helps it stand out from more uniform ports like HDMI, USB-A, and USB-C. Also commonplace is its smaller variant, known as Mini DisplayPort, which originally debuted on Apple devices in 2008, before becoming a more commonplace addition to standalone monitors, particularly those with a focus on high-end gaming.
But we would be remiss in describing what is DisplayPort, without also addressing its use as a form factor in other technologies. That's what makes it possible for other protocols, like Intel's Thunderbolt technology, to utilize DisplayPort form factor to deliver data and video across a different cable. In the case of Thunderbolt 3, DisplayPort version 1.2 is supported (more on that below).
Whereas connectors like HDMI are commonly found on mainstream games consoles, televisions, monitors, and graphics cards, DisplayPort is more common in high-end devices. It's often seen in gaming monitors or expensive graphics cards, like Nvidia's RTX 2000 GPUs, or AMD's RX 5700 Navi cards.
How does DisplayPort work?
At a basic level, DisplayPort works just like any other audio and video data connection. You plug one end of the cable into your device, be it a laptop, desktop computer, or external graphics card, and the other into your display. The devices may detect one another and configure things automatically, but you may need to use a remote or the controls on your monitor to manually select the DisplayPort input. It's also possible you'll need to manually set the correct resolution and refresh rate for your display(s).
Once you've done that though, DisplayPort should work just fine.
If you want to know how does DisplayPort work on a more technical level, it utilizes packetized data transmission in a similar manner to Ethernet cables and PCI-Express ports on a motherboard. It is able to transmit what's known as micro packets of data, which embed a clock signal within them, thereby making for a more efficient data transfer stream that can, in turn, support higher resolutions and refresh rates.
This is a great advantage over more traditional display standards and technologies like VGA, DVI, and even HDMI. It, and the more open, expandable nature of DisplayPort, which allows it to be added to and iterated upon over time, make it arguably one of the most important display technologies of the past decade.
What is DisplayPort used for?
The most common use of DisplayPort is in consumer technology. You'll find DisplayPort connectors on high-end PC graphics cards, on certain laptops, and on a number of capable monitors that support higher resolutions and refresh rates. The standard is also incorporated in some USB-C ports and in every Thunderbolt connector, in particular, the latest-generation of Thunderbolt 3, which are found in abundance on Apple products. An easy way to understand how this is works is that although USB-C & Thunderbolt 3 use a different connector than DisplayPort, DisplayPort’s underlying technology, or protocol, is used to send the video information through those ports. This is great news for owners of newer laptops containing only a few USB-C ports, as they can still be connected to DisplayPort and other displays using a number of USB-C display adapters or Thunderbolt 3 adapters.
Although it is becoming more commonplace as the technology evolves, DisplayPort is more typically found in higher-end devices that require the kind of bandwidth and feature support it offers over more mainstream technologies like HDMI. That typically means high-end gaming devices and hardware. Gamers don't necessarily have to use that port, but unless their monitor or TV also supports the newest HDMI 2.1 standard, DisplayPort is effectively mandatory, as the only technology that supports both high resolutions and high refresh rates simultaneously (more on that below).
DisplayPort technology works for both external and internal display connections, too which is why it also acts as the link between many Digital TVs' systems-on-chip controllers and their display panels timing controller, using iDP technology.
Why use DisplayPort?
DisplayPort has a number of advantages from a manufacturing standpoint, from a greater bandwidth to expansive feature sets that can be added to over time, to greater integration with new ports and standards like Thunderbolt. From a consumer's perspective, however, the greatest advantages are in support for higher resolutions and refresh rates, often simultaneously.
Where common HDMI connections like the 2.0 standard can support up to 5K resolution at 30 Hz, and 4K resolution at 60Hz, DisplayPort 1.4 can support double the refresh rates at the same resolution and supports 8K resolution at up to 30Hz. The latest generation of the technology, DisplayPort 2.0, ups the ante even further, supporting up to 16K resolution and up to twin 8K displays at high refresh rates.
An even more simple answer as to why use DisplayPort, though, is that your monitor or graphics card requires it. Chances are both will have an alternative like HDMI or DVI, built-in, but if you have a virtual reality headset, or secondary display already using that technology, then DisplayPort may be all that's left to you.
Fortunately, even if you don't have the DisplayPort connector on the monitor, there are plenty of converter and adapter options you can utilize. You’ll find DisplayPort adapters to connect to HDMI, DVI, VGA, and Mini DisplayPort monitors. It gets a little complicated because some are "Active" while others are "Passive." On a technical level, you'll need an active adapter if your data source, such as your graphics card, doesn't support DisplayPort dual mode, or DP++. Most modern graphics cards do but double check yours before you buy a DisplayPort adapter.
For most users, however, the only real difference is size and price. Active DisplayPort converters tend to be larger and more expensive because they include additional, in-adapter signal processing chips, where passive adapters utilize DP++ to do the heavy lifting for them and are more of a mere physical interface converter. Active DisplayPort adapters are necessary for an Eyefinity multi-display setup where you’re converting to more than 2 monitors.
How many Hz does DisplayPort support?
When we discuss Hz or Hertz, in relation to DisplayPort, what we're really referring to is the kind of monitor refresh rates that DisplayPort supports. In a broad sense, DisplayPort supports just about every mainstream resolution that you might care about, from 30Hz, right up to 240Hz. But when it comes to your particular hardware, how many Hz does DisplayPort support, really depends on how many monitors you're running, what resolution they're set to, and what version of DisplayPort connector you're running them off of.
DisplayPort 1.4 is the most common found on mainstream gaming monitors and graphics cards. It supports the same refresh rates and resolutions as DisplayPort 1.3 (without compression), and can handle 4K at up to 120Hz, two 4K displays at 60Hz, and up to four displays at 2,560 x 1,600 at 60Hz. With Display Stream Compression (DSC) it offers the same resolution and refresh rate support, but with improved color support. Every DisplayPort version since 1.2 has been able to offer 240Hz at 1080p resolution.
The DisplayPort 2.0 standard was only announced by its governing body, VESA, in mid-2019, but when supporting monitors, laptops, and graphics cards start to appear, they will offer higher refresh rates and resolutions than anything else out there. It will add support for two 4K monitors running at up to 144Hz at the same time, or a single 16K display with HDR enabled (with DSC compression).
DisplayPort is for everyone
DisplayPort technology may typically be found in higher-end devices, acting as a more premium connection type to HDMI's mainstream solution. But even as that competing cable standard evolves, DisplayPort is still leaps and bounds ahead in both resolution and refresh rate support, as well as features.
As DisplayPort becomes ever more effective and better integrated with other technologies like Thunderbolt and USB-C, it could well become the dominant display technology standard for years to come. At the very least, it's a standard that you know won't hold back whatever you want to do on your compatible devices.
Where to buy DisplayPort cables?
If you’re looking for DisplayPort cables, Cable Matters has you covered. Cable Matters carries a large array of high-end DisplayPort 1.4 cables – from standard passive cables, to more advanced active cables designed for reliability across longer lengths.
Cable Matters DisplayPort 1.4 Cable
Cable Matters Active DisplayPort 1.4 Cable
Cable Matters Active DisplayPort 1.4 Extension Cable