DisplayPort vs. HDMI: What's the Difference?

DisplayPort vs. HDMI: What's the Difference?

The two most popular cables for connecting gaming consoles and PCs to TVs and monitors are DisplayPort and HDMI. Since both have distinct advantages (and some drawbacks) there's been a friendly DisplayPort vs. HDMI rivalry for well over a decade. Gamers who spotted an imbalance in these connectors on their system might wonder, 'is DisplayPort better than HDMI?'

In many ways it is, but HDMI has some tricks up its sleeve that make the DisplayPort vs. HDMI gaming debate far from settled. If you want to watch movies in 4K or even 8K, there's also an argument to be made for the latest HDMI standard too.

The connectors

One of the most apparent differences between HDMI and DisplayPort connectors is the connector shape and size itself. The standard Type A HDMI connector has 19-pins and is vertically symmetrical. There are less-common Mini and Micro HDMI connectors, which are physically much smaller, but utilize the same 19-pins (albeit, with a different layout).

The standard DisplayPort connector features 20 pins and is largely rectangular, with one notched corner guaranteeing correct orientation. It also includes small hooks that help hold any connected cables in place, requiring a button press to remove them.

It also comes in miniature form, featuring the same pin count, but in a small form factor. Although it originally featured prominently on Apple MacBooks and on some monitors, in 2020, Mini Displayport is much less common, with manufacturers of new devices preferring USB-C.

Standard DisplayPort vs HDMI Port (image credit: Wikipedia)

In general, HDMI connectors are found more commonly on living room devices, while DisplayPort is more commonplace on desktop PCs and laptops. That makes the DisplayPort vs. HDMI gaming debate largely centered around where you want to play. With a gaming console in your lounge? HDMI is likely the better choice. On a desktop PC with a monitor? DisplayPort will be more readily available and likely capable.

DisplayPort vs. HDMI – a head to head

At a fundamental level, DisplayPort and HDMI achieve the same goal. They're a singular cable that can transfer both audio and video connections from a source to a display.

There have been many versions of both connectors over the years, with standards regularly leapfrogging each other as bandwidth improved to support higher resolutions and frame rates, new features, and advanced compression technologies.

In late 2020, the difference between DisplayPort and HDMI very much depends on which versions you're discussing. The two most commonly available standards are DisplayPort 1.4, and HDMI 2.0. Although you'll find more devices that support HDMI than DisplayPort, in this context the answer to the question 'is DisplayPort better than HDMI' is, emphatically, yes.

HDMI 2.0 supports a maximum bandwidth of 18 Gbps, which is enough to handle 4K resolution at up to 60Hz, or 1080p at up to 240Hz. In comparison, DisplayPort 1.4 has a maximum bandwidth of 32.4Gbps, which opens up a much greater resolution and frame rate potential. It supports 4K resolution at up to 120Hz without compression, and 8K resolution at 30Hz – something HDMI 2.0 can't manage, even with reduced chroma subsampling.

That paradigm is set to flip in 2023, however, as more devices and displays begin to support the new, HDMI 2.1 standard, which makes DisplayPort vs. HDMI gaming comparisons far more intriguing.

HDMI 2.1 more than doubles the maximum bandwidth to 48Gbps. That opens up support for 4K resolution at 144Hz or 8K at 30Hz – and far more if you employ Display Stream Compression (DSC).

Both new-generation consoles from Microsoft and Sony support HDMI 2.1, as do the new-generation graphics cards from Nvidia and AMD. Although upgrading to any of these sources and an HDMI 2.1-capable TV wouldn't be cheap, HDMI 2.1 has the potential to settle the DisplayPort vs. HDMI battle.

DisplayPort 2.1 is likely to change things again, but adoption of that standard seems much further off and HDMI 2.1 fills any additional bandwidth demands that exist with current-generation hardware. For now.