Do You Need DisplayPort on Your PC?

All about the next generation of video connectors for PCs

If you want to play video games or watch movies in 4K UltraHD on a desktop monitor, then you'll want to connect it to your PC using a DisplayPort connector. Fortunately, most modern displays and computers support this technology.

An example of a DisplayPort cable
 Belkin

Limitations of Existing Video Connectors

Over the years, computers have used a variety of different video connectors. The VGA standard paved the way for high-resolution color displays, and DVI introduced us to digital displays that allowed for even greater color gamuts and clarity. The HDMI interface integrated a digital video and audio signal into a single cable for use with home theaters and even PC displays.

Each of the three major video connectors has problems that limit their use with future computer displays. Let's take a look at each of the formats and the problems that they have:

VGA

  • Only transfers analog signals
  • Limited to of 640x480 resolutions with 8-bit color
  • Cannot be hot-plugged

DVI

  • Single DVI limited to 1920x1200 resolution with 24-bit color
  • Dual-link DVI limited to 2560x1600 resolution with 24-bit color
  • Heavy cabling requires a connector to be screwed into card/display
  • No audio support

HDMI

  • Version 2.0 supports up to 4K resolutions, but still fairly uncommon
  • Version 1.3 supports up to 2560x1600 resolution with audio stream
  • Version 1.1 supports up to 1920x1200 resolution with audio stream
  • Category 1 cables limited to 5 meters in length

DisplayPort Basics

DisplayPort came about to meet the greater demands of computers and the IT industry. It was developed by the members of the Video Electronics Standards Association, a group of roughly 170 companies that create standards to be used with computer displays. In terms of physical cabling, the DisplayPort cables and connectors look very similar to the USB or HDMI cables that are used today on most computers. The narrow design allows up to four connectors to be placed on a single PCI bracket in a desktop PC.

The major difference between DisplayPort vs HDMI and other video connectors is the amount of simultaneous data it can transmit. The signaling methods used by the DisplayPort connectors allow for a larger amount of data bandwidth over the cable, thus permitting it to expand beyond the current 2560x1600 resolution limits of dual-link DVI and HDMI v1.3 connectors. This is not an issue for older displays, but it is important for the future growth of 4K UltraHD displays that require four times the data bandwidth of typical 1080p video. DisplayPort can also support an 8-channel uncompressed audio stream similar to that of an HDMI connector.

Benefits of DisplayPort

One of the major advances with the DisplayPort system was the addition of an auxiliary channel that can carry additional video or data information for more demanding applications. An example of this can be the connection of a webcam or USB port that is built into the computer display without the need for additional cabling. Some versions of HDMI have added Ethernet to them, but this implementation is rare.

If you're shopping for a 4K monitor, make sure your computer supports DisplayPort so that you have everything you need to see in 4K.

Other Uses for DisplayPort

Because the DisplayPort standards include a method for direct display connections, the technology can also be used inside the physical displays of a monitor or laptop to reduce the number of connectors and wiring required. As a result, fewer electronics are necessary to convert the video signal from the video card into one that can be used to drive the physical LCD panel.

Essentially, the signal that comes from the video card directly controls the physical state of the pixels on the display. This allows for smaller displays with fewer components, which further reduces manufacturing costs. DisplayPort can also be integrated into a wider range of products other than computer displays, PCs, and laptops; smaller consumer devices can integrate the DisplayPort connector for use with compatible LCD displays.

Is DisplayPort Backward Compatible?

While the DisplayPort standards currently don't include any backward-compatible signaling within the physical cable and connectors, the standard does support older display standards including VGA, DVI, and HDMI. Such connections need to be handled through external adapters.

Newer ThunderBolt connectors are essentially the DisplayPort standard with expanded side-channel features. This is not true of all versions though, as ThunderBolt 3 is based on the USB 3.1 standard. If your computer uses ThunderBolt, be sure to check the version to make sure it is compatible with your display.