What port to use to connect to a monitor?

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Steven L. Ken

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If you've recently had to choose which monitor to buy, you've come across the variety of ports on the back of the panel. HDMI, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt, USB-C… A jungle of different interfaces, all with the same purpose: to allow the connection between an audio / video source and a monitor. But what is the best port to use to connect your PC to a monitor and why?

HDMI, the best known standard

HDMI cable and Mini HDMI.

High Definition Multimedia Interface, commonly known as acca-di-emme-i is an audio / video interface used to transmit data from a source (such as a computer) to a monitor, television or other. Surely it is the most common interface, used not only for PCs but also to connect consoles or Blu-ray players. It made its debut in 2002, but it really made its way into consumers' homes around 2008, when over 850 consumer electronics and PC companies officially adopted the HDMI specification, also replacing the popular analog VGA port. The HDMI standard is found in both normal and mini formats.

The HDMI interface is in constant evolution, just think that version 1.0 was able to support 1080p resolution, while the current version 2.1 (not yet widespread enough) can manage un display 10k a 60 frame, with a data transfer rate of 48Gbps. HDMI 2.1 also allows the cascade connection - that is, the possibility of connecting a computer to a monitor, and the latter to a second monitor - but the displays that support this are very few.

Video, audio and ethernet network signal with one cable

Newer versions of this standard also allow you to take advantage of advanced features, such as 3D or ethernet connection (with a special cable). The latter allows video, audio and a network connection to coexist on the same cable. HDMI 2.1 is also compatible with the technology FreeSync, widely used in gaming, helping to eliminate annoying effects on the screen. It also supportsHDR 10+ e Dolby Vision.

HDMI cables are cheap, but our advice is to change them often to keep up with the versions and take full advantage of all the additional features.

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DisplayPort: The gateway for those seeking the most out of a monitor

DisplayPort and Mini DisplayPort cable.

DisplayPort It is the audio / video transfer standard that is rarely heard of among ordinary users, but it has long been the choice of PC enthusiasts. And looking at the technical specifications it is not difficult to ask why. While HDMI 2.1 allows for a bitrate of 48Gbps, DisplayPort 2.0 - the version due out by the end of 2020 - will have a bitrate of 80Gbps.

From the perspective of the average consumer, DisplayPort is almost identical to the HDMI standard. Allows you to transfer audio and video, in 8k 60Hz, which is also sold in a standard and a mini format, and the cables are very cheap.

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Cascade connection and greater color range

As for the gaming sector, however, things are different. DisplayPort allows you to use the cascade connection up to two 4K displays, if your monitor supports it. DP is also compatible with technology FreeSync, before the HDMI 2.1 standard was. In addition to supporting HDR+ e Dolby Vision: means greater brightness and color range. Another feature loved by enthusiasts is that compression allows you to operate via a USB Type C connection, as well as via the traditional DisplayPort cable.

Unlike HDMI, DisplayPort doesn't have any kind of Ethernet support. This is because the standard is primarily used to connect a monitor to a computer, while HDMI is used in a broader sense: AV receivers, televisions, and other consumer electronics devices.

To sum up, if your monitor has HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort, our advice is to choose the latter, for additional features and better picture quality. Also, if you are a macOS user, you must consider that the bitten apple's operating system manages colors better via DisplayPort.

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USB-C, for notebook users

USB-C port of a Dell XPS.

USB-C allows a wide range of uses. The video signal is transmitted through a technology called “USB-C Alt Mode”. Simply put it is DisplayPort technology via a type C socket. The supported resolution and bitrate depend on the DisplayPort standard used, so almost certainly 1.4.

The characteristics are therefore the same as the DP interface, but the main reason for choosing this port is the easy to use: they are in fact found on most of the latest generation modern notebooks. In addition, the video output using USB-C Alt Mode technology also allows the power delivery, that is the ability to charge the laptop and send the video signal to the monitor with a single cable. The important thing is to make sure that the monitor is providing the right power to be able to charge the computer.

The USB-C port is therefore the right choice if your notebook is compatible with the standard, especially if you often work on the move and when you return home you want to charge the laptop and connect it to the monitor with a single cable.

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Thunderbolt 3 port, ideal for connecting a monitor to the Mac ecosystem

Even the standard Thunderbolt, created by Intel in collaboration with Apple, uses the USB-C port and is recognizable by a lightning bolt near the port. However it is a different technology, which offers a bit rate of up to 40Gbps against the 10Gbps of the younger brother. While both standards use the same port, they are not interchangeable - you cannot take advantage of Thunderbolt 3 technology on a device that only supports USB-C. Thunderbolt 3 offers advantages over the latest USB standard thanks to the much higher bandwidth. With just one Thunderbolt cable it is possible to connect two 4K monitors at 60 frames, a 4K monitor at 120 frames or one 5K at 60 frames.

Supporta i cascade connections for up to six devices, including external video cards such as those of Apple (via special docks), thus allowing you to have a thin and light MacBook on the move, but with an external video card that can be connected if necessary. With just one cable it's possible charge your device, transfer data and transmit video signal. Conversely, monitors with Thunderbolt 3 ports aren't cheap, and neither are the cables used. But if you have a Mac don't despair: even monitors with DisplayPort can be connected directly to the Thunderbolt 3 port of your Mac via a special cable. For those with only an HDMI port, however, an adapter will be needed.

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Which one to choose?

The choice depends on what you want to achieve and on the technologies you have available. At the moment the standard HDMI 2.1 it is the best choice as it supports the highest bitrate, with more frames and a high color gamut. But it is still too little widespread: few monitors or TVs implement it.

DisplayPort instead it is preferable to HDMI 2.0, as it has a higher data transfer rate and allows for cascade connection. However, if you are not looking for this feature, you will not notice the difference.

USB-COn the other hand, it is suitable if you have a latest generation laptop that supports “USB-C Alt Mode” technology and want to enjoy power and video output with just one cable. Thunderbolt 3 offers the fastest connection with the highest bitrate. In addition, many devices can be connected in cascade. However, you must consider that the costs are much higher and the technology must be supported both on the computer side and on the monitor side. If you are a Mac user, it is the best choice.

TagsDisplayPort HDMI monitor Thunderbolt USB-C What port to use to connect to a monitor?
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