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What’s the Difference Between HDMI and DVI? Which is Better?

Are you confused by the barrage of video cables available today?  Let’s take a look at the most important video cables today, HDMI and DVI, and see what’s the differences between the two.

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A decade ago, it was much easier to figure out how to get your TV connected to your devices, especially since most people only had a VCR.  Our screens were smaller, the quality was worse, but the world was simpler.  Today you can hardly walk in an electronics store without getting pressured to buy a several hundred dollar HDMI cable just to connect your devices to your TV.  If there’s ever been a confusing time to choose cables and connectors, it’s now.  We’ll try to help you wade through this mess and see what’s really important about the two most common digital video cables of today: HDMI and DVI.

Images Credit Wikimedia (link and link)

Why Cables Anyhow?

image

Wires and cables from jACK TWO on Flickr

We’d all love it if you could just zip your video and audio over the air from your devices to your screens.  While there’s been some progress in this area, frankly it’s not a viable solution for most today.  For now, we’re stuck streaming our media through wires.  In general, they all work the same: the connector contains pins that go into ports on your video output device which transmit video, audio, and more over the wires in the middle.  If you want to get the entertainment off your files and disks and onto your screen, cables are a necessary evil for the time being.

Why not VGA or Composite Video Cable?

image

DIY Component to VGA Adapter via Balazs H on Flickr

The traditional video cables, including VGA and Composite video, transmit analog video signals only.  While this works great for CRT screens, it isn’t preferable for newer LCD screens.  While many current LCD TVs and computer monitors still accept VGA input, they generally work best with DVI or HDMI.

Some video cards and video playback devices, including the new Apple TV, don’t even include VGA or composite outputs, and this will be an increasing trend looking forward.  Even if your current computer and monitor work fine with VGA cables, you’ll still want to know which digital cable is best for future video equipment purchases.

What’s the Difference Between Digital Cables?

The two main digital connectors used on computers and entertainment systems today are HDMI and DVI.  DisplayPort is another newer connector that’s being included on some newer computers, and there are also several mini and micro variants of all three.  Confused yet?  Here’s how to know which is which:

DVI

image

Image via Wikimedia

DVI is one of the most common digital video cables you’ll see on desktops and LCD monitors today.  It’s the most similar to VGA connectors, with up to 24 pins and support for analog as well as digital video.  DVI can stream up to 1920×1200 HD video, or with dual-link DVI connectors you can support up to 2560×1600 pixels.  Some DVI cables or ports may include fewer pins if they are designed for lower resolution devices, so you’ll need to watch for this.  If your port contains all the pins, however, it can support the max resolution with no problem.  The biggest problem with DVI is that it doesn’t support HDCP encryption by default, so if your hardware only includes DVI ports, you may not be able to playback full HD Blu-rays and other HD content.

image

DVI to HDMI convertor image via Wikipedia

You can connect DVI to an HDMI port on a newer monitor with a small digital convertor.  However, since DVI doesn’t support audio, you’ll need to use a separate cable for audio when connecting to an HDMI port.This makes DVI one of the more versatile newer connectors.  It’s both backwards and forward compatible, though at the loss of some convenience.  You can also connect an older monitor that only includes a VGA port with a DVI port easily via a similar DVI to VGA converter if your video output supports analog video.

HDMI

image

Image via Wikimedia

HDMI is the default cable on newer HDTVs, Blu-ray players, Apple TV, many new computers and video cards, and a multitude of other video devices.  HDMI cables and ports are very easy to use, and are almost as easy to connect as USB devices.  No more bent pins; just push and play.  HDMI cables can stream digital video and audio simultaneously over the same cable.  HDMI cables support up to 1920×1200 HD video and 8 channel audio.  They also support HDCP encryption for the newest HD content.  For almost all purposes, a single HDMI cable is all you’ll need to connect your computer or video device to your monitor or TV, and it’s almost the absolute standard digital cable.

DisplayPort

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Image via Wikipedia

DisplayPort is another new video connector that’s being included on newer equipment, especially laptops.  It was designed as the successor to DVI and VGA on computers, but hasn’t seen as much adoption as either DVI or HDMI.  However, it is being included on all newer Macs and many Dell, HP, and Lenovo computers.  It is actually very similar to HDMI, so it streams both HD video and audio on the same cable, and can output up to 1920×1080 resolution and 8 channels of audio on a single cable.

On the good side, DisplayPort does support HDCP, so you can use it to playback protected HD content from Blu-rays and more.  You can also connect it to an HDMI or DVI port with a  convertor, since the digital signal is compatible.  The problem is, few monitors and TVs include DisplayPort ports, so you’ll almost have to have a convertor if you want to connect your laptop to a larger screen.

Do I Need Expensive Cables?

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HDMI Infographic from Mint.com

Cables are often one of the biggest ripoffs in electronics stores today.  You’ve likely noticed HDMI cables in stores that were higher than the TVs they were hanging beside.  So do you need to get a fancy cable for the best HD experience?

No.  Back in the days of VHS tapes and analog TV, a higher quality cable could definitely mean the difference between a clear and a fuzzy picture.  But with digital video and audio, a cable is a cable.  Your cable will just be transferring bits like your Ethernet or other computer cables, and a cheap HDMI cable from Amazon will serve you as well as a Monster cable.  Standard HDMI cables today can be up to 49’ long without any signal loss, so just look for the cheapest cable, plug in your equipment, and enjoy.

So Which Digital Cable is Best?

In our opinion, HDMI is the cable and connector to stick with.  It’s the default connector on most devices and screens, compatible with HD content including HDCP protected Blu-ray, and can carry video, audio, and more all on one cable.  One cable and you’re done.  For now, it’s the cable and connector we recommend you standardize on.

Now, if you already have equipment using DVI, VGA, or other cables, and it works fine for you, don’t feel like you need to rush out and change it, because you don’t.  You might get better quality from using digital cables if your devices support it, but unless you have a very large monitor or TV it can be hard to tell the difference.  Technology companies thrive on making people feel like they constantly have to upgrade, but often if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it is a good policy to follow.

The good thing is, now if you buy a new TV, computer monitor, video card, or other video device, you’ll know what you’re looking for.  Make sure your new devices support HDMI, and you should be able to use them with a wide range of video equipment for years to come.  And don’t fall prey to the high-pressure sales tactics trying to get you to buy a $2,200 HDMI cable; a cheap one from Amazon will usually be all you need, so you can save your cash for more HD content to pump through that shiny cable.

Questions?  Comments?  Shout-out in the comments below!

Matthew digs up tasty bytes about Windows, Virtualization, and the cloud, and serves them up for all to enjoy!

  • Published 10/20/10

Comments (53)

  1. dr_pek

    I’m using a GBP1.50 HDMI cable from an online auctione site to stream media over ethernet (via HD TV live) and there is no difference to a friends setup using a GBP30 cable. Massive improvement going from composite to HDMI though, if you haven’t yet, do it.

  2. Elizabeth

    Thank you for this post explaining these cables that have been overwhelming for me for quite sometime!

    I did have a ‘salesperson’ sell me a monster HDMI cable for $150.00 however, when I found out that there was no difference, I returned the cable and ordered from amazon. Your explanation has shed some light !

    I appreciate this website very much and look forward to learning more and more each day.

    Gratefully yours,
    Elizabeth

  3. Coleness

    I love this site!! I swear every day I think of a little question I have about my computer- there’s the daily How-To-Geek newsletter ready to answer. Mr. Johnny on the spot! Keep up the good work guys/gals. This site is a life saver.

  4. Dorsen

    you didn’t answer the fundamental question for a geek like me: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE? You simply gave a brief overview of both without comparing them….

  5. Matthew Guay

    @Dorsen – Ok, sorry if it wasn’t clear enough. DVI is a digital cable that can carry analog (VGA) video as well. It’s more clunky, and still uses pins more like VGA cable, but it does carry HD digital video without audio. HDMI, on the other hand, is a smaller connector, easier to use, more like USB. It can carry both digital HD video and audio, so you’ll only need one cable for both.

    Does that make more sense?

  6. Matthew Guay

    Everyone: Thanks for the kind words. We’re very glad you find our article helpful; our readers are the reason we keep at it. Thanks for the support, and hope we keep answering your tech questions for years to come! :)

  7. Withanamelikedave

    Mirage?

    Thanks for the article. If someone asked me if DVI supported audio, I woulda hadda google, but now I know the answer.

  8. Matthew Guay

    @Withanamelikedave – Oops … should have been barrage. Fixed now … thanks ;)

    Glad you found the article helpful!

  9. Steve Stone

    Things missed..
    Does analog COMPONENT (not composite) provide video output quality as good as DVI or HDMI?
    HDMI is sound + video, but due to different interpretations of the HDMI standard, many times
    there are audio problems with HDMI connections.
    HDMI encoding supports digital rights management (do not record flag, etc.), DVI does not support digital rights management.

  10. Michael

    Even without the current HD upgrade craze, there are/were some crazy profits to be made on cable. I used to work for a large employer in the electronics biz, just a couple of blocks from a chain computer store – the standard price for, say, a SCSI cable was $50, or for an RS232 DB25 was $15 or $20. If you flashed your ID badge, you could get nearly any cable in the store for under $5, no matter how long or how many pins!

  11. Matthew Guay

    @Steve – Thanks for the input. As far as DRM goes, I did mention that: DVI can support DRM, but only partly, so usually if something is HDCP encoded, it will not playback in full HD with DVI. Then, component video … to be honest, I’ve never used it. Most consumers just used composite video for analog, and component is even more complicated. So, yes, component can support HD video (up to 1080p), but it’s still analog. Here I was mostly trying to give a mile-high overview of the different common digital cable options.

  12. Matthew Guay

    @Michael – Ouch, that’s bad. Reminds me of the $10/disk blank DVDs I saw earlier this year … or the photo shop in town here that has a 128Mb SD card for $30 still. Crazy!

  13. Dan

    Thanks, very useful information.

  14. bostonblakie

    Thanks for the informative article. I still cannot figure out how to get “closed captions” to show when using the HDMI picture option for hi-def. If I switch to another picture option (cable, TV, etc.) on my Sony hi-def they come in fine. Very annoying since the captions are a big help to me in picking up ALL of the audio dialog.

  15. Paul

    You know, I used to care a lot about these stinking comparisons because of the size of the investment I had to make just to get the cables, but since I found a cheap place to get quality cables, I haven’t really invested a lot of time worrying about DVI/HDMI… I just buy the HDMI cable and go on my way.

    It was kind of funny, I originally found the company while looking for wall-monitor-stands for a project in a local church; I was frustrated with the cost of stands at “Best Buy” because any common fool with some spare time and a bit of scrap metal could make one for next to nothing. I, being an uncommon fool and having no scrap metal, preferred to purchase one already fabricated. Fortunately, being part of the IT Dept means I get to talk to people even nerdier than I am and they told me about “Bestlink Netware.”

    My God, I can practically by an HDMI cable in grains of rice. Hallelujah.

    Now, if only someone would make a way to hack the firmware on my RCA TV to crank up the back-light, all my TV needs would be met…

  16. morris

    I was given a cheap HDMI CABLE by a tv tech. I hooked it up. why do I get a hesitation and a NO SIGNAL SIGN before picture comes on .

  17. Paul

    @morris

    To clarify: You turn the TV on and receive a no signal screen that eventually goes away? How long does the “no signal” screen stay up? Are you turning on the TV before you turn on the component on the other end of the HDMI cable (such as your Blu-Ray player)?

    If so, this is very easy to fix. Follow the simple steps below:

    Turn on your component, first.
    Turn on your TV.

  18. Justin Garrison

    Displayport 1.2 can actually output 2560×1600 and monitors can be daisy chained together (if your monitors support it). This would allow you to have up to 4 1920×1080 monitors plugged in with just a single display port on your computer. Displayport supports >17 Gbps bandwidth while Dual link DVI is ~8 Gbps and HDMI 1.4 ~10 Gbps.
    The biggest difference for manufactures (and why PC manufactures are moving to displayport) is because HDMI costs the manufacturer $.04 /port in royalties and $10,0000 /yr just to be able to make the port (not including the actual material to make it). While Displayport is royalty free and has better specs. Anything HDMI can do, Displayport can do better.
    Also, DVI in computers can carry an audio signal but you will need a DVI to HDMI adapter to actually use that audio on your monitor/TV. It is up to the manufacturer if they put in this support but a lot of newer media devices have the support built in. You just need to make sure your drivers are configured properly and you will get audio/video out of your DVI port if you use an HDMI adapter.

  19. Dwayne

    For the most part I agree with this article, there is little difference between cable except now with the newer standards formats 1.3/1.3a vs 1.4/1.4a on HDMI which the 1.4s being the newer version that allows more commnunication between devices for 3D sycronization. Now a higher quality cable could be a better choice if you have it around a lot of other electrical devices because they have more shielding and braided covers if it is a device you move like a game system but there is no need to go above $10-$25 depending on where you shop. I have all 6′ Belkin cable except for the my Xbox 360 which has a 12′ Mad Catz because the club store where I normally bought the Belkin cables was closed when I got XBox 360 so I bought the Mad Katz for a few dollars more but it was also twice the length. The Mad Katz in truth is the cheaper made cable and I have had interference with it, but no problem with the Belkin cable at all. These cables are around a lot of electrical equiptment in my home theater system, which include new and old, still having a VCR along with the Xbox 360, a dvd htb, a recently built htpc with Blu-Ray, all in one printer, dual band wireless N router, cordless phone hooked through a VOIP and multiple external drives. Needless to say I have cables and power cords all over the place behind my sytem on the floor so shielding is something I need in a cable. Still I only paid @$17 a piece for my HDMIs except the 12′ which was @$23.

  20. Grant Johnson

    @Steve

    The answer is, of course, it depends. What is your source? How high quality is it?

    Component video is analog, which means that it has the potential to be better, but only in very high end gear, and only if the entire signal path is analog. If your source is a very high end broadcast camera connected directly in, then it could be better, but not enough that you would likely notice.

    On the other hand, once it is digital, the less switching back and forth the better. If your source is digital, like Blu-Ray or broadcast HD, then a digital interconnect will give you the best quality.

    In audio terms, a $20,000 reel to reel analog tape deck will sound better than any CD player, but a $200 CD player will sound better than any $200 tape deck.

  21. Jeff

    Colleagues:

    Since we are addressing cables, does anyone know where I can get a male 3.5mm stereo to USB cable to use with an iPod touch? If I play the iPod via the USB on my car radio, I can control the song selections, etc.

    The docking cable doesn’t work well for this as the iPod wasn’t design to playback via that connection.

    Any thoughts are appreciated.

    Thanks – [ Jeff ]

  22. Alex

    Also, don`t diss the VGA,man. I used DVI on my LCD monitor and got splitting headaches because of the locked 60 Hz refresh rates. On D-Sub I can choose 75 and not get a head shattering ache after 5 minutes.

  23. Grant Johnson

    @Jeff

    The connection is not that simple. The control happens because it is a digital cable with more than just audio. The 3.5mm is just two channels of audio.

    Also, your question was unclear, where should the 3.5 connect to, and where should the USB connect to? Which end goes to the iPod, and which end goes to the car? What is not working well when using the docking cable?

  24. Darin

    http://www.monoprice.com

    and now, you will never spend stupid amounts of money on cables again.

    all of my gear is connected with monoprice cables, they are super heavy duty and extremely cheap.

  25. mikycomputers

    Good article, thanks for this.

  26. M3rkin

    Thanks for the article!

    It would probably good to also mention something about the different versions of HDMI like Dwayne and and Justin brought up…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HDMI#Versions

  27. Nikhil Dev

    Monster are definitely a ripoff. I bought a logitech HDMi for 25USD. Just superb. Its gold plating and all that jazz. And its 12 ft. Plus, nylon outer. Its so string that I can hang on it. 2 yrs. Works as good as new.

  28. Flapjack

    I just found my reason not to recommend HTG. To OVER simplify digital transmission to this level is novice at best and misleading to the public. By the way. Ph.D Physics, MSEE, MSME. I think that I can clearly comment on the subject.

  29. Mario

    I beg to differ, as an enthusiast, who has played around with equipment, just getting any cheap cable ain’t gonna do the trick.

  30. Jim

    We have to start mentioning potential game changer HDBaseT.
    http://www.hdbaset.org/
    Now that’s something to look forward to!

  31. Dan

    As someone who has only bought cheap HDMI cables in the past, I have a question that maybe someone here can help me with. Occasionally, I’ll lose video (but not audio) for a second or two while watching video via HDMI. Its always DRM free video, and its happened the same way on two different sources (an Xbox 360 and an HTPC with an ATI Radean video card). The HDMI cable goes from the source to a Pioneer receiver, another HDMI cable connects the receiver to my Philips TV. I use composite video on the xbox now (composite into the receiver and into the tv), and have never seen the “blackouts” through that connection. Usually the blackouts happen in succession, maybe two to four in a row. It happens once every few hours. Again, this happens for any video, even if it’s just the desktop view of my HTPC, and audio always stays 100% the whole time. Do I need high speed HDMI cables? I think I’m using 1.3 (3 6′ cables for $15 from Meritline), which is compatible with the reciever (not sure about the TV). I haven’t tried going straight from the source to the TV because I can’t stand the audio from my TV speakers.

    Any insight would be great!

  32. John Kirkham

    One point you’re missing from the article when talking about DVI cables, is the 2 types of cable. There is normal DVI, then there is DVI-D (D being digital).

    For instance, you can hook up multiple screens using a single ATI video card (Eyefinity – on 5000 series cards) but they must be DVI-D. DVI gives you just single screen viewing.

  33. Bill

    Great article, cleared up a lot of questions ,Thanks… But, have a question. Have Cable Company DVR ; Installer hooked up “5 Composite Video Cables” to TV, I changed to HDMI (Better Pic) now I want to hook up a DVD Recorder between TV (Sony Flat Screen) and Cable DVR. (which has Composite Video Outs, but no HDMI Out) The DVD Recorder has “Composite Video” Input and HDMI Output. TV has several HDMI input slots. What’s the best way to wire???

  34. dr_pek

    @flapjack

    You can’t just say this is a useless article, add you credentials and not backup your statement with a sound argument. Please enlighten us with your vast knowledge and we can judge for ourselves whether this overview of digital cables is worthy of your criticism :-)

  35. Bryan

    Awesome stuff thanks for sharing and the effort to go through all the types of commonly used cables out there and detailing them as well.

  36. florence luc

    what kind of cable do you use to transfer pictures from a digital camera to a digital picture frame? Thank you

  37. Matthew Guay

    @florence – You’d usually use a USB cable to transfer pictures from your camera … you should have one that came with your camera.

  38. Adam

    You actually recommend HDMI over DisplayPort? Really? Have you checked your geek credentials out? Seriously.. as Justin Garrison pointed out, the technical and monetary benefits of DisplayPort are just that good. I still fail to understand why more monitor manufacturers aren’t pushing DisplayPort enough yet. It’s coming.. and HDMI will not survive unless this really is Betamax vs. VHS again.

  39. Matthew Guay

    @Adam – Actually, I’m afraid this is Betamax vs. VHS again, but it’s hard to say. Here’s where I’m coming from. HDMI is already in almost everything, ranging from computer monitors to video cards to Blu-ray players to the Apple TV and more. It’s already entrenched, and it works. DisplayPort is in far fewer devices, mainly computers, so that makes it less interpretable with living room video equipment.

    In my opinion, it’s similar to HD-DVD vs. Blu-ray. I would have chosen HD-DVD if I was picking a winner; thankfully I never bought either, so I had nothing to lose. HD-DVD had many reasons it was superior, and many geeks chose it. Which one won? Blu-ray. There’s many superior technologies that have gotten left behind (Betamax, HD-DVD, Firewire, and tons more) because the market leader was already entrenched. This is why I recommend looking for HDMI support. It’s something you can almost guarantee will work with everything else. DisplayPort may win eventually, but for now, that’s what I feel comfortable recommending.

  40. chris

    In the UK
    Blu-ray is fast becoming another Betamax.

    Sales are very poor and rentals are the lowest of any format according to Blockbuster.

    Its good, but the difference does not justify the enormous cost overheads.

    Same will happen with 3D TV
    an overpriced gimmick, nothing else, you heard it hear first!

  41. Yuri

    My graphics card has HDMI and DVI-I DL ports and my 20″ computer monitor has DVI-I DL and VGA ports. Is it better to connect HDMI to DVI or DVI to DVI? Thanks.

  42. StevenTorrey

    This is helpful. Being the idiot I am, the whole thing sorta goes over my head. There is little on the computer that I want to see on TV. Yet I would probably by the ‘wrong’ cable at the greater expense. And now that my 7 year old Samsung tube TV is going kaflooey, I have to soon buy a flatscreen TV. Tube TVs cannot be bought except at thrift stores. Living in small apartment, I certainly don’t want anything larger than a 19 inch screen. So buying the right TV with the right cable to connect to the computer which I don’t really need–in the same way that I need food–becomes important. HDMI which can stream simultaneously both video and audio works… Thanks.

  43. A_V

    While this is useful, instead of Amazon I’d suggest Monoprice for buying any cables. Rarely have I found a better overall price (including shipping) than through them – Plus they have always done well whenever I ordered from them.

  44. steve baker

    Great explanation. I have just purchased a video card with HDMI output. When I hooked it up to my 1920 x 1080P monitor, the image had a one inch black boundary along all sides. Furthermore the image was blurry and the text on the desktop icons was fuzzy. I am told this is a common problem and you can fix it through video card setup, could you walk us through this procedure?

  45. andy smith

    hi im having the same problem as steve I have a video card with HDMI output. When I hooked it up to my 1920 x 1080P monitor, the image had a one inch black boundary along all sides. Is there a fix for this it works on the other vga and dvi ports

  46. TechGeek01

    It may be just me, or does anyone else see that the very first picture (right below the title) says HDWI instead of HDMI?

  47. Samson Sailo

    Here is my Question..

    What happen if we used both HDMI and DVI cables at the same time ?

  48. michael

    Hi I’m trying to connect my pc to my hdtv via hdmi but I keep getting a blank scren with no signal… I’ve tried it on 2 tvs and got the same thing
    Thanks

  49. Sheila Tenney

    I have read all of your posts and I am a bit confused. Some of you know much more about cable hookups than I can absorb. I bought a new pc 1 week ago (5 yrs old, blue screen) – everything video worked fine using DVI, and all video possible ports are VGA/DVI/HDMI. Worked great on DVI until I let my grandson share the monitor on his pc (long term power failure – hurricane Irene). Now, the DVI connection will not work – my pc keeps telling me to ‘check video cable’. I have the pc hooked up now to VGA, but I’m wondering should I buy an HDMI cable? If I do, will I have to switch out the basic audio input/output as well? Was thinking of going to Radio Shack – should I go to Best Buy or Amazon instead?

    Thanks much!

  50. saad ahmad

    thank you very much for your post. i has given me a lot of understanding between all three cables
    thank you,
    for ur post

  51. Jatin

    @Steve and Andy

    Use “Auto Image Adjust” feature of your monitor/tv, that should solve your black boundary problem.
    I had similar problem using HDMI to connect PC and TV/monitor and that trick solved it. (Worked on ViewSonic monitor and LG 47″ tv).

    Hope this helps.

  52. lekshmikanth k

    i have some doubts, i have a G2222HDL BENQ monitor i want to connect the HD dish set top box to this . i have one DVI cable but the set top box is having a hdmi port. now my dobts are (i) how can i connect this HD set top box to my monitor ,(ii) as there are no speakers in the monitor even if i connect the HDMI cable how will i get the audio?(iii) will i be able to get the full HD channels desplayed in the desired quality ? (iv) how will i switch between set top box and computer as computer will be connected through VGA cable?
    thank u for considering these doubts

  53. christian

    umm my video cardon my pc has only dvi connection and rihgt above is all other inputs and outputs or wat nots if i wer to use an hdmi cable insted will i still be using the video cards capabilitys im thinking it should but just wondering or do i need a video card with hdmi input as well

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