Some displays rely on a technology called Display Stream Compression (DSC) to display large resolutions at high frame rates. While the feature is commonly associated with the DisplayPort standard, HDMI devices may leverage it too.
So what is DSC, and how does it differ from other types of compression?
Display Stream Compression Is Lossless
Compression is the act of squeezing data so that it takes up less space. In the case of DSC, this compression is necessary since display standards like DisplayPort 1.4 and HDMI 2.1 are limited to 32.4 Gbps and 48 Gbps respectively.
Unlike lossy compression used in JPEG images or MP3 audio files, DSC is visually lossless which means you won’t notice it while in use. Using DSC will allow you to reach higher resolutions and faster refresh rates on supported displays, and some monitors require it in order to hit peak performance.
Another use for DSC is to enable multiple monitors to run at high resolutions and framerates through the use of hubs.
Using DSC with DisplayPort and HDMI
DSC is used in both the DisplayPort 1.4 and HDMI 2.1 standards. DisplayPort 1.4 can only support 4K resolution in HDR at 60Hz in full 10-bit color natively, but with DSC this is increased to 4K 120Hz (HDR) or 8K at 60Hz.
HDMI 2.1 goes even further, with support for 8K 60Hz in full 12-bit color natively (or 4K HDR at 120Hz in full 12-bit). Add DSC to the mix to enable up to 10K 120Hz in 12-bit color, which requires nearly triple (120.29 Gbps) the bandwidth that HDMI 2.1 provides (48 Gbps).
DSC is something that should “just work” provided you have the right hardware for the job. For use with DisplayPort you will need a DisplayPort 1.4 cable, source device, and compatible monitor, while HDMI connections require a HDMI 2.1 capable cable, and support on both the source and display.
The first HDMI 2.1 source devices arrived on the market in 2020 with the arrival of the Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5, and NVIDIA’s 30-Series graphics cards. DisplayPort 2.0 further improves on 1.4, taking the maximum bandwidth from 32.4 Gbps to 77.37 Gbps, more than doubling the bandwidth and allowing for native, uncompressed 4K HDR at 120Hz support.
Coming to a USB Port Near You
The USB 4.0 standard supports DisplayPort Alt Mode 2.0 to allow for up to 16K resolutions in a single display thanks to DSC. DisplayPort 1.4 can already be used over USB-C to enable up to 8K at 60Hz, but 2.0 devices will see a huge boost in bandwidth capacity.
Learn more about how USB 4.0 will further cement the USB-C connector as the new default connection for charging, transferring data, and even driving a display.
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