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There are so many different ways to connect video sources to TVs and monitors these days — and it can get confusing, especially because so many of these ports and connectors have become obsolete over the years.

This means that there are a lot of devices out there in the world with many different types of video connections. But what are the differences between them all? Which ones do you need to care about? What’s the bottom line?

In this article, we’ll explore the most prominent cable types of today and when you may want to use each one.

VGA

The Video Graphics Array (VGA) is one of the oldest connection standards which can still be found in large swaths of computing equipment. It was first developed by IBM and introduced in 1987. It was widely used for video cards, TV sets, computer monitors, and laptops Two Monitors for an Extended Desktop: 3 Things You Should Check First Two Monitors for an Extended Desktop: 3 Things You Should Check First You'd think that all you'd have to do is plug any video display into the computer port on your laptop or PC. Well, it's a little more complicated than that. Read More .

PPBR via Shutterstock
Image Credit: PPBR via Shutterstock

VGA can support resolutions up to 640 x 480 in 16 colors, although you can increase the colors to 256 by lowering the resolution to 320 x 200. This is known as Mode 13h and is commonly used when booting your computer into Safe Mode. It’s also the mode that was used in computer gaming back in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

VGA-Connection-Shutterstock
Image Credit: Choksawatdikorn via Shutterstock

The VGA cable can carry RGBHV video signals: Red, Green, Blue, Horizontal Sync, and Vertical Sync. The VGA socket is made up of 15 pins in three rows of five pins, and typically colored blue. The cable socket is securely attached to the device using two screws, one on each side of the socket.

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It is rarely used today and is mostly found on older hardware, having been largely replaced by the digital DVI and HDMI connections, which we explore later in this article.

RCA

The famous red, white, and yellow setup of the RCA connector was once the most popular and widespread connection type for audio/visual devices.

dugwy39 via Shutterstock
Image Credit: dugwy39 via Shutterstock

While they are often referred to as RCA cables, RCA actually refers to the metal connectors at the end of the cables, named after the Radio Corporation of America which popularized the connection type.

Vladimir Zhupanenko via Shutterstock
Image Credit: Vladimir Zhupanenko via Shutterstock

The cables themselves are red and white audio cables and yellow for single channel composite video. The three cables together are able to transmit stereo audio along with video up to 480i or 576i resolution — where the i refers to interlaced video Graphic Display Resolutions - What Do The Numbers Mean? [MakeUseOf Explains] Graphic Display Resolutions - What Do The Numbers Mean? [MakeUseOf Explains] Display resolutions can be a rather cryptic business, with multiple standards used to describe the same display resolution in 10 different ways. All of those technical terms tend to change based on the display's purpose... Read More .

Just as with VGA, the once-popular RCA connector has been superseded by the digital DVI and HDMI connections.

DVI

More than a decade after IBM introduced VGA, the Digital Display Working Group launched the digital successor, DVI, in 1999. DVI, which stands for Digital Visual Interface, can transmit uncompressed digital video in one of three different modes:

  • DVI-I (Integrated) combines digital and analog in the same connector.
  • DVI-D (Digital) supports digital signals only.
  • DVI-A (Analog) supports analog only.
PPBR via Shutterstock
Image Credit: PPBR via Shutterstock

DVI-I and DVI-D can come in single- or dual-link varieties. Single-link can support 1920 x 1200 at 60 Hz, while adding a second digital transmitter for dual-link means the resolution can be increased to 2560 x 1600 at 60 Hz.

In order to prevent forced obsolescence of VGA devices, DVI was developed to support analog connections using the DVI-A mode. This meant that DVI connections and devices could be backwards-compatible with VGA connections.

Mini-DVI

Apple is infamous for always trying to make their devices thinner and lighter. Most people think of this as a relatively recent development, but they’ve been at it since at least 2006 when they decided to move on from the mini-VGA port. In its place, they developed the mini-DVI connector.

Wijit Wongwijit via Shutterstock
Image Credit: Wijit Wongwijit via Shutterstock

It was included in the PowerBook G4, Intel-based iMacs and Macbooks, and Xserve. The mini-DVI doesn’t support dual-link connections and so was always limited to resolutions of 1920 x 1200 or less. This, in conjunction with advancing technology, led Apple to discontinue the use of mini-DVI in 2008 and replace it with Mini DisplayPort connections instead.

HDMI

HDMI, or High Definition Media Input, is a proprietary but wildly successful digital audio and video transfer interface. HDMI was created by a group of electronics manufacturers — including Sony, Sanyo, and Toshiba — to transfer video (uncompressed) and audio (either uncompressed or eight-channel compressed) to computer monitors, digital TVs, and DVD or Blu-ray players.

PPBR via Shutterstock
Image Credit: PPBR via Shutterstock

As of HDMI 1.4, it can support 24-bit uncompressed audio at 192 kHz and video resolutions up to 4096 x 2160, which is also known as 4K or Ultra HD What's the Difference Between 4K and Ultra HD? What's the Difference Between 4K and Ultra HD? Thinking of buying a new TV or monitor but feeling lost with all of the terminology like 4K and Ultra HD? Here's everything you need to know about it. Read More . As HDMI uses the same video format standards as DVI, the two are compatible through an adapter. As no signal conversion is necessary, there is no loss of quality either (although unlike HDMI, DVI does not support audio).

HDMI-Types-Amazon

There are three commonly used HDMI connectors. Type A is the full-sized HDMI connection for use on TVs and home theater equipment. Mini-HDMI (Type C) is commonly used on laptops and tablets, while Micro-HDMI (Type D) is mostly used on mobile devices.

DisplayPort

DisplayPort is a digital display interface developed by the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA). DisplayPort can carry digital video and audio, making it functionally similar to HDMI. As of DisplayPort 1.4, there is support for resolutions up to 8K (7680 x 4320) at 60 Hz, which surpasses even HDMI 1.4.

PPBR via Shutterstock
Image Credit: PPBR via Shutterstock

However, HDMI and DisplayPort were designed for different markets. While HDMI was made primarily for home entertainment, DisplayPort was designed for connecting computing devices to monitors. Due to their similar functionality, it is possible to connect DisplayPort and HDMI devices together using a Dual-Mode DisplayPort adapter.

DisplayPort operates using packet data transmission which is commonly used in Ethernet and USB connections, and that’s what makes it ideal for use in computing as opposed to home entertainment.

Mini DisplayPort

PPBR via Shutterstock
Image Credit: PPBR via Shutterstock

Apple replaced the mini-DVI connection on their Macbooks and iMacs with their own take on DisplayPort, known as Mini DisplayPort (MDP). Although Apple created MDP, it was incorporated into VESA’s DisplayPort 1.2 specification in 2009.

Thunderbolt

Thunderbolt is an interface used to connect peripheral devices to a computer. It was originally developed by Intel under the name of Light Peak and used optical cables for data transfer (hence the name Light Peak). After extensive testing, Intel found they could make it cheaper with copper cables without impacting performance.

Apple was the first manufacturer to bring Thunderbolt to the market in their MacBook Pro models in 2011. When Thunderbolt debuted, it was able to use the MDP connector that Apple had created, meaning the new connection would be backwards-compatible.

Thunderbolt-Intel

One of the biggest advantages of Thunderbolt over DisplayPort is the high speed of data transfer. Versions 1 and 2 of Thunderbolt could transfer at a rate of 20 GB/s using the MDP connector. Thunderbolt 3 will increase this Thunderbolt 3: What It Is & Why You Need to Start Using It Thunderbolt 3: What It Is & Why You Need to Start Using It Thunderbolt 3 may just be the only device cable you need to know about anymore. It's so awesome that it's making everything else obsolete. Here's what you need to know. Read More to 40 GB/s by using the USB Type-C connector in place of the MDP.

Using one Thunderbolt port, it is possible to connect up to six peripherals Use a Thunderbolt Daisychain to Connect Your Mac Accessories Like a Boss Use a Thunderbolt Daisychain to Connect Your Mac Accessories Like a Boss Not many people know what daisy chaining is, why it's useful, or why Thunderbolt is so important for it. Read More  through a technique called daisy-chaining, which reduces the amount of ports needed on a device.

Thunderbolt is able to carry audio either using the DisplayPort protocol or by using USB audio cards. As of Thunderbolt 2, there was support for DisplayPort 1.2 specifications, which allowed for 4K streaming to a 4K monitor.

The Simplification Factor

If you’re still confused, the good news is that the world is moving towards a unified standard. HDMI Licensing recently announced that in order to connect to an HDMI device, all you will need is a compatible USB Type-C to HDMI cable Everything You Need to Know About HDMI Alt Mode and USB Type-C Everything You Need to Know About HDMI Alt Mode and USB Type-C The new HDMI Alt Mode standard will allow phones and tablets to stream directly to monitors and TVs using USB-C-to-HDMI cables. Here's all you need to know about it. Read More which can run in “Alt Mode”.

This is one part of the industry’s larger push to simplify cabling. Standardization is possible — remember all of the proprietary mobile device chargers that existed before the micro-USB standard? It’s like that, except this time the industry is pushing USB Type-C as the next all-in-one standard for audio, video, power, and all other connections.

Apple is so certain of this future that at their 2016 Fall event they launched a Macbook Pro Apple Unveils New Touchy-Feely MacBook Pro Apple Unveils New Touchy-Feely MacBook Pro Apple has taken the wraps off of its brand new MacBook Pro. It's a beautifully designed piece of hardware, with several innovative touches and some annoying caveats potential buyers will have to beware. Read More which exclusively uses USB Type-C ports for all connections and power. While this might take a while to become the standard connection, the future is starting to take shape where you may not need a hundred different cables just to watch video content.

What do you think: will USB Type-C replace your video cables? Which is your preferred connection? Which do you have in your collection? Let us know in the comments below!

Originally written by Simon Slangen on September 3, 2012

  1. DB
    October 27, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    Can you identify a DVI looking connecter (on the back of a PC) with 3 rows of 10 = 30 pins? No identifying information on the video card, sticker on the video board says "MIC G012-01-3461", text print on chip "Silicon Image" . Compaq EVO D500 CMT 845 BU ALL.
    Thanks

  2. The Boss
    May 17, 2016 at 1:30 am

    What about DisplayPort?

  3. Santana
    April 25, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    I have a monitor and tried using a hdmi cable to connect to laptop. I wanted to view what I see on laptop on monitor. The monitor is bigger and better screen quality. Why doesn't the hdmi cable work? I am going to buy a VGA cable and see if that'll work.

  4. Mervyn Erasmus
    March 17, 2016 at 6:25 am

    Hi there... I would like to know what is the two round adapters for in the SVGA cable.
    I hope someone can answer me on this...

  5. yuriboyka415@gmail.com
    December 18, 2015 at 5:01 am

    hello guyz can i use HDMI TO HDMI both to my MONITOR TO CPU..my Videocard has a HDMI port and DVI, VGA.my monitor has a HDMI AND VGA port.however my main question is that can i use HDMI TO HDMI TO MY MONITOR TO MY CPU in my videocard?

    • subhasish nayak
      March 22, 2016 at 11:51 am

      yes, u can

  6. Ed
    December 4, 2015 at 10:24 am

    Someone wants to e-date me? I am hot irl. Name is Ed. Got six pack and stuff. Not muscles but six packs of chips. xoxoxo you could be mine today, yummy xx

  7. Edward kings lyn
    December 2, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    love you xxx

    • Owen Pow
      December 2, 2015 at 12:10 pm

      me too xxx

  8. Michael Weldon
    October 13, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    Still using VGA here; it's always been, and always WILL be, the most reliable of the bunch.....

  9. All Smartlife
    September 15, 2015 at 8:31 am

    All Smart Life was established in 2002 and has been a leading manufacturer in the production of HDTV Cables, Computer Cables, solar systems parts and OEM Manufacturing in Anaheim,CA

    In 2007 ,to be the exclusive Sales and Marketing representatives for North America and Europe. We set up sales offices & design house in both the Hong Kong and San Diego.

    TWe offer a wide product range that includes USB3.1 TYPE C, HDMI Cables, DVI Cables, Computer Cables, USB Cables, 1394 Cables, Fiber Optic Cables along with a variety of accessory products.

    Founded under the principles of “Best Quality, Best Service”, we have taken great strides to ensure that all of our products are manufactured under strict QA/QC Procedures that are documented during all aspects of the manufacturing process. These written quality control procedures are followed from the raw material stage to the final packaging of the product.

    Our products are exported to countries around the world following all of the safety, testing and protocols each country requires. ASL offers factory-direct pricing and quality-tested products that will meet and exceed your expectations.

    We look forward to having the opportunity to demonstrate our strengths to you!

  10. Dyhannie Jae
    July 17, 2015 at 9:59 am

    My laptop has only HDMI port and the projector has VGA port. what solution can you suggest? i have a hdmi to vga cable. do i need a converter for it to work?

  11. Nirjhar Garg
    March 16, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    I have a old Samsung Plasma TV that does not have any HDMI port. It does have a DVI-D port though. With every streaming device now having only a HDMI port, I intend using a HDMI-to-DVI-D-converter to connect my ROKU box with this Plasma TV. Would I still get the audio out of my ROKU using HDMI-DVI converter into the TV?

  12. Jenny
    March 12, 2015 at 6:34 am

    HDMI is compatible with VGA as well yes?
    I just want to confirm so I know what I'm doing when I go buy adapters/converters because I want to connect an external monitor to my laptop.
    My laptop sadly only has HDMI (ugh) while the external monitor has both VGA & DVI-D...
    So it seems like an HDMI & DVI-D converter works!
    But I wonder if that is maybe the best connection for me? :)
    Would HDMI/DVID or HDMI/VGA work better?

  13. doodles
    January 27, 2015 at 1:25 am

    THANK YOU SO MUCH. I am new to the AV industry and I got more out of this article than any where else!

  14. sunny farrygia
    February 12, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    can i connect my dvd from vga port to my tv with verious ports

  15. Alex Perkins
    September 12, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    Thank you, always wondered about the DVI having different pins sometimes.

  16. Aung Thu Htet
    September 9, 2012 at 6:28 am

    I am searching for about this and now thank for your post. It is precious for me.

  17. Akash Kotak
    September 8, 2012 at 6:40 pm

    nice info

  18. Udit Minocha
    September 7, 2012 at 5:53 am

    Purchased my Dell at the end of 2007 and I only have VGA.

  19. Kasey Bell
    September 6, 2012 at 6:37 am

    Adding to this article would be a great way of storing all the different types of wires! Omg to many wires

  20. Leland Whitlock
    September 5, 2012 at 2:06 am

    Even though VGA is starting to go away with all the adapters and what not it is unlikely to disappear anytime soon. It is just very reliable in most cases. HDMI looks like a weak connector. And DVI though it works well seems to be dying quickly. Unlike VGA it seems to have no staying power...

  21. Lambvolution
    September 4, 2012 at 12:40 am

    i'm still using VGA :)

  22. nikhil agarwal
    September 3, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    I only have a VGA port on my laptop. Didn't know much about these different ports when I bought laptop.

  23. Fer
    September 3, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    Hi!

    Really interesting. Whay about the Display Port? I've seen this kind of port in many today's boards.

    • Jeremy Collake
      September 4, 2012 at 2:54 am

      As MakeUseOf pointed out to *me* on G+, the latest DisplayPort is actually called Thunderbolt now. Fortunately, its rights are owned by INTEL, not Apple. Needless to say, this matters ;). This interface has all the bandwidth to do *everything* we need. "Thunderbolt is interoperable with DisplayPort 1.2 compatible devices. When connected to a DisplayPort compatible device the Thunderbolt port can provide a native DisplayPort signal with 4 lanes of output data at no more than 5.4 Gbit/s per lane. When connected to a Thunderbolt device the per-lane data rate becomes 10 Gbit/s and the 4 lanes are configured as 2 channels with each bidirectional 10 Gbit/s channel comprising one lane of input and one lane of output.[2]". -wikipedia

      • Fer
        September 4, 2012 at 3:40 am

        Thank you Jeremy :)

      • subhasish nayak
        March 22, 2016 at 11:54 am

        display port is better than HDMI..

  24. Danny Chamorro
    September 3, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Nice and useful article. I just have one question, why not include DisplayPort?

  25. Jeremy Collake
    September 3, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    I love this idea of educating the masses on these simple things. Us geeks have known for years, and it doesn't take much to look up the differences. However, it is important for Joe Consumer to understand, as the manufacturers *sure don't* explain the differences when buying - especially low-end - monitors and such. It *is* too bad you didn't add DisplayPort though, as *that* may be the future of how we dock our mobile devices to multi-monitor setups with keyboard and mouse all with one cable. Let me add one more thing: Avoid Analog at all costs. You want Digital. Digital Digital Digital. No DVI-A (or analog over DVI-I). .. and, again, DisplayPort - watch for it! Want to future proof your next monitor purchase? Buy one with a DisplayPort (DP) input.

    • Freedom Schultheiss
      September 17, 2012 at 8:52 am

      When you mentioned the DisplayPort, is this the same port that is referred to as a "Mini DisplayPort" on my MacBook Pro?

  26. GrrGrrr
    September 3, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    Thanks, useful article

  27. Denis Paley
    September 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    Nice article which helps clear up the mystery about the different connections for video. I find this to be especially helpful in covering the differences between the various DVI connecters which can be confusing. One thing to remember is that you don't need to spend horrendous amounts of money on the digital cables as the inexpensive ones will carry the digital signal as well as the expensive ones.

    • Kasey Bell
      September 6, 2012 at 6:40 am

      I was wondering that ie... Gold plated hdmi $45 as good as the $15? And is there much quality loss with adding adapters

      • Mark Stevens
        November 8, 2016 at 4:14 am

        No there is no difference. I have a $60 Monster Cable and there is no difference in the signal whatsoever between that and a $15 one.
        As far as adapters go, I have seen different qualities between adapters. The most important thing with adapters it that all connections are as secure as possible, and try to avoid having any hanging stress on the cables or connections.

  28. Naoman Saeed
    September 3, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    VGA and HDMI

  29. Naoman Saeed
    September 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    VGA+HDMI

  30. MerVzter Balacuit
    September 3, 2012 at 12:03 pm

    i want to try some kind of connector other than vga but because in my country its little bit expensive i dont know when will be happen |:(

  31. Ahmed Khalil
    September 3, 2012 at 11:31 am

    HDMI is the future now, rarely we can get modern labtop with out HDMI , and it is used in all LED,LCD TV.

  32. Vampie C.
    September 3, 2012 at 11:31 am

    You even have HDMI with network support, although I have no clue what it means, or can do.

  33. druv vb
    September 3, 2012 at 10:36 am

    My "old" Geforce from 2008) features twin DVI but my monitor has only analog input, thus using an adapter, coupled with humidity killed the card 2 days ago.
    (I was absent for 1 month, and this happened!!)

    Looking for a new GPU now.
    Maybe I'll be going for a Radeon that has almost all connections DVI + HDMI and maybe a composite!

  34. Usman Mubashir
    September 3, 2012 at 10:18 am

    only VGA, and my PC is roughly 5 yo.

  35. Tug Ricks
    September 3, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Whoa, I always wondered what those were all about. Thanks!
    My Lenovo laptop sports VGA and HDMI connections, but no DVI.

  36. Wolfgang Grajonka
    September 3, 2012 at 8:34 am

    Um. That's not really what "interlaced" means.

    • Simon Slangen
      September 3, 2012 at 11:57 am

      You're right, and what a stupid typo it was!
      (integrated ? interlaced)

      Thanks for pointing that out. It should be fixed soon.

  37. Dionyshs El
    September 3, 2012 at 7:39 am

    Someone had to do it eventually. Nice article indeed.

    • Simon Slangen
      September 3, 2012 at 12:15 pm

      Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it. :-)

      • Tommy
        January 26, 2013 at 5:36 am

        Hi.
        What you recommend connect my computer to projector (DVI or VGA). It has both. I plan to connect my desk top to watch movie and surf the net with it. My compter does has HDMI but projector is not. Thanks in advance.

        • Simon Slangen
          January 26, 2013 at 11:02 am

          If you can, I'd suggest using DVI.

  38. susendeep dutta
    September 3, 2012 at 7:14 am

    My monitor has DVI and VGA port and VGA port is used to display the monitor.

  39. vineedcool
    September 3, 2012 at 4:50 am

    i use vga :P,,cozz its on cheaper side!!!

  40. Saumyakant Sahoo
    September 3, 2012 at 4:46 am

    yeah....thats some good info.....well my laptop has a VGA and a HDMI

  41. rama moorthy
    September 3, 2012 at 4:22 am

    My Computer having VGA type of video connectors ..!

  42. ferdinan Sitohang
    September 3, 2012 at 3:06 am

    very helpful article, since lots of people have different understanding about those type of cables.

  43. Paul Harris
    September 3, 2012 at 2:38 am

    My laptop (ASUS X52F) has a VGA and an HDMI, but no DVI.

    • Simon Slangen
      September 3, 2012 at 12:13 pm

      They've covered most of their bases with it. HDMI is electrically compatible with DVI, so you can buy very small, very cheap convertors for it.

  44. venkatp16
    September 3, 2012 at 2:26 am

    Nice info... Thanks a lot

  45. Ashok Sundar
    September 3, 2012 at 2:19 am

    In trending technology, HDMI is playing a vital role, where the picture quality comes in HD.
    Nice article with a perfect highlights.

    • Simon Slangen
      September 3, 2012 at 12:10 pm

      Thank you, I'm glad you thought it useful. :-)

      I'm a big believer in HDMI myself. Like VGA for analog video, it's perhaps the closest we've come to a universal digital video standard.

  46. Eserpess der
    September 3, 2012 at 1:56 am

    I have DVI-D, Know I feel old school! XD

  47. illegal3alien
    September 3, 2012 at 1:45 am

    Also worth noting is HDMI is compatible with DVI (minus the audio). You can pick up a $1 adapter on Amazon to convert DVI to HDMI (or vice-versa). There are also devices that allow you to hookup DVI and audio out to a HDMI connection.

    Newer video cards support audio out over HDMI so you can hook your computer up to the TV and hear sound by only plugging in an HDMI cable to your video card.

    • Simon Slangen
      September 3, 2012 at 12:05 pm

      You're right, HDMI type A and C are electrically compatible with DVI-D. You need to be careful with what type of DVI, though. Below is a small overview.

      Possible:
      DVI-D HDMI (modulo audio)
      DVI-I --> HDMI (modulo audio)
      DVI-A VGA
      DVI-I --> VGA

      Not possible without a special converter:
      DVI-A HDMI
      DVI-D VGA

      Feel free to correct me if I made a mistake.

      • Simon Slangen
        September 3, 2012 at 12:08 pm

        My arrows disappeared. Let's try that again, shall we?

        Possible:
        DVI-D (to and from) HDMI (modulo audio)
        DVI-I (to) HDMI (modulo audio)
        DVI-A (to and from) VGA
        DVI-I (to) VGA

        Not possible without a special converter:
        DVI-A (either direction) HDMI
        DVI-D (either direction) VGA

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