Technology Explained

Video Cable Types Explained: Differences Between VGA, DVI, and HDMI Ports

James Frew Updated 26-05-2020

As technology has progressed, so, too, have the cables we need for our devices. Even though many manufacturers are moving to wireless solutions, you’ll likely always need some form of cable.

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This is especially true for video devices. Televisions, monitors, and peripherals need a wide variety of cables and connections to work correctly. So, what are the differences between them all, and which ones do you need?

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular video cable types and when you may want to use each one.

VGA Cables

VGA display cable

VGA stands for Video Graphics Array. The connection was developed by IBM in 1987, making it one of the oldest video connections still in use today. It was widely used for video cards, TV sets, computer monitors, and laptops.

VGA can support resolutions up to 640×480 in 16 colors, although you can increase the colors to 256 by lowering the resolution to 320×200. This is known as Mode 13h and is commonly used when booting your computer into Safe Mode. Mode 13h was often used for video games in the late 1980s.

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VGA is capable of transmitting RBGHV video signals, which includes, Red, Blue, Green, Horizontal Sync, and Vertical Sync. The iconic blue adaptor comes with a screw on either side to secure the connection. The socket consists of 15 pins, arranged in three rows of five.

It has since been surpassed by digital connections like HDMI and DVI but is still popular thanks to the resurgence of retro gaming and its inclusion on cheaper monitors and displays.

RCA Cables

RCA cable
Image Credit: William Krapp/Flickr

The RCA lead is one of the most visually identifiable video cables. The red, white, and yellow plugs are synonymous with audio/visual equipment produced in the 1990s and early 2000s. It was also the primary connection for many games consoles, including the Nintendo Wii. Most televisions no longer support RCA inputs, but there are still plenty of ways to connect your Nintendo Wii to your TV 6 Ways to Connect Your Nintendo Wii to Any Type of TV Are you having trouble connecting your Nintendo Wii to your TV? Here's how to connect a Wii to any type of TV. Read More .

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The name doesn’t refer to the technology itself, but to the company that popularized it, the Radio Corporation of America. The red and white connectors provide audio, while the yellow offers a single channel composite video.

When used together, the three cables transmit stereo audio with video up to 480i or 576i resolution. Just as with VGA, the once-popular RCA cable has been superseded by the digital DVI and HDMI connections.

DVI Cables

DVI video cable

The Digital Visual Interface, or DVI, was launched in 1999 by the Digital Display Working Group as the successor to the VGA cable. DVI connections can transmit uncompressed digital video in one of three different modes:

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  • DVI-I (Integrated) combines digital and analog in the same connector.
  • DVI-D (Digital) supports digital signals only.
  • DVI-A (Analog) supports analog only.

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

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 backward-compatible with VGA connections.

HDMI Cables

HDMI cable
Image Credit: Lord_Ghost/DepositPhotos

The most popular digital video connection is the High Definition Media Input, also known as HDMI. This proprietary interface was created by a group of electronics firms, including Sony, Sanyo, and Toshiba. HDMI connections transfer uncompressed video and audio to computer monitors, TVs, and DVD or Blu-ray players.

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There have been many iterations of the HDMI standard to accommodate advances in technology. The most recent is HDMI 2.1, which was launched in 2017. Among other technical changes, this update improved support for 4K and 8K resolutions and increased the bandwidth of HDMI up to 48 Gbit/s.

Importantly, HDMI cables are backward compatible, so that you can use a cable with the latest features on older devices. The reverse is also true, meaning you can use an older cable on devices made to the HDMI 2.1 standard. This is useful, as the HDMI Forum previously ruled that no HDMI cables or devices can display which standard they were manufactured to, making it impossible to determine your setup’s configuration.

HDMI uses the same video format standards as DVI, so the two are compatible through the use of an adaptor. As no signal conversion is necessary, there is no loss of quality either. Although, unlike HDMI, DVI does not support audio.

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 frequently used on laptops and tablets, while Micro-HDMI (Type D) is mostly used on mobile devices.

DisplayPort Connections

DisplayPort cable
Image Credit: Davis Mosans/Flickr

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 2.0, these connections support resolutions up to 8K, High Dynamic Range (HDR) at higher resolutions, and better support for multi-display configurations.

However, HDMI and DisplayPort were designed for different markets. While HDMI is 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, most commonly used in Ethernet and USB connections. Thus, making it ideal for use in computing rather than home entertainment.

Thunderbolt Connections

Thunderbolt 3 cable
Image Credit: Tony Webster/Flickr

Thunderbolt is an interface commonly found on Apple computers, iMacs, and MacBooks. Intel developed the standard with support from Apple as a means to connect peripherals to your computer.

The connection made its debut with the launch of the 2011 edition of the MacBook Pro and is still commonplace on the company’s hardware. If you own an Apple computer, it might be worth checking out the best Thunderbolt accessories for your Mac The 7 Best Thunderbolt Accessories for Your Mac USB cables aren't the only way to connect accessories to your Mac. Try these great Thunderbolt accessories to improve your setup. Read More . Like other video connections, Thunderbolt cables integrate other technologies into a single device.

The connection combines PCI Express and DisplayPort, while also providing DC power, enabling up to six device connections on a single cable. To complicate matters, there is an overlap between Thunderbolt and USB Type-C. Thunderbolt specifications have been integrated into USB standards across the years.

With the introduction of Thunderbolt 3, all Thunderbolt cables share the same connector as USB Type-C cables. This means you can use the cheaper USB-C cable with Thunderbolt ports and devices. However, performance will be limited as USB-C cables don’t support the same rates of data transfer or power.

The Right Video Cable for Your Needs

When a new technology hits the market, manufacturers compete to make their version the global standard. This is why there are so many video cable connection types that are still in use today.

However, standardization is possible. In the mid-2000s, each cell phone would come with a proprietary charger. These days, it’s almost guaranteed your smartphone will charge via a micro-USB or USB-C connector.

The same is true of video standards, where HDMI has become the most common connection. If you need a new cable, then consider one of the best HDMI cables for Smart TVs and displays The Best HDMI Cable for LG and Samsung TVs, Displays, and More Looking for the best HDMI cable? Not all HDMI cables are created equal. Here are the best HDMI cables available today. Read More .

Related topics: Computer Monitor, HDMI, Media Streaming, Television.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Richard Seiberling
    January 7, 2020 at 3:12 am

    Very informative I enjoyed it

  2. Victoria J. Chandler
    January 7, 2019 at 6:45 pm

    Hi
    I have a 2010 MacBook Pro which appears to have a MiniPort by Apple which is mentioned in this great article. My TV is an Insignia smart tv within the last 10 yrs.

    I would love to know how to number 1 cast from my Mac to my tv. There always shows a cast icon but doesn't work however casting ( same wifi) from my iPhone works fine.

    Secondly I'd love to know how to send and use whatever i'm doing on my mac to my tv?

    As I mentioned i think i have the mini port HDMI on my mac and it appears my tv has all the bells and whistles. Also in Mission Control on my Mac I have an icon that says Audio MIDI setup ( ? ) maybe that's something to use because my Mac is so old and I read even with the mini port it won't transmit audio.

    I would appreciate a genius answer for this senior trying to be teckky

  3. Ron Blessing
    June 6, 2018 at 3:11 pm

    One problem I notice is that, the smaller the connector gets, the less rigidity you get at the connector. I'm all for small and I love the "C" connector but the cable connection on those cables is so easy to accidentally disconnect. There needs to be some kind of a locking mechanism to hold the cable safely in place.

  4. Johnny Gregory
    January 18, 2018 at 1:36 am

    This is a great article, very informative. Thanks!

    • James Frew
      February 7, 2018 at 1:18 pm

      No problem - glad to have helped!

  5. 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

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

    What about DisplayPort?

  7. 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.

    • Steve T
      December 13, 2016 at 10:47 am

      Hi, I've only just seen this article via a link. You may have already fixed it . Your monitor menu may have an "INPUT" or "SOURCE" option, find this option in the menu and select HDMI. Hope this helps.

  8. Anonymous
    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...

  9. 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

  10. 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

  11. 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

  12. Anonymous
    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.....

  13. Anonymous
    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!

  14. Anonymous
    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?

  15. 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?

  16. 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?

  17. 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!

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

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

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

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

  20. 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.

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

    nice info

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

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

  23. 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

  24. 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...

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

    i'm still using VGA :)

  26. 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.

  27. 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..

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

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

  29. 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?

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

    Thanks, useful article

  31. 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.

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

    VGA and HDMI

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

    VGA+HDMI

  34. 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 |:(

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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!

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

    only VGA, and my PC is roughly 5 yo.

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

    My Computer having VGA type of video connectors ..!

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

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

  47. 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.

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

    Nice info... Thanks a lot

  49. 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.

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

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

  51. 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