A visual guide to display cables: DVI, D-Sub, ADC and more

Here's how to identify every important cable for use with computer monitors.

Here's how to identify every important cable for use with computer monitors.

HDMI

Credit: Wollgord

Use it for: Connecting TVs and computer displays to PCs, gaming consoles and other larger devices

If you have a choice, select it instead of: DVI, VGA, component video

It adapts to: VGA, DVI

The standard connector for most audio-visual applications over the past decade or so, HDMI was the first cable to efficiently bundle audio and video for devices like PCs and gaming consoles to send to a display.

While most gaming monitors today will feature an HDMI port as standard, make sure you check the HDMI version of your monitor and device if you are looking for a refresh rate above 60hz - most monitors today will support at least HDMI 1.4, which can output 144hz at 1080p. If you’re after a higher resolution, make sure your devices and cable support HDMI 2.0 and up.

Where to buy? Amazon

USB-C /Thunderbolt 3

Credit: Trebleet

Use it for: Connecting laptops and devices to larger monitors

It's similar in performance and use to: HDMI, Thunderbolt 2

It adapts to: DVI, VGA, HDMI, Thunderbolt 2

With its thin form factor and all-in-one (power, data, video/audio) capabilities, USB-C is becoming the port of choice on laptops looking to stay on the cutting edge as well as the standard on mobile devices. Plenty of third-party adapter options exist to match this port to any existing tech and its rapid uptake means that if you don’t know by now, you need to check out our primer.

USB-C is the prevalent port option on new Apple computers and is gaining traction on laptop PCs, with their adoption of Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 standard allowing Thunderbolt-equipped USB-C ports to push graphics to two 60hz monitors, or one at 120 hz.

Thunderbolt 3 (signified by a thunderbolt logo as opposed to the traditional USB logo for USB-C) is capable of transmitting data up to four times faster than USB 3.1, and bundles the full DisplayPort AV standard along with its other capabilities. While less widespread for gaming due to the average refresh rates, Thunderbolt is one of the few standards capable of delivering 60hz.

Where to buy? Amazon

DisplayPort

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Use it for: Connecting recent computers and AV components to displays

If you have a choice, select it instead of: VGA

It's similar in performance and use to: HDMI

It adapts to: DVI and VGA (pass-through signal); Mini-DisplayPort; HDMI

Add more ports by: Connecting a switchbox; upgrading your graphics card

Similar to HDMI, DisplayPort carries both digital audio and digital video signals. While not as widely used on televisions as HDMI, DisplayPort is designed to support higher resolutions and refresh rates out of the box and thus features alongside HDMI as standard on modern gaming monitors. 

DisplayPort also supports HDCP copy protection, as the other digital signal options do - a silent requirement for most copyrighted video streaming content today.

Where to buy? Amazon

Mini DisplayPort /Thunderbolt 2

Credit: Startech

Use it for: Connecting small devices to displays

If you have a choice, select it instead of: VGA

It's similar in performance and use to: DisplayPort, HDMI

It adapts to: DVI and VGA (pass-through signal); DisplayPort; HDMI

A small version of DisplayPort designed by Apple, this connection is most often found on previous generation Apple laptops. Mini DisplayPort is generally being phased out as USB Type-C gains popularity, due to its aforementioned combination of the DisplayPort signal for video and audio with the ability to transmit power.

Mini DisplayPort is also the form factor used for Thunderbolt 2, which was prevalent on the previous-gen Retina Macbook Pro and other Apple laptops. Thunderbolt 2 ( signified by a Mini DisplayPort with a thunderbolt logo) ups the data transfer rate of Mini DisplayPort to 20GB/s, comfortably allowing for 4K streaming.

Where to buy? Amazon

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VGA (aka D-Sub 15)

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Use it for: Connecting older PCs, monitors, HDTVs, and video projectors

It's similar in performance and use to: Component VGA

It adapts to: Mini-VGA, RGB Component

Add more ports by: Installing a new graphics card; connecting a splitter or adapter

The still-in-use analog classic, a VGA connector carries an RGB signal and can often be found on older or lower-spec PCs and HDTVs; laptops have moved past VGA some time ago due to the push for slimmer form factors. Because the analog design can pick up interference, you're better off choosing a digital cable if your device supports it.

Where to buy: Amazon

DVI (aka Digital Visual Interface)

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Use it for: Connecting TVs and computer displays to PCs and other devices

If you have a choice, select it instead of: VGA, component video

It's similar in performance and use to: HDMI

It adapts to: HDMI, VGA, Mini-DVI, Micro-DVI

Add more ports by: Connecting a switchbox, adapter or upgrading your graphics card.

DVI comes in a few versions, having evolved as needs have grown. 

DVI-I (integrated) supplies an analog and digital signal, which means that you can connect an old VGA monitor to it with a simple adapter. DVI-D (digital) carries only the digital signal. 

Both types also offer single-link and dual-link versions; single-link has fewer pins and can't support the massive resolutions of dual-link, but you can connect a single-link monitor to a dual-link port. HDCP, the copy-protection technology used for streaming and other HD sources, works with the digital signal in DVI.

While the market has advanced over time DVI is still capable of pushing out a 144hz refresh rate on 1080p monitors, keeping it relevant for gamers on a budget.

Where to buy: Amazon.

Mini-DVI

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Use it for: Connecting small devices to DVI displays

It's similar in performance and use to: DVI, HDMI

It adapts to: DVI, HDMI, Micro-DVI

Add more ports by: Connecting a switchbox

Most often found on older Apple laptops, this connector is essentially just a scaled-down DVI design.

Where to buy: Amazon

Micro-DVI

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Use it for: Connecting small devices to DVI displays

It's similar in performance and use to: DVI, HDMI

It adapts to: DVI, HDMI, Mini-DVI

Add more ports by: Connecting a switchbox

Even smaller than Mini-DVI, this port is most often found on tiny devices.

A few Apple laptops have used it, although Apple moved on to Mini DisplayPort before the switch to USB-C in their most recent generation of laptops and computers.

This article was updated by Michael Serban in October 2019.