It is worth taking the time to understand the different ports. On one level you just need to know that your knew monitor is compatible with your graphics card – is it going to work? But you also need to understand the various limitations of each cable so that you get the right one hooked up. If you’re not careful you might prevent yourself from getting the fastest refresh times and maximum resolution, not to mention adaptive sync compatibility.
In this post we outline some of the terms and take you through the different connector types.
Monitor Cable Glossary
Let’s start with a couple of terms you should understand. If you are serious about buying a new monitor then you will definitely want to get a good grasp of these concepts.
Resolution: The resolution of your monitor is the number of pixels that your monitor is capable of displaying. This will be written as length x height, for example an HD screen is 1920 x 1080 meaning you have 1920 pixel columns across the width of your screen and 1080 rows along the height. Higher resolutions means more pixels and a fatter pipe is required to feed the monitor. HD is the minimum on modern monitors, and you may be looking at QHD, or 4K screens.
Refresh Rate: The refresh rate is the number of images that the screen can display in a second, measured in Hertz. The minimum you would expect is 60hz meaning that the monitor flashes 60 frames in front of your eyes every second. Gaming monitors are often around 144hz but some push to 240hz buy the benefit begins to tail off. Higher refresh rates give smoother images but, again, need a fatter pipe to send all the additional images through.
Adaptive Sync: Adaptive sync technology is designed to give gamers a better experience. If your PC is unable to produce frames fast enough for your monitor you might observe split images (tearing) or stutters. Adaptive sync allows your monitor and PC to communicate and stay in sync, this requires the right cables to work.
Often monitors will come with at least one cable, it’s worth checking exactly what is included. My new monitors both came with DisplayPort cables, but with only one port on my graphics card, I had to by a new HDMI cable.
If you’re not sure what cable is included (it is often not clear) a good place to check is to look the monitor up on Amazon and check the Q&A section. It is likely someone has already asked the question or else you can always submit it yourself.
A further consideration is the length of the cable. You want it to be long enough, obviously, but if you care about keeping your cables tidy, try to make sure you don’t go for something too long! I typically underestimate the length I need so do measure carefully rather than just guess. Longer cables tend to be more expensive. Also bear in mind that signal strength becomes an issue after about 15 feet, so you may have problems if you go longer.
One last note on quality, whilst you don’t want to waste money on a poorly constructed cable that will stop working after a few twists and turns, you also don’t need to pay a premium for gold plated diamond encrusted offering either. These cables are digital so there are big doubts whether frills such as gold plating makes any difference. What does matter is the cable specification and connection type.
Personally I stick to the “Amazon Basics” range as I trust that I’ll get exactly what I order, but feel free to explore other options if you prefer
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Video Cables and Connectors
Let’s run through the video cables that you might still find in use today. These cables will connect your monitor to your PC, usually to a graphics card but sometimes to a port attached directly to the computer’s motherboard.
VGAconnector is the oldest you’re likely to see still in use today, and even then it is rare to see it on modern equipment.
It is entirely possibly that your PC or laptop relies on VGA so if this is the case you’ll need to make sure any new monitor you buy still supports this standard. Or, you know, you could just replace your computer with something a bit more modern!
VGA monitors do actually carry an analogue signal so this is the one time where a quality cable might make a difference, or at least watch out for length. The signal will degrade over longer distances. The VGA standard is limited to 60hz and 1080p. Anything more than that and VGA just doesn’t have the capacity to carry the volume of data required.
VGA is considered obsolete, avoid if you can. If you have legacy VGA devices you can buy digital converters but these are expensive, they have to actively convert the signal to a digital standard.
DVIDigital Visual Interface standard replaced VGA but it is also rapidly being replaced by HDMI and DisplayPort. That said, it’s not uncommon to see graphics still support this standard and it is still in use on a lot of recent monitors. If you do have legacy DVI devices you can use a passive adapter to convert to the modern standards.
Standard DVI is also limited to 1920 x 1080 at 60hz, but dual DVI is capable of 2048 x 1536 at 120Hz. Typically a DVI cable is good over for about 15 feet in length.
DVI will not support adaptive sync.
HDMIHigh-Definition Multimedia Interface is a proprietary standard that has become the standard connector used on modern TVs. It’s small, easy to connect and also carries audio, unlike both VGA and DVI.
There are different versions of HDMI, so watch out for this. HDMI 1.0 only supports 1080i and 720p, but you’ll need the “high speed” HDMI 2.0 to get 1080p and beyond. For a more detailed run down of the different version capabilities take a look here.
FreeSync adaptive sync can now be support over HDMI, but check if your specific monitor does. This compatibility was introduced in 2016 so anything before that won’t allow FreeSync.
DisplayPortDisplayPort standard was put together by VESA as a replacement for VGA and DVI. It is the most recent of the standards and is similar to HDMI in many ways. Modern graphics cards and monitors are likely to support both HDMI and DisplayPort, and I would stay away from anything that doesn’t have at least one of these!
Like HDMI there are a number of different versions with varying ability to carry different resolutions and frame rates. You can find a detailed list here.
DisplayPort can support FreeSync and G-Sync adaptive sync technologies.
Monitors will come with a power cable and possibly a power “brick”. These bricks can be annoying and look messy under your desk so if you don’t have somewhere to store these away then try to buy a screen with an inbuilt power supply. These may be slightly thicker but personally I think it is worth it.
Normally the monitor will be hooked up to the mains using an IEC power cable, often known as a “kettle” lead. Note that you should be cautious about which cables you use as the plug itself will have an appropriate fuse installed.
Always use the power cables supplied by the manufacturer. Failure to do so could damage your product or even lead to a fire.
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