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HDMI vs. DisplayPort: Which display interface reigns supreme?

The HDMI audio/video interface standard is everywhere: TVs, set-top boxes, media streamers, Blu-ray players, A/V receivers, gaming consoles, camcorders, digital cameras, and even a few smartphones. You’ll also find an HDMI output port in most consumer desktop and laptop computers, as well as an input port on many all-in-one PCs, to enable a gaming console or a set-top box may use its internal display.

Given HDMI’s ubiquity, you might have forgotten about the other digital audio/video standard: DisplayPort. Though you’ll find it alongside HDMI on most late-model, high-end video cards, as well as in Macs and laptops marketed to business users, it rarely appears in Windows PCs aimed at consumers. It’s also rare as hen’s teeth in consumer electronics devices.

Both HDMI and DisplayPort can deliver high-definition digital video and high-resolution audio from a source device to a display, so what’s the difference and why might you want DisplayPort when HDMI is so common? And what does a future with burgeoning USB Type-C ports hold? We’ll answer those questions and more; but first, the tale of how the two standards came to be, and which entities control them.

HDMI and DisplayPort origins

The HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) specification was conceived in 2002 by six consumer electronics giants: Hitachi, Panasonic, Philips, Silicon Image, Sony, and Toshiba. Today, HDMI Licensing, LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Silicon Image, controls the spec, but some 80-odd vendors are members of the HDMI Forum. Member or not, manufacturers must pay a royalty for including HDMI in their products. They of course, pass that cost along to you.

The DisplayPort specification was developed by, and remains under the control of VESA (the Video Electronics Standards Association), a large consortium of manufacturers ranging from AMD to ZIPS Corporation—nearly all of which also belong to the HDMI Forum. You’ve likely heard the name VESA in relationship to video before. Most TV manufacturers, for instance, adhere to the organization’s wall-mount standard.

DisplayPort debuted in 2006 as part of an effort to replace two older standards used primarily for computer displays: VGA (Video Graphics Array, an analog interface first introduced in 1987) and DVI (Digital Video Interface, introduced in 1999). DisplayPort is a royalty-free product, but that wasn’t enough to overcome HDMI’s four-year momentum. Computers, with their shorter technology cycles and often greater display needs, were another matter.

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