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HDMI vs DVI: what's the best AV input?
by Dale Walker, Adam Shepherd, | Mar 13, 2017 | Comment Now
We put the biggest AV technologies against each other in our display cable comparison.
HDMI vs DVI: what's the best AV input?

AV specs can often seem baffling, with contrast ratios, luminescence measurements and pixel counts all assaulting you with information.

One of the most confusing aspects is the sheer multitude of AV options. With PCs and monitors sporting inputs for HDMI, DVI, VGA and more, how can you know which one to go for?

We’ve squared the two biggest contenders off against one another, to find out once and for all: which is better, HMDI or DVI?

HDMI vs DVI: Layout

The principal difference between HDMI and DVI cables is in layout. DVI is bigger, and features a 24-pin set-up similar to VGA or SCART cables, although some do come with less pins for lower-resolution devices. HDMI is much more compact, and resembles a USB input, measuring about an inch across.

DVI comes in a variety of layouts designed for very specific tasks. It's now possible to get DVI-D (digital) and DVI-I (both analogue and digital), as well as the less common DVI-A (analogue) versions of the cable. To make things even more confusing, these are also available in single-link or dual-link varieties (which is important for when we come onto refresh rates).

HDMI keeps things a little more simple, with newly released versions of the cable sticking to a numbered system. We are currently on HDMI 2.0, with 2.1 expected mid 2017, bringing support for resolutions up to 8k and higher frame rates. 

One difference, however, is that HDMI supports up to eight channels of audio, whereas DVI is strictly video-only. This means that if you’re planning to use your cable to hook up anything with sound, you’ll either need HDMI, or an additional audio cable.

HDMI vs DVI: Compatibility

Naturally, the biggest question when shopping for cables is that of compatibility. Nobody likes buying a fancy monitor, and then finding that their hardware doesn’t have the right ports to connect it.

Ultimately, this comes down to what inputs your existing tech has, but it’s worth noting that HDMI is by far the most common connection source. A HDMI cable is likely to fit pretty much any modern PC, laptop, monitor or games console, while DVI is a little rarer.

If your laptop has an HDMI input while your monitor boasts a DVI, however, it’s not the end of the world - you can buy adaptors for converting HDMI to DVI and vice versa very cheaply from most electronics retailers.

HDMI vs DVI: Signal quality

There’s no discernible difference in quality between HDMI and DVI, as both are digital cables. At the maximum 24-pin configuration, DVI supports HD video at a resolution of 1920x1200, as does HDMI.

The only difference is that unlike HDMI, DVI cables don’t all support HDCP copy protection as standard. This is a system that prevents HD content such as BluRay videos from being played on unauthorised devices.

HDMI vs DVI: Price

For almost as long as electronics cables have existed, there have been shysters trying to flog supposedly superior versions at ridiculously inflated prices. Analogue cables at least had some basis in reason behind this, because poor-quality cables could lead to a deterioration in image clarity.

When it comes to the digital formats of HDMI and DVI, however, the quality of cable used to transmit the signal makes precisely zero difference.

This means that the gold-plated, carbon-fiber AV leads going for hundreds of pounds are a total rip-off.

HDMI and DVI cables can both be found for under a fiver on Amazon, and you might as well pick up the cheapest connector you can, because your content isn’t going to arrive any sharper or any quicker by using an incredibly expensive one.

HDMI vs DVI: Refresh rates

Refresh rate has become an important consideration for those in the market for a new monitor. Higher rates can offer a smoother PC experience that is much easier on the eye, reducing the strain and headaches associated with long days in the office. A refresh rate can be simply considered as the number of frames per second a monitor is capable of putting out , with 144Hz offering a potential 144 frames per second.

This is perhaps where the biggest distinction between HDMI and DVI can be drawn, as the former is currently only capable of supporting up to 120Hz, and that's only if you are using an HDMI 1.3 cable.

DVI does provide support for 144Hz, although for those ultra-high refresh rates you'll need a dual-link DVI-D cable.

HDMI vs DVI: Verdict

Functionally, HDMI and DVI cords are basically identical. If you're shopping for equipment to connect up AV gear, either at home or in the office, the most obvious option is to go with whichever cable fits your hardware.

If you need those ultra high refresh rates, your only choice currently is DVI, although a DisplayPort cable will do the job just as well. 

Ultimately it comes down to your needs. If you've got the option of either, however, we'd recommend plumping for HDMI. It's more widely-used, meaning it's more likely to be compatible with any future upgrades



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