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HDMI vs DVI: What’s the best AV input?

We put the biggest AV technologies against each other in our display cable comparison

A graphic contrasting HDMI and DVI cables

Having an untidy mass of cables at the back of a TV or PC used to be the norm, but the rise of smart, internet-connected devices has helped to clear that mess somewhat. However, there are still various jobs that only a cable can do, so it's still worth knowing the ins and outs of all the ports on your machine. 

A fresh cable will usually come in the box of a new computer monitor, for example, which is handy for the average user to get up and running. However, it might not be the most ideal connection for how you intend to the monitor; it could impact other connections and other connected devices, or even affect signal quality, compatibility and contrast ratios. The answer might be to buy a different one and you have two options: HDMI or DVI.

These may sound like two simple cable options, but there are quite significant differences between them that are not always fully explained. 'HDMI' stands for High Definition Media Interface and is the standard cable that most HD or UHD televisions use. It's usually available for computer monitors too and is easy to use and also carried audio too. 

'DVI' stands for Digital Visual Interface and is an older technology that's almost obsolete. Its video signal is the same as HDMI but it lacks the audio aspect. It's important to know the full differences between the two to get the best out of your TV or monitor. 

HDMI vs DVI: Layout

The most obvious difference between DVI and HDMI ports is their appearance. HDMI is a much smaller connection, more like an oversized USB than anything else, while DVI is larger and significantly more complex.

There are various types of DVI cables, but the most common layout is a 24-pin setup that looks like a SCART lead. Because it's available in different iterations, you must make sure you've got the right one for your display.

DVI is available in three primary variants: DVI-I (analogue and digital) and DVI-A (purely analogue), and DVI-D (digital), the latter of these being far more common on the market today. Confusingly, DVI and HDMI are available in either single-link or dual-link formats, which support different maximum screen resolutions (which we will come onto later).

While different HDMI models are available, they're relatively simple, with newly released versions sticking to a numbered system. Right now we have HDMI 2.0, and 2.1 -- the latter of which adds support for resolutions up to 10K, frame rates up to 120Hz, and dynamic HDR.

A significant difference between the two is that HDMI supports up to 32-channel audio, whereas DVI supports video only. Unfortunately, if you have a DVI cable, you will need to either switch to HDMI or use an additional audio cable to get any sound to or from the monitor.

HDMI vs DVI: Compatibility

Naturally, the biggest question when shopping for cables is compatibility. Nobody likes buying a fancy monitor and learning 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. An HDMI cable is likely to fit most modern PCs, laptops, monitors, and gaming consoles -- although it's being phased out for laptops in favour of USB-C, while DVI is generally rarer.

If your laptop has an HDMI input, but your monitor has a DVI, 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: Quality & refresh rates

Given that 4K has become a familiar resolution in many offices, the differences between the cables have become more obvious. With HDMI 2.0, support was added for 60Hz (which roughly corresponds to 60 frames per second) at 4K resolutions, whereas this was limited to just 24Hz on previous versions. It also benefits from HDR, a technology that is becoming increasingly available on top-end devices, which essentially allows a greater range of detail across varying light qualities.

Another difference is that HDMI supports HDCP copy protection as standard, whereas DVI doesn't. This is a system that prevents HD content such as BluRay videos from being played on unauthorised devices.

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.

In its most recent versions, HDMI has caught up to DVI as both can now output 144hz at 1080p. In fact, HDMI is now considered the better option, as the cable simply supports more advanced technology than its dated counterpart.

HDMI vs DVI: Price

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Electronic cables have a long history of having their prices raised by scammers for the sake of supposed, although misleading, 'better quality'. However, the only type of cables where price seems to accurately reflect their standard are analogue ones. In this case, low quality of manufacturing results in a worsened clarity of images. In fact, when it comes to any other cables, even the ones deemed as the worst in quality, are capable of transmitting the same level of signal.

Such is the case with HDMI and DVI, where a more expensive cable will not produce a better quality image. What we can say is that gold-plated cables may be more durable, given that gold is resistant to corrosion, and depending on the quality of the connector, it may be more resistant to damage.

Essentially, it’s considered perfectly acceptable to pick up the cheapest HDMI or DVI cable available on Amazon, safe in the knowledge that your content isn’t going to be any slower or blurrier than if you had spent more than £5 on your purchase.

HDMI vs DVI: Verdict

To sum up, HDMI and DVI cables are essentially one and the same when it comes to their functionality. That is why, when looking for the perfect connector to your AV gear, you should base your judgment on whichever cable fits your hardware.

However, if you’re adamant about having the best possible refresh rates, you might be better off with HDMI, but don’t rule out a DisplayPort cable – it might be just as good.

In the end, it all depends on your needs. However, if you really need a verdict, we’d recommend the HDMI – it's considered more popular, which means that you won’t have to look for a new cable every time you upgrade.

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