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

A graphic depicting HDMI vs DVI by showing the two cables flying towards each other with yellow text reading 'VS' in the centre of the screen, against a background of motion-blurred blue code,

If you purchase a new monitor, it will likely come with a DVI or HDMI cable or possibly both. Deciding on HDMI vs DVI involves evaluating a few important factors, to ensure you get the best from your monitor.

What are HDMI and DVI?

What is HDMI?

High-Definition Media Interface (HDMI) connects video and/or audio signals from a source device to an external audio device such as a monitor or soundbar.

It first appeared on shelves in 2003 to coincide with HD-ready TVs, and HDMI cables have become the most widely used for video connections.

The two cables are interoperable as they use the same standard, so through the use of an adapter both HDMI and DVI can plug into the port of another with no effect on the quality of the carried signal.

What is DVI?

Digital Visual Interface (DVI) is used to carry a video signal from a source such as a desktop PC to a display peripheral like a business monitor.

It was first released in 1999 as an updated hardware element for lossless digital video. 

In contrast to HDMI, DVI does not support the transfer of audio signals and can only deliver video signals to a monitor. This means that devices connected to a monitor via DVI will have to be additionally connected to external speakers.

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 (analog and digital) and DVI-A (purely analog), 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, Windows-based laptops, monitors, and gaming consoles – although it's being phased out in favor of USB-C, especially on devices like Chromebooks and Macs.

If your laptop has an HDMI input, but your monitor has a DVI, it's not the end of the world. Given they both use the same CEA-861 standard, adaptors can convert HDMI to DVI and vice versa without sacrificing quality. These are also very cheap to buy from most electronics retailers.

HDMI vs DVI quality and 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

Cables have been known as an easy target for scammers who raise their prices for these products by claiming they provide better quality than others. In contrast, the only cable where the prices accurately reflect its standard are analog ones. For these cables, manufacturers which provide a low-quality build directly translate to worse image clarity. But other cables, even those that are seen as bad quality ones, are perfectly able to transmit the same level of signal.

You can apply this to HDMI and DVI cables, where you can expect the same level of image no matter the price difference between cables. It’s worth pointing out, however, that gold-plated cables might be more durable since the gold is corrosion-resistant. Additionally, it might also be more resistant to damage but this depends on the quality of the connector in your cable.

With this in mind, rest easy knowing that it’s more than fine to go online to choose the cheapest HDMI or DVI cable you encounter. You can relax and confidently know that the image on your device won’t be any different from a cable that’s a little more expensive.

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It's important to always make sure you base your judgement on whichever cable fits your hardware when you’re looking for the perfect connector to your AV gear.

In the past, DVI was considered a good option largely due to its support for higher refresh rates, and its compatibility with older connection types, such as VGA.

However, HDMI has largely made DVI obsolete, especially given that hardware advancements have slowly eroded any advantage DVI had. DVI is also a more complicated type of connection, given the variety of forms that customers need to contend with. Finally, the fact HDMI also supports audio means there's very little reason to look at DVI these days unless your hardware absolutely requires it.

Bobby Hellard

Bobby Hellard is ITPro's reviews editor and has worked on CloudPro and ChannelPro since 2018.

In his time at ITPro, Bobby has covered stories for all the major technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and regularly attends industry-leading events such as AWS Re:Invent and Google Cloud Next.

Bobby mainly covers hardware reviews, but you will also recognise him as the face of many of our video reviews of laptops and smartphones.

He has been a journalist for ten years, originally covering sports, before moving into business technology with ITPro. He has bylines in The Independent, Vice and The Business Briefing.

Contact him at bobby.hellard@futurenet.com or find him on Twitter: @bobbyhellard