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

Masses of cables flowing to the back of you TV or PC is becoming rare thanks to the influx of smart TVs and the subsequent price reduction their abundance has caused. But there are still some times when a cable is the only route, so it's worth getting to grips with the various types of cables and ports on your PC and TV.

When you pick up a new computer monitor, there's typically a new cable included. This is great for the average user to get their new computer monitor set up and ready to go, but is it the ideal connection for how you intend to use the monitor. The connection to a monitor or TV is can directly impact other critical features, like signal quality, compatibility, or even contrast ratios.

When choosing a video cable for your TV or monitors, you generally have two options: HDMI or DVI.

On the surface, it's easy to pass these off as just two cables, but there are some significant differences between them that often go unexplained. High Definition Media Interface (HDMI) is the standard for today's HD and UHD televisions. HDMI is usually available on computer monitors too. It's easy to use and carries audio too.

Digital Visual Interface (DVI), is an older technology that's essentially on its way to being obsolete. DVI's video signal is about the same as HDMI's signal, but it lacks the audio aspect.

Continue reading our handy HDMI vs. DVI guide for a more in-depth look at the differences between these inputs and which is better for you. 

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. 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

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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