SDI, Displayport, HDMI or DVI: What’s the best way to Monitor Video?

By Sareesh Sudhakaran

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Barco Projector

The old composite video connector is gone, and there’s hardly anyone left on earth who likes to handle three cables for component video. In its place we have four major standards:

  • HD-SDI and its 3G-SDI avatar
  • HDMI
  • DVI-D and DVI-I
  • Displayport
  •  
    There’s also Ethernet but we’ll keep that aside because this article is about monitoring video only. Well, if we knew the most widely used interface for all monitors we can be on our way, so let’s see if we can find that out first.

    Can you spot the winner?

    Here are a few landmark monitors and projectors with their connectors:

  • Dell Ultrasharp – DVI-D, Displayport, HDMI
  • Apple Thunderbolt Display – Thunderbolt (aka mini-Displayport)
  • Eizo ColorEdge – DVI-D, Displayport, HDMI
  • Dolby Professional Reference Monitor – Dual 3G-SDI
  • Barco LCD – DVI-D, Displayport, HDMI, Dual HD-SDI
  • Barco 2K Projector – Dual 3G-SDI, HDMI
  • Barco 4K Projector –  Dual HD-SDI, Dual DVI-D
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    What about Graphic Cards? Here are a few examples:

  • Nvidia Quadro 5000 – Dual DVI-I, Displayport
  • ATI Firepro S10000 – 4 x Displayport, DVI
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    What about Signal conversion boxes or cards? Here they are:

  • Blackmagic HDLink Pro – DVI/Displayport, Dual HD-SDI
  • Blackmagic Ultrastudio 4K – Dual HD-SDI, HDMI
  • Matrox MXO2 – Dual HD-SDI, HDMI
  •  
    Can you spot the winner? Of the four type of video connectors which one do you think is hands down everybody’s favorite: HD-SDI, Displayport, HDMI or DVI? If you can, stop reading!

    Comparison of video connectors:

    Here’s a table comparing the four connectors:

    Display connectors comparison

    First things first. The DVI standard has been passed over for HDMI and Displayport, so there will be no more updates under this standard. However, there are millions of display devices, both cheap and expensive, that still have DVI-D connectors, so expect it to remain around a bit longer.

    Even so, the great disadvantages of DVI are the lack of support for Y’CbCr and audio. Its connector is also a throwback to the VGA connector and is definitely not fun to play with when the screws fall off or break. On the other hand, as long as the screws are in place, it is much more robust than HDMI and Displayport.

    All said and done, we at least have our last place slot filled, and this goes to the DVI-D and DVI-I standards.

    The most important criterion when comparing video connectors is image quality. This one’s a non-starter. There is no image quality difference between any of the four standards. DVI, HDMI and Displayport are easily interchangeable via adapters or active circuits, while HD-SDI is the broadcast standard for monitoring.

    Let’s look at what makes HD-SDI special:

  • Long cable length
  • Robust BNC adapter
  • Uncompressed video and audio
  •  
    The very things that make it special also make it the odd one out. HD-SDI is great for monitoring 1080p but nothing higher. Forget 2K, 4K or even still image files from modern cameras. If your workflow is broadcast centric, there is nothing better. If it is not, then HD-SDI is overkill, and limiting at the same time!

    I expect an ultra HD (3840 × 2160) variant of 3G-SDI to be ratified soon, but until then, we’ll have to sideline this connector from our list simply because it’s a fringe case.

    Which leaves us with –

    HDMI vs Displayport

    If not image quality then the battle must be fought on other fronts. Both HDMI and Displayport are meant to work complementary to each other, and not against one another. You don’t have to choose – HDMI is meant for consumer displays and Displayport is meant for ‘better things’.

    Except the line between consumer displays and ‘better things’ is non-existent, if it ever existed in the first place.

    Finally, both HDMI and Displayport have bit rates that are well above the 6 Gbps SATA limit, which means your computer will be the bottleneck long before your display is.

    Advantages of Displayport over HDMI

  • Ability to daisy chain multiple monitors due to the double bit rate advantage
  • 2K at 120 fps and 4K at 60 fps
  • You can passively convert Displayport to HDMI, but not the other way around
  • Royalty-free, compared to HDMI
  • Support from graphic card manufacturers, the primary drivers for display
  • Support from major computer and monitor manufacturers like Apple, Intel, Dell, HP, and the like.
  •  
    The relative advantages of HDMI over Displayport are minor, but strong nevertheless in a home viewing environment. The new Sony 4K monitor has been announced, and it has HDMI ports. So does the Redray 4K player.

    However, one advantage is paramount in a studio monitoring environment (and game playing!) – the ability to drive multiple monitors over a single link.

    Here are a few converters:

  • HDMI or DVI to DisplayPort Active Converter
  • Displayport to HDMI Adapter
  • DVI-D Male to HDMI Female Adapter
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    The Final Pecking Order

    For HD broadcast, there is nothing better than HD-SDI and 3G-SDI, period. However, for the studio monitoring environment, the order of preference for connectors are:

  • Displayport
  • HDMI
  • DVI-D
  • DVI-I
  •  
    For a pure home viewing environment, HDMI will probably be around for a long time to come.

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    January 14, 2013

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