DVI vs VGA: Which is Better DVI or VGA?

So you’re trying to connect to a new monitor and you have to decide between DVI and VGA, which is better for a monitor? What are the supported resolutions and refresh rates? I was struggling with the same decision, so I did some research, and what I found might interest you.

Which is Better DVI or VGA?

To cut to the chase, DVI is better than VGA in almost every area. DVI can support higher resolutions, the image is usually clearer, it uses digital signals, and it supports higher refresh rates. I’ll talk more about those factors later on.

VGA, on the other hand, is a pretty dated connector and it’s only recommended when it’s the only option available. I’ll quickly explain what DVI is and then move on to the technical and practical uses of DVI.

What is DVI?

DVI stands for Digital Audio Interface and it was an attempt to create an industry standard for video connectors, a seat which HDMI has now filled. The technology is a little dated, but like VGA, it’s still common on computers, monitors, TVs, and other displays.

Most modern graphics cards have abandoned VGA ports but they still have one or more DVI ports. It’s rumored these connectors will be abandoned soon too. DVI connectors use digital signals, and the DVI-I version has a couple of pins for analog signals, so you can easily convert to VGA with a simple port converter (more on that later).

The reason DVI is still popular is that it’s quite versatile and easy to convert to other connector types, such as HDMI or VGA. So if you have a DVI-I output and a VGA or HDMI monitor, you can buy a cheap passive adapter (only a few bucks) and connect the two.

You can also convert VGA to DVI because DVI supports analog signals too. Do remember that only DVI-I supports both analog and digital, DVI-D only works with digital, so you’ll need an active adapter to convert that to another type of connector.

There are three types of DVI ports: DVI-I, DVI-D, and DVI-A, and it’s important not to confuse them because they’re not backward compatible. DVI-I and DVI-D are more common, DVI-A is mostly used in older electronics such as VCRs and whatnot.

However, DVI-I and DVI-D are still found on monitors and computers. I won’t be talking about DVI-A in this article because it’s rarely used today.

Single Link and Dual Link

You also need to know that there are single-link and dual-link versions of DVI-I and DVI-D, so it can be a little complicated. The good news is single-link and dual-link are backward compatible, which means you can use the same cable.

To make it easier to understand, most graphics cards have at least one dual-link DVI port, single-link DVI-I is kind of dated.

Supported Resolutions:

DVI-I Single Link

DVI-I single link can only support a maximum resolution of 1920×1200 at 60Hz.

DVI-I Dual Link

DVI-I Dual Link has a maximum resolution of 2560×1440 at 60 Hz. You can push it higher but you’ll have to lower the Hz rate to 30 which is a little clunky.

DVI-D Single Link

DVI-D single link has the same bandwidth as DVI-I single link, so the maximum resolution is the same at 1920×1200 at 60 Hz.

DVI-D Dual Link

The maximum resolution on a DVI-D dual link is 2560×1440 at 60 Hz, the same as the DVI-I dual link resolution.

Uses for DVI

As I mentioned earlier, DVI and VGA are dying standards, but they still have some practical uses. DVI-I is good because it can support modern resolutions (1080P at 60Hz) and you can easily convert it to other connector types. Most analog connectors, such as VGA, require active adapters to convert to HDMI, but you don’t need that with DVI.

So you can use it to connect to a secondary old monitor or TV that only has DVI or VGA inputs. The output resolution will be good enough for documents and watching movies but it won’t be true-HD and I definitely do not recommend it for games.

In some cases, DVI can carry over audio when connected to a physical HDMI adapter. For more information about that, take a look at this article. If you have the option to use HDMI or another port liked Display Port, use those instead, DVI and VGA should only be used as a last resort because the quality isn’t the best.

How to Convert DVI to HDMI

To convert DVI to HDMI you’ll need a passive physical adapter. The good news is both DVI-I and DVI-D can be converted to HDMI because they both use digital signals.

As mentioned earlier, this is one of the reasons people like DVI because it’s easy to convert to other connectors. The adapters are really cheap, here’s one on Amazon you might like. These are very cheap and they don’t require any external power, it’s a physical port adapter.

How to Convert DVI to VGA

Converting DVI to VGA is also easy but you need to double-check your DVI version. DVI-I is the only version that natively supports analog signals (what VGA uses). If you have a DVI-I output, a simple passive adapter like the one mentioned above will work to connect to a VGA display.

However, DVI-D will require an active adapter, something like this one. The good news is DVI has a pink for +5V so these adapters can take the power they need directly from the device without needing an external power supply, like VGA to HDMI adapters need. Overall, converting DVI to other connector types is very easy with inexpensive adapters.

Wrapping it Up

To wrap it up, DVI is a useful and versatile connector, but I wouldn’t use it for your main display. HDMI or Display Port should be used for your main display because they deliver the best images, highest resolutions, and fastest refresh rates, not to mention they carry audio too. I would only use DVI if you have a spare DVI port and old VGA monitor lying around and you can use it for a secondary display for notes and whatnot. I actually did this for a while because my computer only had one HDMI output.

About S. Santos

Tech columnist and tech blogger, audiovisual aficionado trying to keep up with the ever-evolving world of gadgets, home entertainment, and personal technology. If not fiddling with AV cables at home or in front of the computer, he can be found playing tennis or padel.

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