HDMI STB vs DVI vs MHL vs ARC

What type do you have?

Which one to use?

So you bought a new TV and you noticed there are multiple ports on the back with no specific labels. How can you identify the ports? And which one will deliver the best picture and sound quality?

You might be familiar with the most popular ports, HDMI, RCA, and VGA. But there are other ports you need to know about too, such as DVI and Display Port. If you’re wondering which port is best, continue reading this article.

What Type of HDMI Port do I Have?

You might have read that your TV has HDMI 2.0 but you can’t figure out which HDMI port is the right one. The good news is if your TV was labelled as HDMI 2.0 compliant, then every HDMI port will be HDMI 2.0. Most modern TVs support HDMI 2.0, so you can easily watch 4K and higher resolutions with no problem.

For other devices, it can be tricky to figure out what HDMI version they use. For computers, it’s best to research the specific model and go from there. For example, if your monitor is plugged into your graphics card, then you’ll want to check the exact model of your graphics card to see what HDMI versions it supports. Likewise, if you’re using the HDMI port directly from the motherboard, then you need to check your motherboard model.

Not to worry, most relatively modern electronics support at least HDMI 1.4 which offers more than enough features for the casual consumer. You can even watch 4K resolution. It’s only when you need more advanced features, such as 4K at 60hz, then you need to identify your HDMI version. Hint: You need HDMI 2.0 for 4K at 60hz. But not many displays support those specifications at the moment, so you should be fine.

In some rare cases, the TV will only have one HDMI 2.0 port, which should be appropriately labelled. That is the port you’ll want to use to take advantage of the HDMI 2.0 features. Otherwise, any port will do the trick.

The Most Popular Ports:

Let’s briefly run through a quick description of each port.

HDMI

HDMI is the most popular port to date, and there are many different versions, the most recent being HDMI 2.1. The port will be flat on the top side, with a slight curve on the bottom, resembling a smiley face. The cables slide right into the ports and are not fastened by screws or other attachments. Chances are your TV has multiple HDMI ports.

What you need to know about HDMI ports is that they’re all backward compatible. What this means is you can plug any HDMI cable into any HDMI port and it should still work. They’re probably the most convenient ports out there. Think of the labels as more like suggestions.

HDMI ARC

HDMI ARC is a type of HDMI port primarily used to carry audio to home theatres or soundbars. It also allows for other features, such as the ability to control your TV’s audio from a device-specific remote control. It’s mainly used for audio purposes.

HDMI STB

You might have seen this on a label above a specific HDMI port. HDMI STB is a label for an HDMI port that’s in a specific location for gaming consoles. It does not mean you’re console is limited to that port only – but it’s the best area for a gaming console, according to your TV manufacturer.

HDMI MHL

MHL stands for Mobile High-Definition, it’s a version of HDMI designed for smartphones and other mobile devices, mainly for Androids. The port has specifically created to be used with MHL compatible phones. To use it, you will need to buy an HDMI adapter. Most modern Androids can connect to a TV via an HDMI adapter, so you don’t need to worry too much about this port.

DVI

There are two types of DVI ports, DVI-D and DVI-I. Most graphics cards and monitors will have at least one of these ports, with some having multiple. On the surface, both DVI ports look about the same, with multiple square holes for pins. However, what’s next to those pins will tell you what type of DVI port you’re dealing with.

If it’s a thin line that looks like a dash, then it’s a DVI-D port. If it has a dash with two holes above and below, then it’s a DVI-I port.

The DVI-I port is slightly more advanced than the other version because it carries analogue and digital signals. DVI-D only supports digital signals. There’s also a single link (old) and dual-link DVI ports (newer) but most devices today use DVI dual-link.

Which HDMI Port Should I Use?

A common misconception is there’s one ideal HDMI port for certain activities. As mentioned earlier, while some HDMI ports have specific labels, you’re free to use any port you desire. The labels are more like helpful suggestions, not a requirement.

I recommend using an HDMI port that is the easiest to access. You don’t need to use any specific port, they should all work the same. It does not matter which port you use. Another pointer to keep in mind is you’ll be switching to and from various HDMI sources, so it’s best to keep your devices on the most convenient ports. For example, the cable box on HDMI 1, a gaming console on HDMI 2, and so on.

The Bottom Line

The truth is HDMI is a rather complicated technology with lots of specifications, features, and other metrics to consider. But most modern electronics will keep up to date with the latest technologies, so you don’t need to worry too much about it. The truth is you probably won’t ever be limited by the HDMI technology, even the older cables are capable of delivering an incredible amount of data. The real limit comes from your hardware. When in doubt, always refer to your display’s manual.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article.

Pic credit: “lg-cinema-3d-smart-tv-60la8600 開箱” (CC BY 2.0) by Sinchen.Lin

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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