You might not have heard much about DisplayPort, as the HDMI rival is limited mostly to high-end monitors, dedicated graphics cards, and other premium, professional tech. A new version of DisplayPort is upon us though—the standard’s biggest upgrade yet—and it could be enough to earn the technology a place in more devices in the future.
As DisplayPort isn’t a display interface everyone will be familiar with—not to the extent of VGA and HDMI anyway—it’s worth going back to the beginning to see how we got here in the first place. Like HDMI, DisplayPort was originally envisioned as a replacement to the older VGA and DVI standards that dominated in the early 2000s.
DisplayPort is backed by the VESA group, which includes Dell, HP, Lenovo, Oculus, Apple, Nvidia, and many more. In fact, a lot of the companies backing DisplayPort also back HDMI, just to be on the safe side. But whereas DisplayPort was intended primarily for computers and monitors, HDMI has always had more of a television and entertainment focus.
If you’ve seen DisplayPort in the past, you’ve probably seen it in one of its two traditional connector sizes: The full DisplayPort connector and the Mini DisplayPort connector. Now the tech is shifting to other standards, as we’ll see.
The Switch supports DisplayPort, over its USB-C connector. (Photo: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo)
From the start, the technology was designed to carry both video and audio together, or even one or the other separately. The technical aspects were developed principally by electronics firms Sony, Philips, Maxell and Lattice, and the first 1.0 version of DisplayPort appeared on the scene in the middle of 2006.
That original display standard offered up to 10.8 Gbps of bandwidth—twice what DVI could muster, at the time. That was quickly followed by the 1.1 and 1.1a standards within the next couple of years, and DisplayPort 1.2 followed in 2010. The DisplayPort 1.3 and DisplayPort 1.4 updates arrived in 2014 and 2016 respectively, with the available bandwidth trebling along the 10-year lifespan of the standard.
One of the areas where DisplayPort has made its biggest gains is in gaming. It remains a requirement, for example, for displays that work with Nvidia’s G-Sync technology to reduce visual artifacts between frame refreshes. What DisplayPort is bringing next, with higher resolutions and refresh rates, should consolidate its position even further.
And that brings us to DisplayPort 2.0: Originally slated for a 2017 launch, it was pushed back to allow more time for development, possibly to keep pace with what has been happening with the HDMI specification.
Nvidia G-Sync displays must support DisplayPort. (Screenshot: Gizmodo)
DisplayPort 2.0 is quite the jump from DisplayPort 1.4a. Maximum bandwidth gets pushed to 77.4Gbps (up from 25.92Gbps), 4K HDR resolutions now get boosted to a maximum refresh rate of 144Hz, and the maximum possible resolution for a single display is 16K (15,360 by 8,460 pixels) running at a cool 60Hz.
To put it another way, you’ll be able to run three 4K displays at once at 90Hz, or two 8K displays at 120Hz. While 8K displays might be relatively thin on the ground now, let alone 16K displays, all this capacity means that DisplayPort 2.0 is futureproofed against whatever lies ahead (so not bad for three years of progress then). You’ll have to put your credit card on ice for the time being though because we won’t be seeing actual hardware with DisplayPort 2.0 inside it until late in 2020.
There’s all the backward compatibility you’re going to need, so newer DisplayPort tech will work with older DisplayPort tech (just not at the optimum speed or bandwidth). Support for USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 is continuing as well, all of which means DisplayPort 2.0 has a good chance of being widely adopted when the time comes.
So, do you actually need DisplayPort in your life? Is it genuinely going to offer something HDMI doesn’t? The latest HDMI 2.1 standard (which is just beginning to appear in TVs) goes up to 10K resolutions, so DisplayPort 2.0 has a slight advantage there. DisplayPort is also more useful where multiple displays are required (not just with separate monitors daisy-chained together from one source, but in VR too).
Recently Galaxy phones support DisplayPort over USB-C too. (Image: VESA)
Unless you’re creating content or gaming at the very top end of the market, DisplayPort 2.0 probably isn’t going to be something that you actively seek out. But thanks to the continued support for USB-C—remember that’s a cable and connector type, not a display standard in itself—DisplayPort 2.0 could start to widen its userbase anyway.
DisplayPort cables and connectors will still exist, but you could (for example) connect a laptop to a monitor via a USB-C cable and be using DisplayPort technology underneath. Data can be transmitted at the same time, though this does have a knock-on effect on the maximum resolutions and refresh rates.
That doesn’t mean any old USB-C port will support DisplayPort of course: the tech needs to be built into the actual devices at each end too, as it is with recent MacBook Pros (at least to a limited extent), the Nintendo Switch, and the Samsung Galaxy S10 phones.
Ultimately it’s going to be down to the phone, laptop, and monitor makers whether DisplayPort 2.0 reaches a wide audience or not—those who really need it will be happy to seek it out (and pay for it), while the rest of us are more likely to be swayed by cheap prices than more pixels and a faster refresh rate than we currently need.
Featured image: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)