VGA vs. HDMI: How Do They Compare?

The two most common connection standards for computers to computer monitors, projectors, and even TVs (through A/V adapters) are VGA and HDMI. For most of the 1990s and 2000s, VGA was king. However, as HDTVs and HD resolutions became more prominent, HDMI served as the new inheritor to the VGA throne. With that said, what are the differences between VGA and HDMI? Which is better in the debate of VGA vs HDMI? Keep reading to find out.

What is VGA (Video Graphics Array)?

Video Graphics Array (VGA) is the graphics standard used for connections of video display controllers such as computer monitors and projectors. It was introduced for the IBM PS/2 personal computer line in 1987. It was an improvement over its predecessor standards of CGA and EGA introduced in earlier IBM PCs. It became a standard outside of IBM PCs and adapted by the computer hardware industry at large due to it being widely adapted for PC clone makers.

What is HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface)?

Released back in 2002, the High Definition Media Interface (HDMI) standard is the current HD standard for HDTVs all over the world. It was mainly adopted by the HDTV industry due to its dependable handshake-based digital copy protection features and soon any display service interested in adapted HD resolution for their devices followed suit. It’s the de facto interface standard replacing other A/V connection types like S-video, composite video, and component video.

What is the HDMI ARC?

The High Definition Multimedia Interface Audio Return Channel (HDMI ARC) enables your HDMI cable connection to do upstream and downstream signals over a single HDMI connection that moves two ways as opposed to a one-way signal street like non-ARC HDMI. It’s available on ARC-equipped A/V devices and HDTVs that accept them. This also enables you to use a single remote for all devices connected via HDMI for the most common functions, like increasing the volume or turning them off and on.

What is HDMI eARC?

The Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) is the next generation of ARC tech used by the HDMI standard. It’s a feature included in the HDMI 2.1 update or specification. Its main benefit is the big boost in speed and bandwidth. The audio on this version of ARC is also of higher quality, such that when you transfer the audio signal from your HDTV to your AV receiver or soundbar, you’ll come up with the clearest, high-fidelity sound.

What is HDMI CEC?

The HDMI Consumer Electronics Control (HDMI CEC) is a feature of the standard found in many peripherals and TVs since day one. Not coincidentally, it’s also the reason why HDMI became the HDTV connection standard versus its contemporaries Digital Visual Interface (DVI) and DisplayPort (DP).

It’s tech that allows devices connected to your TV through HDMI ports to communicate back and forth to the TV through a series of “handshakes”. If a device doesn’t return a “handshake” from your HDTV, no signal is produced. This ensures that only industry-approved devices can connect to your HDTV, making it harder for digital pirates to copy streams and videos digitally from it.

Comparison Chart

Here’s how HDMI compares to VGA and vice-versa.

Connection Type Specifications Compatibility Audio Signal
HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) 19 or 29 pins, digital audio and video signal, external, “hot pluggable” (you can plug it in and out a system while it’s running without restarting).

 

Signal Type: Digital.

It’s compatible with converters for HDMI to DVI and HDMI to VGA.

It can do LPCM, DST, Dolby Digital, DSD, DTS, MPCM, DVD-Audio, DTS-HD Master Audio, Super Audio CD, DTS-HD High Resolution Audio, Dolby Digital Plus, and Dolby TrueHD. Year 2002

 

VGA (Video Graphics Array) 15 pins, RGB analog video signal, no audio signal, not “hot pluggable”

 

Signal Type: Analog.

You can avail of VGA to HDMI and VGA to DVI converters.

 

No audio. You need a separate audio cable. Year 1987

VGA Port and Cable Explained

Here’s the nitty-gritty regarding VGA ports and cables.

  • What Does a VGA Cable and VGA Connector Look Like? A VGA cable is a thick cable with a connector that’s D-shaped, has screws on either side and has 15 pins on it. The male connector connects to a female port that has corresponding 15 pinholes that the pins are supposed to link with or penetrate. Meanwhile, the female port is also D-shaped to ensure that cables can only fit in one way.

01 VGA Look like

  • What Are the Different Versions of VGA? IBM’s VGA standard was widely adapted by PC clones of the late 1980s, such that their version of VGA evolved differently from the official line of VGA ports used for IBM PCs. This resulted in the VGA follow-up of XGA (Extended Graphics Array) being different from the PC clone maker follow-up of Super VGA or SVGA in 1988. SVGA remained in use all the way to the 2010s when HD connections like HDMI and DP started taking over.

 

  • VGA Resolutions: VGA offers 16-color 640×480 pixel resolution. It can reach 256 colors but the resolution is halved at around 320×200 instead. It can go 640×350 or 640×200 in monochrome or 16 colors when it EGA compatibility mode. In Mode 13h, it offers 320×200 in 256 colors. You can redefine the palettes for 256-color and 16-color modes using a 262,144-color RGB table that’s 18 bit to boot.

 

  • What Does a VGA Connection Do? A VGA connection, to most PC users, is what they depend on in order to connect their desktop or laptop PCs to a computer monitor. That familiar D-shaped connector with screws is what they needed to fiddle with when linking a computer to a display, ranging from CRTs to LCDs and even projectors.

 

  • What is VGA used for? VGA is used for video signal transference by acting as a link between your monitor and computer. It even does the same function with a computer and a TV screen with the appropriate adapters or converters. The VGA comes in two types—male and female. It connects electronic devices like video cards, monitors, TVs, and laptops to one another, from the media sources to display devices.

 

  • What is the Best VGA Cable? A common name that pops up nowadays when people are searching for the best VGA cables is Cable Matters. The company makes the most affordable SVGA or VGA to VGA cables with ferrites. You can also avail of best-selling brands such as Pienmor, Rankie, BENFAI, and DTech. When it comes to VGA cables, most users prefer affordability over anything fancy or special.

  • Can I Connect VGA to HDMI? Yes. You’re required to get the appropriate VGA to HDMI converter or adapter to make it happen though. Also take note that because VGA is a video-only connection standard, you’ll need separate audio cables to hook up to your display device in case it’s an HDTV or projector with built-in speakers.

  • What Else Can You Tell Me About VGA Connections? VGA connections are analog in nature and thusly use the analog video standard cable. It’s been in the market since 1987 or more than 30 years at the time of this writing. It only carries a video signal so you should have separate audio cables to get audio. It’s also mostly used by computers to connect to monitors, projectors, and TVs using a VGA to A/V converter. It’s also being used to this day as an HDMI alternative.

HDMI Port and Cable Explained

Here’s what you need to know about HDMI ports and cables.

  • What Does the HDMI Cable and HDMI Connector Look Like? An HDMI cable has a taller, wider connector than VGA that looks like a thinner, squashed version of a D-shaped VGA connector with more pins (19-29 pins). It’s designed to plug in and run even when the TV or computer is turned on (you don’t need to restart).

02 HDMI look like

  • What Are the Different Versions of HDMI? Here are the most common cable types as of the HDMI 2.1 specification.

 

    • Standard HDMI Cable: For 720p and 1080i resolution and 5 Gbps bandwidth capacity (HDMI 1.0 to 1.2a).
      • Standard HDMI Cable with Ethernet
      • Standard Automotive HDMI Cable
    • High-Speed HDMI Cable: It can deliver deep color, 3D, 1080p HD, and 4K Ultra HD (30 Hz) plus 10 Gbps bandwidth capacity (HDMI 1.3 to 1.4a).
      • High-Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet
    • Premium High-Speed HDMI Cable: It can deliver premium 4K Ultra HD (60 Hz) content, HDR, and 18 Gbps bandwidth capacity (HDMI 2.0/a/b).
      • Premium High-Speed HDMI Cable with Ethernet
    • Ultra High-Speed HDMI Cable (48G Cable): This supports resolutions of 4K, 5K, 8K, and 10K (120 Hz) with HDR (HDMI 2.1). It also has a 48 Gbps transfer speed and it’s EMI resistant.

 

  • HDMI Resolutions: As covered above, the different HDMI specifications can cover resolutions as small as 720p or 1080i (HDMI 1.0 o 1.2a) all the way to huge resolutions of 10K at 120 Hz (HDMI 2.1) as well as everything in between such as 1080p and 4K at 30 Hz (HDMI 1.3 to 1.4a), 4K at 60 Hz with HDR (HDMI 2.0/a/b), and 4K, 5K, and 8K at 120 Hz (HDMI 2.1).

 

  • What Does an HDMI Connection Do? As opposed to analog standard definition A/V interfaces delivering compressed versions of video footage, the HDMI standardis a propriety A/V interface that transmits uncompressed digital video data and compressed/uncompressed audio data to any and all HDMI-compliant devices in one cable.

 

  • When Should I Use HDMI? HDMI is for HD connections covering resolutions for 720p all the way to 10K. It’s most commonly used by HDTVs or HD monitors to connect to high-bandwidth source media like Blu-Ray or cable boxes streaming modern HD content.

 

  • What is the Best HDMI Cable? According to Google, the best sellers when it comes to HDMI cables include ones from SecurOMax, Synchwire, iBirdie (4K), Monoprice, Belkin (4K), iVanky, Atevon, and Capshi (4K). The most common available cables available are a mix between standard HDMI and all high speed and premium high speed 4K cables.

  • Can I Connect HDMI to VGA? You can connect HDMI to VGA using a converter or adapter (preferably the former) that converts an HDMI source media to run on a VGA display. Resolution drops do apply, although VGA can run at least until 1080p HD.

  • What Else Can You Tell Me About HDMI Connections? HDMI is a relatively recent standard that came out back in 2002 that uses a digital video standard cable. It has the ability to carry both video and audio signals in one cable instead of separate cables. It’s mostly used to link up BD to HDTV sets.

VGA vs. HDMI FAQs

Here are the most frequently asked questions regarding how HDMI compared to VGA and vice-versa.

  • What is the difference between HDMI and VGA? VGA is analog and HDMI is digital, making the latter head-over-heels better than VGA. VGA is also the older A/V standard of the two. A/V is mostly used for computer display connections while HDMI is mostly associated with HDTV (although it’s also been used for HD computer monitor connections as of late).

 

  • Advantages of Using HDMI Over VGA: HDMI offers video and audio signals in one cable while VGA only transmits video signals. HDMI quality is far higher, even when it comes to 1080p HD that both VGA and HDMI are capable of carrying. HDMI also supports higher resolutions, with HDMI 2.1 being capable of running 10K video at 120 Hz with HDR included. Not to mention, VGA lacks the handshake technology of HDMI CEC and the audio technology of HDMI ARC and eARC.

 

  • How to connect HDMI laptop to VGA projector: To connect an HDMI laptop to a VGA projector, you need to procure an HDMI to VGA converter. Some converters even push the VGA to at least carry 1080p HD video signals. There are converters that can split the video and audio signal of the HDMI source media while others only carry the video signal to convert it to VGA.

 

  • How do I connect my VGA laptop to an HDMI projector? A VGA laptop that only has a VGA port can be linked to an HDMI projector using a VGA to HDMI converter. There are limits to how high the quality of the connection and upscaled video is due to the nature of VGA, which is an older video standard from 1987.

 

  • How do I connect HDMI to VGA with audio? You can avail of an HDMI to VGA converter that doubles as a signal splitter since VGA only carries video signals. It should have audio ports for 3.5-millimeter audio jacks or coaxial audio cables. Otherwise, you’ll have to use your computer’s own speakers for sound.

 

  • How to connect the laptop to a projector with HDMI: You need either a laptop with an HDMI port or a laptop with a VGA port so that you can connect a VGA to HDMI adapter or converter with it in order to make a laptop to HDMI-based projector connection possible. Audio cables used separately, even though it’s better to use a separate laptop or Bluetooth speaker than to use a projector’s built-in speakers.

 

  • How to connect the laptop to a projector with VGA: To connect a laptop to a projector with VGA, you can either use the VGA port available to most laptops made until 2010 or even beyond that or you can get an HDMI to VGA converter if it’s a laptop with only an HDMI port.

 

  • Does a VGA to HDMI cable carry sound? No. VGA only transmits video signals. You can either use PC speakers for your sound or acquire separate audio cables to connect your laptop/desktop to a stereo system or soundbar. Alternatively, you can use Bluetooth wireless speakers instead. When searching for converters/adapters to use, you can choose between those that carry only the VGA cable or have extra audio jacks to link your audio to the HDMI cable as well.

 

  • Does HDMI to VGA work both ways? No. HDMI to VGA connections using a converter, splitter, or adapter only works one way—an HDMI source media converter linked to a VGA video signal for older computer monitors and projectors. To connect a VGA source media to an HDMI display, you need a separate HDMI to VGA converter. You also need separate cables for the split audio. For HDMI source media, you need a splitter that splits the HDMI signal into VGA video and 3.5 millimeter jack/coaxial cable audio.

 

  • Does the HDMI to VGA adapter need power? Adapters or converters that are HDMI to VGA usually don’t require additional audio or USB power unless they’re splitters that have extra audio ports available. If you’re using a converter that links a VGA source to an HDMI display and has audio ports on it to allow you to connect to a speaker or soundbar as well, such units require USB power. In short, it’s usually the VGA to HDMI converter that instead requires that extra USB power.

 

  • Can VGA carry HD video? Yes, but it has certain limits. You can use VGA to carry HD video the same way its analog TV version of YPbPr or component video can replicate HD through the 1080i (interlaced instead of 1080p, which is progressive scan). SVGA is typically limited at 480p but later versions had high enough transmission bandwidth to transmit resolutions reaching 1080p Full HD and even higher like 4K. Not bad for a standard made back in 1987.

 

  • Is HDMI better than VGA? If so, why? HDMI is better than VGA in more ways than one, starting with the fact that it’s digital and delivers much clearer, higher resolution picture quality. VGA comes from the bygone era of analog, standard-definition connections (even though it can also do HD). Also, unlike the video-only VGA, HDMI can carry various audio types from DTS-HD to Dolby True HD.

 

  • How do you check the HDMI cable version? Ask the vendor for specific cable versions. Some cables have labels while others do not. There’s no way for your computer to detect the cable version either. Use the guide above to know which cable type to ask for. There are no HDMI 1.3 cables or the like. Usually, they’re sold by how high the resolution they can carry. Therefore, you have standard HD cables, 4K cables, or 48G cables (the fastest cable currently available).

 

  • Is VGA capable of 1080p? Yes, VGA is capable of 1080p resolution HD video. As covered in the HD video question, VGA can do what it’s component video counterpart could. However, because of cable length and quality, you could experience a measure of picture quality degradation you won’t get from using HDMI cables instead. There is a bit of artifact with VGA HD as well, but at a quick glance, the HD from VGA and HDMI are indecipherable from each other.

 

  • Do I need a special HDMI for 4K? You need a high-speed HDMI cable (HDMI 1.3 to 1.4a) to do 4K at 30 Hz. For 4K at 60 Hz with HDR, you instead require a premium high-speed HDMI cable (HDMI 2.0/a/b). For 4K at 120 Hz and anything beyond 4K, you need an ultra-high-speed HDMI cable or 48G cable (HDMI 2.1). A standard HDMI cable is incapable of delivering uncompressed data of that quality. You have to select on your BD player to downscale the 4K signal to 1080p so that it can pass through a standard HDMI cable (the cable won’t be doing the downscaling).

Final Thoughts

VGA versus HDMI is an unfair contest. Naturally, HDMI wins against VGA in every category, including the way they’re able to parse 1080p and higher signals (VGA can barely do Full HD, much less 4K resolutions at any higher than 30 Hz). However, VGA is still in the conversation unlike the VHS versus DVD/Blu-Ray debate because it hasn’t been completely phased out and many modern computers are only just adapting HDMI as their video cable of choice.

Many laptops out there still have the VGA port available besides that HDMI port, such that it’s rare to actually get a modern computer that doesn’t have both ports. In light of VGA’s persisting relevancy, it’s important to note what it is and what it’s capable of compared to HDMI even in the 2020s as far as PC video interfaces are concerned.

References

  1. HDMI vs. VGA“, Diffen.com, Retrieved June 8, 2020
  2. S. Santos, “VGA vs HDMI? Difference between VGA and HDMI“, Blue Cine Tech, February 1, 2020
  3. Evelina Fairclough, “HDMI vs DisplayPort vs DVI vs VGA: Quick Comparison“, Wired Shopper, February 8, 2019
  4. VGA Connector Guide – the Port and Cable Explained“, The Home Cinema Guide, Retrieved June 8, 2020
  5. HDMI Connector Guide: the Port and Cable Explained“, The Home Cinema Guide, June 8, 2020
  6. What Is a VGA Cable Used for?“, Techwalla, Retrieved June 8, 2020
  7. Vikas Dayal, “Advantages of Using HDMI over VGA“, Cables.com, January 16, 2020
  8. HDMI vs VGA – Difference, similarities and benefits“, Alectro, July 14, 2016

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James Core
I write dozens of helpful informational articles based on topics that I have identified again and again throughout my research and work experience. I am here to help you find the right projector.

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