DVI vs VGA—What’s the Difference and Which is Better?

By Greg Martinez / October 4, 2020
dvi and vga ports on back of TV

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If you’re upgrading to a bigger external monitor or TV, you might want to check out the different ports on the back of that device and compare those to the ones on your TV.

The goal is to decide which one is most suitable to attach your devices in order to properly convert signal types. Seems obvious? Well if you don’t do this sort of thing often, maybe not.

It may have been years since you last checked your ports and connections, but remember, technology keeps evolving and your current setup may need to be modified to maintain picture quality.

For this task, you may need to consider different video connectors and how to use them.

Let’s take a look at two video connector types: VGA and DVI, and compare them.

Video Graphics Array (VGA) Connector

AmazonBasics VGA to VGA PC Computer Monitor Cable

This is a standardized connector used for video output. It carries analog video signals from the source to the display device such as computer monitors, TVs, laptops, projectors, etc.

It’s been used since the late 80s, and most legacy equipment from the above list are compatible with it. VGA connectors don’t carry audio, which is supplied through external speakers.

Digital Visual Interface (DVI) Connector

Digital Visual Interface (DVI) Connector

The term refers to a display interface used to connect a video source such as a video display controller to a display device like the ones mentioned above.

It’s designed to transmit uncompressed digital video. DVI connectors also don’t carry audio, but they still improve VGA.

The latest graphic cards can transmit audio when connected to a DVI-to-HDMI adapter (which I’ll describe later).

They were created in the late 1990s and were easily embraced, as they were compatible with the VGA interface and could connect both analog and digital devices.

Differences Between a VGA Connector and a DVI Connector

How Video Signals Travel

VGA

A VGA connector carries analog red, green, blue, horizontal sync, and vertical sync (RGBHV) video signals. These aren’t compressed and require large bandwidth to transmit. They also contain a lot of unnecessary data.

Before transmission, it converts the digital signal received from the source to analog format to be transmitted. If the receptor is analog compliant (such as a legacy monitor) it will accept the signal; otherwise, if it’s digital like most devices today, it’ll convert the analog signal back to digital.

These conversions of the signal will nowadays almost inevitably lead to degradation of video quality. But when VGA first came out, most devices were analog, so no conversion was required.

The maximum playing resolution for a VGA signal is 2048 x 1536 pixels, which should be sufficient for HDTV viewing as full HD is at 1920 x 1080 pixels.

Normally the human eye would not notice the degradation, especially using older projectors and displays. The image, however, doesn’t look as sharp on our modern displays.

DVI

A comparison of how the signal travels in DVI vs how it does with VGA sheds light on why the image will be much clearer using a DVI connector.

Video signals transmitted via DVI don’t require conversion as they’re already in digital form.

As a result, the picture quality will be better. Their transmission uses a high-speed serial link called Transition Minimized Differential Signaling (TMDS).

These links are highly resistant to electrical noise and the previously mentioned analog distortions.

Compatibility

One point in favor of VGA is compatibility with legacy equipment. DVI is restricted to digital devices, so VGA cannot be phased out quite yet.

DVI will need a VGA converter to display VGA images from these outdated devices.

That being said, DVI is more versatile in terms of adaptability to new technology.

DVI ports come in various types to enable you to operate with a wide range of equipment:

  • DVI-I: This is an integrated format connector. It has signal pins for VGA-compatible analog signals, meaning it can decode both analog and digital signals.
UGREEN DVI-D 24+1 Dual Link
  • DVI-D: This is a digital format connector. It has signal pins that are HDMI compatible and can decode both audio and video.

Both of these DVI port types have single-link and dual-link versions. The dual-link connector doubles the rate of data transmission compared to single link and gives more power.

UGREEN DVI-D 24+1 Dual Link

This enables playing resolution to go as high as 2560 x 1600, which can power a super-high-resolution screen.

Therefore, with the right inexpensive and passive adaptors, your DVI can drive VGA, DVI, and HDMI displays.

On the other side, there’s only one type of VGA connector. It’s blue in color and has 15 signal pins, each with its own function.

It’s also called an RGB connector after the red, blue, and green colors that are transferred by the first three pins.

So far the DVI vs VGA discussion can’t be concluded without looking at what happens when you have one connector, and your equipment requires the other.

You don’t always want to be running around town buying connectors every time there’s a new gadget. There’s a reason the modules were standardized; to make them universally functional.

DVI and VGA Conversion

Active DVI-D to VGA Adapter

When your video source is DVI, and your display has a VGA port, you’ll need to plug a converter into your DVI port to convert the VGA signal.

Then you connect it to the display via a VGA cable. DVI to VGA converters are easy to get and are pocket friendly.

VGA to DVI converters are a bit harder to find because this conversion scenario hardly arises as most content is already digital.

It’s also more complicated to shift from VGA to DVI, as this means the converter has to change analog signals to digital.

VGA only carries analog signals, unlike DVI, which carries both analog and digital signals. So it’s only a matter of translation within DVI pins.

That’s not to say that VGA to DVI converters don’t exist. Au contraire, they may just be pricey enough to make you consider upgrading your video source to support the new display instead.

Monoprice 108214 VGA to DVI Converter

If we were to rate DVI vs VGA independently, DVI is better than VGA.

This is expected as it was developed to improve VGA’s shortcomings in the first place, so it had an advantage.

Reasons a DVI Connector is Better Than a VGA Connector

HDMI to VGA, Benfei Gold-Plated
  • It has better picture quality because it doesn’t need to convert the image from analog to digital, meaning less signal degradation.
  • There’s little image distortion because DVI cables are less prone to electronic interference and noise.
  • They both carry both analog and digital signals, while VGA connectors only carry analog.
  • DVI cables can be hot-plugged, meaning they can be connected without shutting down devices, unlike VGAs, which need to be shut down first, meaning they take longer to set up.
  • They are compatible with more of the latest devices as they have a variety of options for adaptation.
  • The dual-link version can power up a super high-resolution screen, which is a challenge for VGA.

There are, however, instances where VGA reigns supreme, especially when dealing with legacy equipment.

It’s good to know these can be readily adapted to work together, allowing you to use your connector if you’ve already invested in one.

They can also be adapted to more cutting edge technology like HDMI and DisplayPort, to ensure your equipment remains relevant to technological advances.

HDMI to DVI Cable (6 Feet)

Future Connections

As much as we’ve been discussing DVI vs VGA, we need to acknowledge that improvements are constantly being made both in connectors and the equipment we’re using.

Our equipment may become obsolete without our knowledge.

There’s no limit on how creative you can become with your existing equipment before you declare them redundant prematurely.

The market is awash in adaptors and converters to help you accomplish this. Below are scenarios where this is applicable:

  • Depending on the type of devices at your disposal, you may need a connection that lets you convert the signal both ways. A bi-directional DVI male to HDMI female converter, for instance, can connect your HDTV with an HDMI port to a computer with a DVI port, or from a computer with an HDMI port to a TV with a DVI port.
CableCreation DVI to HDMI Adapter

Conclusion

This article is not to discourage an investment in a VGA connector, but rather to show you how to make it functional. There’s no telling what neat little gadgets I’ll be discussing in the near future.

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