Display technology terms to know.

Display technology is changing rapidly. Between DisplayPort, Thunderbolt, and now USB-C as a connector delivering these technologies, it’s a bit confusing. Let’s dig into each technology and explore the unique capabilities, and how you can use it.

We’ve put together a handy list of all the terms you might come across when researching or looking for display adapters, cables, and converters.

DisplayPort and Mini DisplayPort

DisplayPort (DP) is a digital video interface and it also comes in a smaller form factor variant called Mini DisplayPort (mDP).

DisplayPort connector.

Mini DisplayPort connector.

Technical capabilities:

  • Both DP and mDP use a 20-pin connector
  • DP supports audio
  • DP is normally used to connect a monitor or display to a computer
  • Different revisions of DP allow for higher resolutions and refresh rates to be obtained
    • DP 1.2 is capable of 3840×2160 (4K) at up to 75Hz
    • DP 1.4 is capable of 7680×4320 (8K) at up to 60Hz

Multi-Stream Transport

Multi-Stream Transport (MST) allows for multiple displays to be connected to a single DisplayPort port. The DP connection bandwidth is divided up as needed, depending on the resolution and refresh rate of each monitor. This can be done with monitors that support DP daisy chaining or with MST hubs.

MST resolution and refresh rate bandwidth calculations.

Technical capabilities:

  • MST hubs enable you to physically connect multiple monitors to a single DP port on your video card
  • DP 1.2 added support for MST, but not every video card that supports DP 1.2 or higher has native MST support. This means that USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 controllers don’t have native support
  • MST is not supported in macOS

USB Communication Protocols (2.0 / 3.0 / 3.1)

  • USB (Universal Serial Bus) is capable of data transfer and providing bus power
    • Bus power negates the need for external power adapters for peripherals with lower power consumption
  • USB is usually used to connect computer peripherals to a computer
  • USB 3.0 was renamed to USB 3.1 Gen 1
  • The next standard is USB 3.1 Gen 2
  • Different versions allow for higher data transfer rates:
    • USB 2.0 is capable of 480Mbps data transfer rates and 5V 500mA bus power
    • USB 3.0 / USB 3.1 Gen 1 is capable of 5Gbps data transfer rates and 5V at 900mA bus power
    • USB 3.1 / USB 3.1 Gen 2 is capable of 10Gbps data transfer rates and 5V at 900mA bus power

USB Connectors (USB-A / USB-C)

USB-A is a connector intended for use with the USB communication protocol and is what most people mean when they refer to USB ports on their computer or laptop. USB-A 2.0 connectors are 4-pin, and USB-A 3.1 (Gen 1 or 2) connectors are 9-pin.

USB-A 3.0 connector.

USB-C is a new 24-pin connector that has more features than USB-A.

USB-C connector.

Technical capabilities:

  • USB 3.1 Gen 2 data transfer rates of 10Gbps
  • USB Power Delivery 2.0 – Up to 100W of bi-directional power delivery
  • DisplayPort Alternate Mode (DP Alt Mode) with DP 1.3 support
  • The connector is also reversible

*A USB-C connector can potentially only support up to USB 2.0 protocols, and a USB-A connector can support up to USB 3.1 Gen 2 protocols.

Thunderbolt 1 and 2

Thunderbolt 1 and 2 are older versions of Thunderbolt technology, a computer interface capable of data transfer, bus power, and video.

Thunderbolt 1 & 2 connector (Mini DisplayPort)

Technical capabilities:

  • Uses the mDP connector
  • Different revisions allow for higher data transfer rates.
    • Thunderbolt 1 is capable of 10Gbps data transfer rates and 10W of bus power.
    • Thunderbolt 2 is capable of 20Gbps data transfer rates and 10W of bus power.
  • Thunderbolt 1 and 2 are backwards compatible with DP and mDP displays in certain circumstances (read a previous post on Thunderbolt and mDP and see what works and what doesn’t work)
  • Thunderbolt 1 and 2 allow for daisy chaining up to six devices to a single Thunderbolt 1 or 2 port

Thunderbolt 3

Thunderbolt 3 is the newest version of Thunderbolt and is different than its predecessors.

Thunderbolt 3 connector (USB-C)

Technical capabilities:

  • Uses the USB-C connector
  • Up to 40Gbps of total bandwidth
  • Supports USB 3.1 Gen 2
  • Supports up to two 4K displays @ 60Hz or a single 5K display @ 60Hz
  • Supports daisy chaining up to six devices from one Thunderbolt 3 port
  • Compatible with existing DisplayPort 1.2 displays, devices, and cables (with adapters)
  • Optional system charging up to 100W and 15W to bus-powered devices

Stay tuned for more posts in our Display Technology series, which will dive deeper into these technologies.

Further Reading:

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