Is HDMI better than VGA? HDMI is a newer technology and it’s digital, but whether it’s better depends on your needs. Let’s take a look at both so you can decide which one to use.
HDMI, which stands for High Definition Multimedia Interface, was released in 2003 as a digital audio/video connection for televisions and consumer devices. It sends a digital display, and carrying both audio and video in a single cable is convenient.
HDMI can handle 4K and 8K resolutions, in addition to older, more mainstream resolutions like 720p and 1080p, though older cables may not be capable of handling the newer, higher resolutions. HDMI cables are backward compatible, and the industry revises it every few years to handle new and emerging technologies.
Many computer monitors have HDMI connections but not all do. HDMI is backward compatible with the older DVI standard that many monitors have, so you can convert HDMI to DVI with a simple adapter. You don’t lose any quality when you convert between HDMI and DVI.
A few years ago, before monitors with 4K resolution became common, people would buy the cheapest 4K television they could find and connect it to their computer over HDMI. The refresh rate made this a poor setup for gaming but it was fine for running business software.
Keeping HDMI and DVI straight
If you have trouble keeping HDMI and DVI straight, remember that DVI came first, and HDMI came out when HDTVs came out. You find HDMI connections on HDTVs. Match HDMI to HDTV in your mind, and you’ll be able to keep them straight.
DVI, unlike HDMI, does not carry audio.
VGA, which stands for Video Graphics Array, was the video standard for the IBM PS/2 computers of 1987. The PS/2 wasn’t as successful as IBM hoped but its video standard lived on. It’s an analog signal, rather than digital. This was a selling point in 1987, as analog video allowed more colors than the digital standards of the time.
VGA can display high resolutions, but the signal degrades as you lengthen the cable. Some people perceive the degradation better than others. DVI does not degrade, so when you connect a device to a display using VGA, you’ll notice a loss in quality compared to DVI. Also, VGA is just a video signal, so you need a separate connection for audio.
Advantages of VGA
The biggest advantages of VGA is that it’s everywhere. We’ve been using it more than 30 years, so most PCs still have a VGA connection. Most monitors, TVs, and projectors have one as well. I carry a VGA cable in my backpack to use for presentations because I’m more likely to find a VGA projector or TV in a conference room than anything else. It’s the lowest common denominator, but put the emphasis on common.
And VGA cables are cheap. Every monitor comes with one, so many people have several spares laying around. Businesses discard them in huge quantities because they always have more than they need. In the unlikely event that you need one, you can easily get one for 99 cents on Ebay.
Some computers have a Displayport or Lightning connector but not an HDMI connector. You can connect Displayport or Lightning to HDMI with an adapter, but if you don’t have an adapter, VGA is better.
Last but not least, VGA doesn’t cost much to include, since it doesn’t require a royalty. This may be why the very cheapest computer monitors are VGA-only, even though a digital connection would give a better quality display on a flat panel monitor.
Disadvantages of VGA
Since VGA is an analog connection, it’s not as sharp or clear as digital standards like HDMI. It’s more susceptible to interference and the signal degrades.
The connector is also fairly fragile. I’ve seen many VGA cables with bent pins over the years, probably from people plugging them in wrong. Now that VGA cables usually aren’t hard-wired this isn’t as much of a problem as it used to be since you can replace the cable easily. I’ve had to cut off VGA plugs and solder new ones on and I didn’t like VGA very much while I was doing that. HDMI is more durable.
Is HDMI better than VGA?
All things being equal, HDMI is better than VGA. It’s more convenient because it only requires one cable, and the signal is clearer and doesn’t degrade. But sometimes, especially with laptops, your options are limited.
That said, most televisions have a limited number of HDMI ports. So if using VGA frees an HDMI port for something else, it might be preferable to use the VGA port. Additionally, when you’re connecting a computer to a TV, chances are it has a VGA port. It may or may not have an HDMI or compatible port. One of the biggest selling points of $50 video cards is that new ones contain HDMI ports, to make older computers compatible with flat-panel TVs.
What if you only have a VGA connection on the computer and an HDMI connection on the TV, and you can’t change the connection on the computer? You can get VGA-HDMI converters. The picture quality will be comparable to VGA, but it works, and is cheaper than buying a new video card.
On multi-computer setups, I use VGA and HDMI to switch between the two. I connect the less important computer through VGA, and the better computer through HDMI. Then I can switch by pressing a button on a monitor.
If you have a choice, HDMI gives you a better picture than VGA. VGA survives because it’s a reliable fallback option.
What about video capture?
There was a time when VGA had an advantage when it came to video capture. HDMI had copy prevention as part of the spec. VGA does not. But inexpensive video capture devices that let your computer capture HDMI video through a USB 3.0 port are available now. You can get one on Ebay for less than $20.
Hollywood probably isn’t happy about these devices, assuming they realize they exist. But there are legitimate uses for these devices, such as capturing video output from your computer or game console so you can use that output in your own video production. Since HDMI doesn’t degrade, and the capture devices are cheap, use HDMI for video capture. You’ll be much happier with the results that way.