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USB-C vs. DisplayPort: A Full Comparison

usb-c vs. displayport

USB-C vs. DisplayPort: A Full Comparison

Key Points

  • USB-C and DisplayPort are both standards for video output, with USB-C being more common in laptops and DisplayPort being more common in desktop PCs.
  • USB-C and DisplayPort have identical functionality and support the same standards, but there are differences in how they are implemented.
  • USB-C has better portability and is more commonly used in laptops, while DisplayPort is better suited for desktop PCs with higher bandwidth needs.
  • Both USB-C and DisplayPort support high-resolution displays and offer 10-bit color depth, resulting in vibrant colors.
  • Both USB-C and DisplayPort support uncompressed audio over 7.1 channels and offer high-resolution audio playback.

USB-C vs. DisplayPort: which one is the best? When it comes to standards for getting video output, users are spoiled for choice. What once was the domain of VGA has been supplanted entirely by the likes of
HDMI, USB-C, DisplayPort, and Thunderbolt. DisplayPort has gained ground in recent years for being a powerful standard for desktop computers.

USB-C is the standard being pushed forward by laptops and manufacturers like Apple. How do these standards stack up against one another? It is a matter of curiosity for me, so it certainly bears some exploration. So, let’s take a closer look at these display connectors, and see which one is the best fit for your computing needs.

USB-C vs. DisplayPort: Side-by-Side Comparison

USB-CDisplayPort
Bandwidth80Gbps80Gbps
Maximum Resolution8K8K
Color Depth10-bit10-bit
Audio Bit Depth24-bit24-bit
Audio Sample Rate192kHz192kHz
Latest Standard2.12.1
Maximum Refresh Rate120Hz120Hz
FreeSync SupportYesYes
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The functionality between these two standards is identical, at least with the latest versions. The reason for this is that USB-C leverages the DisplayPort standard through USB-C alt display mode. As such, they have identical functionality when looking at new devices for support for the standard. Where some key differences come into play is going to be when looking at how the standards are implemented.

USB-C vs. DisplayPort: What’s the Difference?

So, now that we have a direct comparison out of the way, it’s time to take a closer look at the standards. You are more likely to find DisplayPort on full desktop PCs, thanks to the overall size of the port. USB-C is common on many devices but is almost universal in newer laptops. As such, we’ll be keeping this in mind for the entirety of this comparison.

Throughput

usb-c vs. displayport
DisplayPort allows for greater bandwidth than you would see with HDMI.

As previously mentioned, USB-C uses the DisplayPort 2.1 standard when looking at newer devices. As such, you can expect a throughput of around 80 Gbps, or nearly double that of HDMI 2.1. This is fantastic if you have a device that operates a higher resolution, like an 8K monitor. However, as these are much rarer in the wild, that functionality isn’t going to be fully seen.

Instead, DisplayPort and USB-C shine when using a 4K display. While there are multiple monitors on the market with 60Hz refresh rates, the latest standards for both DisplayPort and USB-C can readily take advantage of 120Hz displays. This makes for an overall smoother experience.

The throughput also allows for greater color depth, especially when compared to the previous DisplayPort 1.4 standard. The 1.4 standard found on both USB-C and DisplayPort also resulted in video compression, especially when operating at higher resolutions like 8K.

That said, the total bandwidth for the latest standard is one of the fastest you’ll find, especially when looking at the more universal HDMI standard. Do be aware that the USB-C display standard throughput can suffer when using other devices utilizing the USB 3.1 or USB 3.2 connections on your device.

Color Depth

Color depth support is identical, operating at 10-bit color depth. Compared to older HDMI standards like 1.4, which only supported 8-bit color depth, this allows for more vibrant colors. Also consider that most modern displays are coming around with HDR support, and it makes a substantial difference in how you’ll perceive color and contrast.

Again, there isn’t a distinct edge given to either standard, as both are identical in terms of overall operation. As such, you can utilize the same monitor with DisplayPort or USB-C, provided it has corresponding inputs for both.

The bigger issue will be finding a monitor that comes with support for 10-bit color depth. They are certainly out there for 4K resolution, but you’re going to be paying a premium for the additional support for the DisplayPort 2.1 standard.

Audio Resolution

usb-c vs. displayport
USB-C has stellar audio support.

As someone who moonlights in audio engineering, I take a keen interest in the quality of audio output. Both of these standards are stellar, thanks in part to the enhanced throughput. You’re looking at a maximum of 24-bit audio resolution, which should result in minimal digital artifacts during playback.

Both standards support 7.1 channels of audio, which are uncompressed during playback. This is a direct carry-over from the previous 1.4 standard, which also had stellar audio support. If you’re looking to utilize audio passthrough from your display to something like a soundbar or amplifier, you’re going to have a wonderful experience when it comes to audio playback.

I don’t rightfully know who is running a soundbar with a laptop, but I’m glad they at least have the option to do so with USB-C. There is no excuse for poor audio quality, and it pleases me that both DisplayPort and USB-C readily rise to the challenge.

FreeSync Support

FreeSync and variable refresh rates are a boon for gamers but might be less important for users who are doing casual browsing. Thankfully, the latest standard of DisplayPort comes with full support for the FreeSync standard. If you’re running an AMD GPU, this should make for buttery smooth framerates when playing your favorite games.

That is of course operating under the caveat that you have a powerful GPU and compatible monitor to take advantage of the tech. NVIDIA’s 4000 series can utilize the likes of FreeSync over DisplayPort, but you’ll be restricted to 144Hz for the maximum refresh rate.

Portability

In terms of overall portability, USB-C is going to win this time and time again. The port is much smaller, as are the cables. As such, you can readily use a laptop with a monitor with minimal cabling necessary. DisplayPort laptops are on the market of course, but these are bulkier laptops. Since USB-C shares compatibility with the likes of Apple’s Thunderbolt, it makes for a universal fit across the board.

The physical DisplayPort standard is better suited for desktop PCs, where you’re likely to have a more powerful graphical processor and fixed setup to take advantage of the increased bandwidth afforded with higher throughput cabling. While USB-C can readily use the maximum throughput of the DisplayPort standard, it isn’t an ideal fit when connecting other accessories.

A dedicated DisplayPort output on a GPU doesn’t have this issue, so you can connect peripherals as needed. As such, USB-C is more readily portable, while DisplayPort isn’t going to be restricted to shared bandwidth across USB ports.

Compatibility

DisplayPort and USB-C are backward compatible with older devices. As such, compatibility when looking at devices utilizing 1.2 or 1.4 of the DisplayPort standard should run just fine. You will of course be restricted to the capabilities and bandwidth of those devices. However, think of it as futureproofing if you are running a monitor with support for 1.4.

DisplayPort is an open standard with widely available documentation, so compatibility across a slew of devices is pretty much assured. The standard itself through both the physical DisplayPort output and USB-C isn’t nearly as common as HDMI, but you’re set if you primarily run devices utilizing the standard.

This wide range of compatibility is a great selling point, especially in light of the enhanced capabilities when directly compared to something like HDMI 2.1.

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USB-C vs. DisplayPort: 5 Must-Know Facts

  • USB-C utilizes the same standard as DisplayPort.
  • USB-C shares bandwidth with other devices on USB.
  • DisplayPort theoretically has better bandwidth due to its dedicated output port.
  • DisplayPort has better throughput than HDMI.
  • DisplayPort supports uncompressed audio over 7.1 channels and at high-resolution sample rates.

USB-C vs. DisplayPort: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Choose?

Honestly, there isn’t a clear-cut winner when it comes to a comparison like this. When you consider both of these ports utilize the same standard, it simply comes down to a matter of preference. I generally prefer portability, at least when it comes to my laptop usage, so USB-C is a winner in my book. However, I can see nothing but benefits when using something like DisplayPort for gaming.

As such, it’ll come down to what sort of monitor you’re shopping for. Do be aware that USB-C is not the same as Thunderbolt 3 or 4 when looking at raw capabilities for displays. Those are a completely different standard with varying capabilities despite using identical ports.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Does USB-C use DisplayPort?

Yes, any USB-C monitor or laptop uses DisplayPort for its video transmission.

Does DisplayPort support daisy chaining monitors?

Yes, you can daisy chain up to 3 4K monitors together with DisplayPort 2.1.

Is DisplayPort more robust than HDMI?

DisplayPort 2.1 has double the bandwidth of HDMI 2.1.

Is DisplayPort backward compatible with older versions?

Yes, you can use a DisplayPort 2.1 monitor with a 1.4 GPU.

Who operates DisplayPort?

DisplayPort and the USB-C extension of the standard are overseen by VESA.

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