Update: February 15, 2013

A Short Guide to
DVI Cables and DVI Connectors

 Are you Confused by the Different DVI Interconnects?


Despite that in the home theater the digital video interface was soon superseded by HDMI, yet it is still very much around. The problem for many is that the different types of DVI cables and connectors often represent nothing more but an incomprehensible interconnected mess.

Help is on the way! This short guide explains all there is the need to know about DVI interconnects.


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DVI: An Introduction

The Digital Visual Interface, or DVI, was originally developed by the DDWG (Digital Display Working Group) in 1999.

It brought with it a number of different DVI cables and connectors to support the various signals that can be carried over a DVI interconnect.

However, it did not take long before this whole new mess of interconnects complicated itself even further. Soon, we saw the advent of a new digital interface that is closely related to DVI, the High Definition Multimedia Interface — or HDMI — and with it a whole new range of HDMI interconnects, HDMI to DVI cables, HDMI splitters, adaptors and HDMI connectors.

DVD players, digital cable and satellite set-top boxes, HDTVs, and home theater projectors, all represent prime targets for these digital connections. The new technology behind these connectors allows for direct digital connection between a digital source and the display device leaving you with pixel-for-pixel accurate images on your display. And though HDMI has become the de-facto standard in the high-definition video, DVI is still a very popular interface. By 2008, there were more than 100 million DVI-enabled devices around; and according to In-Stat.com, a marketing intelligence research group, shipment of DVI-enabled devices continued to increase till end-2011, following which shipments started declining by 9.4%; this annual decline rate is expected to continue till 2015.

This means that despite the dominant presence of HDMI, DVI-enabled devices are still very much present in both the home and the industry; coming across some DVI-enabled device is a reality that will remain with us for the years to come.

Digital Visual Interface Basics

The DVI connector can accommodate up to two TMDS (transition minimized differential signaling) links, the VESA Display Data Channel (DDC), the Extended Display Identification Data (EDID) services, as well as the red, green, blue and horizontal and vertical sync lines of an RGBHV analog video signal; the latter is included to safeguard backward compatibility with analog VESA video.

The use of TMDS means that DVI is fully compatible with both P&D and DFP (Digital Flat Panel) standards, and HDMI.

Each link in the DVI standard is made up of 3 data channels for RGB information and has a maximum bandwidth of 165MHz; this equates to 165 million pixels per second. Color support is up to 24-bit depth, with 8 bits per color. Each incoming 8-bit color data word is encoded by the DVI standard into a 10-bit transition minimized DC-balanced character, meaning that each pixel is represented by a total of 30-bits. This means that effective data throughput over a single link DVI cable is 4.95Gbps while in the case of dual link DVI, maximum data throughput is 9.9Gbps.

The only real major limitation of the DVI standard is the supported maximum cable length; this can be a serious hurdle to overcome in a dedicated home theater setup when connecting a DVI source with say a ceiling-mounted video projector.

This limitation arises out of the use of twisted-pair cable by the DVI standard instead of coaxial cable to carry high bit-rate digital video, without employing any form of error correction.  This can lead to severe problems with signal degradation over distance.  At long cable lengths, cable quality becomes a critical factor that will affect the maximum supported bit-rate, and therefore signal resolution.

The specified standard limit for maximum DVI cable length is 5 meters. However, the actual maximum cable length depends on cable quality and signal bit-rate; some manufactures claim that their high quality cables can run up to 50 feet (just over 15 meters) at maximum bit-rate without loss of signal. However such claims have no value without the appropriate manufacture guarantee. Our advice when buying DVI cables is to...

Ensure that the respective cable has been tested at up to the maximum bit-rate supported by the DVI standard over the specified cable length without errors.

 

The 165Mhz maximum bandwidth per link on a DVI cable means that full resolution 60Hz 1920x1080 HDTV is well within the available bandwidth on a DVI single-link interface. The use of dual-link DVI effectively doubles the power of transmission and provides an increase in speed and signal quality. At the same time, this necessitates the use of additional twisted pairs in a DVI cable, and therefore additional pins on the DVI connector to handle the second link.

Worth taking note here that as matters stand today, there are very few devices on the market that use the dual-link interface. Going for a dual-link DVI cable won't hurt anything, but in most cases, it won't help either, unless it is implemented in both the source equipment and the display device.

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Exploring the Different DVI Connectors

The DVI connector is a 37.0 mm wide connector. The DVI specifications refer to two different types of DVI cable connectors depending on the type of signal you need to carry:

  • DVI-Digital (DVI-D) supports digital displays only.

  • DVI-Integrated (DVI-I) supports both digital and analog displays.

In addition to the above, it is also possible to find the analog-only DVI; this is often referred to as DVI-A.

The DVI standard specifies a DVI connector based on a 24-pin layout; however only 12 are implemented in a single link DVI interconnect. Furthermore, the implementation of analog support in a DVI cable leads to an extra four pins plus a ground plane on the DVI-I connector to accommodate the red, green, blue and horizontal sync (R,G,B and H) lines of an RGBHV analog video signal (the vertical sync lies on another pin).

The table below depicts the five main DVI connector configurations in common use today.

DVI Connector Guide


DVI-I Single Link Connector

DVI-I Single Link

[analog and digital]

Three rows of 6 pins and two contacts above and below the flat blade.


DVI-I Dual Link Connector

DVI-I Dual Link

[analog and digital]

Three rows of 8 pins and two contacts above and below the flat blade.

DVI-D Single Link Connector

DVI-D Single Link

[digital only]

Three rows of 6 pins and no contacts above or below the flat blade.

DVI-D Dual Link Connector

DVI-D Dual Link

[digital only]

Three rows of 8 pins and no contacts above or below the flat blade.

DVI-A Connector

DVI-A

[analog only]

One row of 5 pins, one row of 3 pins and one row of 4 pins with two contacts above and below the flat blade.

Remember:

It is not possible to go from a digital signal to an analog signal i.e. from a DVI-D source to a DVI-A display connection or vice-versa.

How to Determine the Type of DVI Cable to Use?

As indicated above, the DVI connector can take various forms. But the fact that it makes use of the same TMDS used in P&D, DFP, and HDMI standards, as well as its backward compatibility with analog VESA video, has led to the development of numerous different types of DVI cables to cater not only for DVI to DVI connections, but also for DVI to analog flat panel monitors and CRTs, DVI to DFP displays, and also DVI to HDMI. Hence, great care should be taken when selecting DVI cables if you want to get the right product the first time.

The first step is to carefully examine the connection points on your source and display device to identify the type of female DVI plugs installed on your gear and therefore, the signals they are compatible with.

Also, consult your manuals before investing in a DVI cable. Most manufacturers make the female plugs on their gear with all available pins, meaning that most female DVI plugs installed on home theater equipment look like dual link DVI-I.  But this does not necessarily imply that all pins are actually implemented.

When selecting your cables, it is important to take note of the following:
  • If you have DVI-D, you can use either a DVI-D or DVI-I cable, provided the female plug on your gear can take the extra pins on the DVI-I male connector.

  • If you have DVI-A, you can use either a DVI-A or DVI-I cable; this applies as long as the female plug on your gear can take the extra pins on the DVI-I male connector on the DVI cable.

  • If you have plugs that are DVI-I, they will accept any type of DVI cable.

  • If you have mismatched plugs, such as DVI-D and DVI-I or DVI-A and DVI-I, you may use either a DVI-I cable or the cable that matches the other plug. For example, you may use a DVI-D cable on a DVI-I to DVI-D connection, but you cannot use a DVI-A cable since you cannot match a DVI-D connection with DVI-A only connection. It is just not possible to go from a digital signal to an analog signal.

How to Identify a DVI Cable

A most important thing when selecting your DVI connector is analog support; look at the receptacles on your devices to determine if they can take the four pins around the flat blade on the DVI connector.

  • A flat blade alone denotes a DVI-D connection.

  • If there are two holes above and two holes below the flat blade, then it is either a DVI-I or a DVI-A. In other words, you would then need to determine whether both the digital and the analog modes are enabled on your DVI port -- check your user's manual.

The pin-sets will vary depending on whether the DVI cable is single or dual-link. A 24-pin connector using 3 rows of 8-pins each stands for a dual-link cable, while three rows of 6-pins each represent a single-link cable. However, the exact pins implemented depend on whether it is a DVI-I single link or a DVI-A; to distinguish between DVI-I and DVI-A, check the pin-sets: a full 24-pin set is for a DVI-l while a separated 8-pin and 4-pin set is for DVI-A.

For the exact pin-out details, check our DVI Connection Chart above.










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 Article Content

DVI Cables and Connectors

Blue bullet  DVI Introduction: Still a popular digital video interface despite HDMI

Blue bullet  DVI Basics: Explaining the technology behind the Digital Visual Interface

Blue bullet  DVI Connector Guide: Exploring the different DVI connectors

Blue bullet  Selecting DVI Cables: Determining the type of cable to use and tips on how to identify DVI Cables 

Home Theater Cables

Additional Articles covered under this section

AV Cables Basics

Quality, Cable Length, and Performance Implications

Audio Cables Explained

Video Cables Basics

HDMI Basics and Versions

HDMI: Cable Types and Connectors

Extending HDMI Cables

Wireless HDMI: Technology and available solutions

Component Video vs. DVI & HDMI: Is digital always better?

Speaker Wires & Connectors

AV Cables Connection Tips 



Editor's Note: A detailed index of articles appearing under this section is available here.


 

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