Hooking up a computer monitor is not terribly complicated but there are a few different types of cables that can be used to get the job done. Before even purchasing a monitor, start by checking the computer itself. Look at the back to the machine to see what kind of video ports are on there. Ideally, you will want the same type of connection on the monitor and computer. If you find yourself with a mismatching monitor and computer, you can use an adapter or converter to change one type of connection to another.

When making your selection, there are five main types of connections built onto modern monitors: VGA, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, and USB.

VGA

VGA (also called HD15) is an older type of video-only connection. Many used or outdated monitors will have this type of connection while newer models probably will not. VGA is the old standard for monitors and has since been replaced with newer formats. Out of all the monitor connections still in use today, VGA is the only one that is purely analog. This means VGA has a maximum resolution of 640 x 480, a far cry from the 1080p quality available with digital connections. Generally, users only want to use VGA if any of the newer, digital options are not available.

DVI

DVI-A
DVI-D
DVI-I

Top: DVI-A (left), DVI-D single-link (middle), and DVI-D dual link (right)

Bottom: DVI-I single-link (left) and DVI-I dual-link (right)

DVI is a little more complicated than the other video cable options because it comes in a few different varieties. DVI-A (analog) is usually only used to connect a DVI port with an older VGA port. DVI-D (digital) is the most common DVI and supports itself as well as newer video formats like HDMI and DisplayPort. DVI-I (integrated) can support both of the other two versions.

Along with these three options, both DVI-D and DVI-I can come in single-link or dual-link formats. The difference here is that dual-link is made with more pins, which gives the cables superior video resolution. Like VGA, all types of DVI are also video-only.

HDMI

HDMI is the current standard for video connections and the most common type used today. Using a digital format, all new HDMI cables made today are built to standards supporting 4K video. Different grades of HDMI cable do exist but that more has to do with the physical toughness of the cable than the signal quality. Practically every computer monitor on the market today uses an HDMI port, as does practically every computer. HDMI also supports audio when using a television as a computer monitor. When setting up a new machine, HDMI is typically going to be the best option users can go with.

DisplayPort

DisplayPort (left) vs. Mini DisplayPort (right)

DisplayPort is a newer type of digital connection designed specifically for computer monitors. Because of that, DisplayPort has very fast data speeds and can transmit signals faster than HDMI. While this makes DisplayPort great for computers monitors, users are unlikely to see it on other devices like projectors or TVs. Like HDMI, DisplayPort is capable of supporting audio on top of video.

There is also a downsized version called Mini DisplayPort. The Mini version was created by Apple as a way to save space by using a smaller connector. Despite its smaller size, Mini DisplayPort is just as powerful as full-sized DisplayPort. Most Mini DisplayPort connections can be found on MacBooks but they are sometimes built into Windows computers as well.

It is important to note that there is another type of connection made by Apple called Thunderbolt that looks identical to Mini DisplayPort. Even though these two look the same on the outside, they are different on the inside. You can use a Thunderbolt cable on a Mini DisplayPort connection. You cannot use a Mini DisplayPort cable on a Thunderbolt connection. If a cable or port has a small lightning bolt symbol on it then it is a Thunderbolt, not a Mini DisplayPort.

USB

2.0 USB A
2.0 USB B
3.0 USB B

From left to right: USB A, USB B 2.0, and USB B 3.0

Along with dedicated video ports, some newer monitors will have a spot for a USB cable. Some computers, particularly budget models, will only have one video port but users may need to hook up two monitors. This gives users another option when they find themselves in that scenario. It is important to remember that USB is not a dedicated video port. It is a data port that can be used for video when there are no other options available. When using a USB connection for a monitor, do not expect it to have the same crystal clear image quality as HDMI or DisplayPort.

There are different types of USB that may be used on a monitor. Standard USB, also called USB A, is the first option. But some monitors will use USB B, also called a printer cable since it is usually used on printers. There are two different versions of USB B, 2.0 and 3.0. The two different versions are sized and shaped a bit differently with the 3.0 version being color-coded blue. Double-check the connection to be sure you grab the right cable when using USB, particularly USB B.