DisplayPort 2.1 could be a big deal for PC gaming in 2023

DisplayPort 2.1 became a bigger talking point than expected when AMD revealed its upcoming RX 7900 XT and RX 7900 XT GPUs. It’s the latest standard from DisplayPort, a revision to the 2.0 spec released in 2019, and it’s a natural inclusion for next-generation GPUs. There’s just one problem – Nvidia’s behemoth RTX 4090 still uses DisplayPort 1.4a.

Although the 1.4a spec is still more than enough for most people, the inclusion of DisplayPort 2.1 gives AMD an advantage over this generation. No, I’m not here to sell you on 8K gaming — in some parts of the world, 8K may not even be possible — but for the hordes of competitive gamers and VR enthusiasts, DisplayPort 2.1 could mark a major change. .

Four years in the making of an update

Ports on the RTX 3050 graphics card.
The EVGA RTX 3050 XC Black includes three DisplayPort connections and one HDMI. Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

VESA, the company that defined and certified the DisplayPort standard, released DisplayPort 2.1 in October 2022. It usually takes years for products to support a new standard to make their way to market, but DisplayPort 2.1 isn’t new at all. It’s a refresh to DisplayPort 2.0, which was launched in 2019, and a massive improvement over DisplayPort 1.4 that we’ve seen since 2016.

Like any new connection, it’s all about bandwidth. DisplayPort 1.4a, which you’ll find on all recent graphics cards under the Intel Arc A770 and A750, as well as AMD’s upcoming RX 7900XTX, tops out at 25.92Gbps of maximum data rate. DisplayPort 2.1 goes up to 77.37Gbps (the theoretical bandwidth is higher, if you look at the different numbers, but that’s probably the actual data rate over the cable). If you run some, blatantly complicated, math, you’ll find that the required data rate for 4K at 120Hz when HDR is on is 32.27Gbps—higher than DisplayPort 1.4a.

Monitors like the Samsung Odyssey Neo G8 only support 4K at 240Hz with DisplayPort 1.4a, so what gives? DisplayPort (and now HDMI) uses Display Stream Compression (DSC) to reduce the amount of data required. DSC is not mathematically lossless, but it is visually lossless. And it can reduce the data required by a 3:1 ratio, bringing that 32.27Gbps number down to 10.76Gbps. That’s great, and the DSC is the only reason DisplayPort 1.4a hasn’t been kicked to the curb already.

Cable Management on Samsung Odyssey Neo G8.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

The problem is that DisplayPort 1.4a’s limitations are starting to crop up even when DSC is enabled. A theoretical 4K monitor at 360Hz won’t be able to run at its full refresh rate, even with the DSC compressing it to 3:1 (the required data rate is 36.54Gbps, in case you were wondering). And the higher color depth for HDR adds up to even greater bandwidth requirements, as do higher refresh rates and resolutions.

A 4K 360Hz monitor may sound crazy now, but we have hardware capable of driving such displays. AMD 4K in . but is claiming 295 fps Apex Legends and 355 fps inches Overwatch 2. In addition, the RTX 4090 4K in . but can push above 300 fps rainbow six siege, And the frame generation capabilities of the DLSS 3 and the upcoming FSR 3 are sure to challenge the 4K status at the 240Hz max we currently have on gaming monitors.

Most people don’t need that extra refresh rate, but let’s be honest; Most people don’t need to spend $1,600 (or even $1,000) on a GPU.

we have hardware

Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 GPU.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Oddly enough, we’re not waiting for the hardware to take advantage of the monitor. We’re waiting on the monitors for the new hardware to show up. Samsung has already teased its “8K” Odyssey Neo G9 for CES this year — for the record, it’s not true 8K, but two 4K side-by-side displays in a 32:9 aspect ratio — and we’re at least Expect to see less than a handful of 8K gaming monitors with Samsung’s displays shown at the show.

That display is also a nice touchstone. Assuming Samsung wants to keep up with a 240Hz refresh rate like the current version, you’re looking at data rates above 45Gbps with HDR (36.19Gbps ​​with HDR off), and that’s with 3:1 compression. It’s all theoretical at the moment, we’ll need to wait until we see this display and other 8K options, but the numbers suggest the RTX 4090 will be able to drive them due to its DisplayPort 1.4a connection (at least on full refresh). may not be enabled. rate, DisplayPort is backwards compatible).

Slide showing Samsung's first 8K ultrawide monitor.

There’s no need to limit this conversation to super high refresh rates at 8K or 4K. OLED TVs are becoming increasingly popular as gaming monitors, and they can see huge gains from 5K and 6K resolutions. As I saw with LG’s UltraGear 48 OLED, the pixel density has to be so close to your face for such a large screen. The DisplayPort 1.4a can drive 5K and 6K with the DSC, but not at refresh rates above 120Hz and not at high HDR color depth.

That capping of the data rate is visible in VR as well. The Pimax Crystal, which is currently a Kickstarter campaign, should require about 29Gbps ​​of data with DSC at 3:1, depending on the specifications. That’s what DisplayPort 1.4a is capable of doing, but it’s reaching the limit.

From large form factor displays to VR headsets to high refresh rates at 4K, the DisplayPort 1.4a is beginning to reach its full potential. If both AMD and Nvidia stick to DisplayPort 1.4a, it won’t be a big deal. Display manufacturers will adapt to the capabilities currently on the market. But AMD is opening the floodgates with its new GPUs.

A significant difference, but not a selling point

RX 7900 XTX graphics card with its die.

Of all the things you base your buying decision on, the DisplayPort Standard should be at the very bottom of that list. We still need to see how AMD’s new GPUs perform, what features like FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) 3.0 will bring, and if pushing back the barrier gaming monitors still makes sense.

That’s where the trend is heading, and the difference between DisplayPort 1.4a and 2.1 could be relevant much faster than we anticipated — at least for high-end gamers experimenting with bleeding-edge technology. want.

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