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

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DisplayPort 2.1 became a much bigger talking point than expected when AMD unveiled its upcoming RX 7900 XTX and RX 7900 XT GPUs. It’s the latest DisplayPort standard, a revision of the 2.0 specification released in 2019, and it’s a natural inclusion for next-gen GPUs. There’s only one problem: Nvidia’s giant 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 edge over this generation. No, I’m not here to sell you 8K gaming – in some parts of the world 8K might not even be possible – but for a host of competitive gamers and VR enthusiasts, DisplayPort 2.1 might score. a major change.

A four-year update in the making

The EVGA RTX 3050 XC Black includes three DisplayPort connections and a single HDMI. Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

VESA, the company that defines and certifies the DisplayPort standard, released DisplayPort 2.1 in October 2022. It usually takes years for products to hit the market supporting a new standard, but DisplayPort 2.1 isn’t that new. . It’s a refresh of DisplayPort 2.0, 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 except the Intel Arc A770 and A750, as well as AMD’s upcoming RX 7900 XTX, peaks at 25.92 Gbps of maximum data rate. DisplayPort 2.1 goes up to 77.37 Gbps (theoretical bandwidth is higher, in case you see different numbers, but this is the actual data rate possible over the cable). If you run some admittedly complicated math, you’ll find that the data rate required for 4K at 120Hz with HDR enabled is 32.27 Gbps – higher than what DisplayPort 1.4a is capable of.

Monitors like the Samsung Odyssey Neo G8 support 4K at 240Hz with only DisplayPort 1.4a, so what does that mean? DisplayPort (and HDMI now) 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 required data down to a 3:1 ratio, bringing that number down from 32.27 Gbps to 10.76 Gbps. It’s great, and DSC is the only reason DisplayPort 1.4a hasn’t been released yet.

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

The problem is that the DisplayPort 1.4a limitations are starting to show up, even with DSC enabled. A theoretical 360Hz 4K monitor wouldn’t be able to run at its full refresh rate, even with 3:1 DSC compression (required data rate is 36.54 Gbps, in case you were wondering). And higher color depths for HDR add even more bandwidth demands, as do higher refresh rates and resolutions.

A 4K 360Hz monitor might sound crazy right now, but we have hardware that can drive such a display. AMD claims 295 fps at 4K in Apex Legends and 355 fps in Overwatch 2. Additionally, the RTX 4090 can push above 300 fps at 4K in Rainbow Six Siege, and the image-generating capabilities of DLSS 3 and the upcoming FSR 3 are sure to challenge the position of the maximum 4K at 240Hz that we currently have in 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 either.

We have the material

Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 graphics card.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Strangely, we don’t wait for hardware to take advantage of monitors. We are waiting for monitors to show the new material. Samsung has already teased its “8K” Odyssey Neo G9 for CES this year – for the record, it’s not true 8K, but rather two side-by-side 4K displays in 32:9 aspect ratio – and we expect to see at minus a handful of 8K gaming monitors to show off at the show along Samsung’s display.

This screen is also a good touchstone. Assuming Samsung wants to keep a 240Hz refresh rate like the current version, you’re looking at a higher data rate of 45Gbps with HDR on (36.19Gbps ​​with HDR off), and that’s with 3:1 compression. 1. This is all theoretical at the moment, we have to wait to see this display and other 8K options, but the numbers suggest the RTX 4090 might not be able to drive them due to its DisplayPort 1.4a connection ( at least during a full rate refresh, DisplayPort is backwards compatible).

A slide showing Samsung's first 8K ultrawide monitor.

Nor is it necessary to restrict this conversation to 8K or very high refresh rates at 4K. OLED TVs masquerading as gaming monitors are becoming increasingly popular, and they could reap huge benefits from 5K and 6K resolutions. As I saw with LG’s UltraGear 48 OLED, the pixel density needs to be higher for such a large display so close to your face. DisplayPort 1.4a can drive 5K and 6K with DSC, but not at refresh rates above 120Hz and not at higher HDR color depths.

This data rate cap also appears in virtual reality. The Pimax Crystal, which is currently a Kickstarter campaign, is expected to require around 29 Gbps of data with DSC at 3:1 based on specs. That’s within the limits of what DisplayPort 1.4a is capable of, but it hits the limit.

From large form factor displays to VR headsets to higher refresh rates at 4K, DisplayPort 1.4a is starting to hit its full potential. If AMD and Nvidia stuck with DisplayPort 1.4a, that wouldn’t matter. Display manufacturers would adapt to the capabilities of what is currently on the market. But AMD is opening the floodgates with its new GPUs.

An important distinction, but not a selling point

The RX 7900 XTX graphics card with its die.

Of all the things to base a buying decision on, the DisplayPort standard should be way down on this list. We have yet to see how AMD’s new GPUs perform, what features like FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) 3.0 will bring, and whether it even makes sense to break through the gaming monitor barrier.

That’s where the trend is heading, though, and the difference between DisplayPort 1.4a and 2.1 might become more relevant much faster than expected – at least for a class of high-end gamers who want to experiment with cutting-edge technologies.

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