When AMD revealed its upcoming RX 7900 XTX and RX 7900 XT GPUs, DisplayPort 2.1 was a much bigger story than expected. This is the latest standard introduced by DisplayPort, specification version 2.0, released in 2019, and it’s a natural addition to next-generation GPUs. There’s just one problem – Nvidia’s behemoth RTX 4090 still uses DisplayPort 1.4a.
While the 1.4a specification is still sufficient for most people, the addition of DisplayPort 2.1 gives AMD the edge this generation. No, I’m not here to sell you on 8K gaming — 8K may not even be possible in some parts of the world — but for competitive gamers and VR enthusiasts, DisplayPort 2.1 could represent a big difference.
The update has been in the works for four years
VESA, the company that defines and certifies the DisplayPort standard, released DisplayPort 2.1 in October 2022. It usually takes years for products to come to market that support the new standard, but DisplayPort 2.1 isn’t exactly new. It’s an update to DisplayPort 2.0, which launched in 2019, and is a massive improvement over DisplayPort 1.4, which we’ve seen since 2016.
As with any new connection, it all comes down to bandwidth. That’s higher than the DisplayPort 1.4a maximum data rate of 25.92 Gbps that you’ll find on all recent graphics cards short of the Intel Arc A770 and A750, as well as AMD’s upcoming RX 7900 XTX cards. DisplayPort 2.1 reaches up to 77.37 Gbps (if you look at the different numbers, the theoretical throughput is higher, but this is the actual data rate possible with the cable). If you run some admittedly complicated math, you’ll see that the required data rate for 4K at 120Hz with HDR enabled is 32.27 Gbps—which is higher than DisplayPort 1.4a is capable of.
Monitors like the Samsung Odyssey Neo G8 only support 4K at 240Hz over 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 lossy mathematically, but not visually. And it can reduce the required data to a 3:1 ratio, bringing that 32.27 Gbps number down to 10.76 Gbps. That’s pretty cool, and the only reason why DSC DisplayPort 1.4a hasn’t been phased out yet.
The problem is that the limitations of DisplayPort 1.4a start to increase, even with DSC enabled. A theoretical 4K monitor at 360Hz can’t even handle the full refresh rate with DSC 3:1 compression (required data rate of 36.54Gbps, in case you’re wondering). And for HDR, higher color depth adds more bandwidth requirements, as do higher refresh rates and resolutions.
A 4K 360Hz monitor might seem crazy now, but we have the hardware capable of driving such a display. AMD claims 295 fps at 4K Apex Legends and 355 fps in inches Overwatch 2. Additionally, the RTX 4090 can push upwards of 300fps at 4K Rainbow Six Siege, and the frame-generation capabilities of DLSS 3 and the upcoming FSR 3 challenge the status quo of 4K at 240Hz max currently available on gaming monitors.
Most people don’t need that extra refresh rate, but let’s be honest; Most people don’t need to spend $1600 (or even $1000) on a GPU.
We have the hardware
Interestingly, we don’t expect hardware to take advantage of monitors. We are waiting on the monitors to show off the new equipment. Samsung teased its “8K” Odyssey Neo G9 for CES this year — for the record, it’s not 8K, but two 4K displays side-by-side in a 32:9 aspect ratio — and we expect to see at least that. According to Samsung Display, several 8K gaming monitors will be on display at the show.
This display is also a good stand. Assuming Samsung wants to keep the same 240Hz refresh rate as the current version, you’re looking at a higher data rate of 45Gbps with HDR on (36.19Gbps with HDR off), and that’s at 3:1 compression. It’s all theoretical at the moment, we’ll have to wait until we see this display and other 8K options, but the numbers suggest that the RTX 4090 may not be able to drive them (at least at full refresh) due to the DisplayPort 1.4a connection. speed, DisplayPort backward compatible).
This conversation doesn’t have to be limited to ultra-high refresh rates at 8K or 4K. OLED TVs, seen as gaming monitors, are becoming increasingly popular and can benefit greatly from 5K and 6K resolutions. As I saw with the LG UltraGear 48 OLED, for such a large screen close to your face, the pixel density needs to be high. DisplayPort 1.4a can drive 5K and 6K with DSC, but not at refresh rates higher than 120Hz and not at high HDR color depth.
Data rate limiting is also displayed in VR mode. The Pimax Crystal, which is currently a Kickstarter campaign, should handle around 29 Gbps of data via DSC at 3:1 based on the specs. It’s within the limits of what DisplayPort 1.4a is capable of, but it’s getting there.
From large form-factor displays to VR headsets to 4K high refresh rates, DisplayPort 1.4a is starting to reach its full potential. If both AMD and Nvidia stuck with DisplayPort 1.4a, it wouldn’t be a big deal. Display manufacturers adapt to the opportunities available in the market today. But AMD is opening the floodgates with its new GPUs.
An important difference, but not a selling point
Of all the things to base your purchasing decision on, the DisplayPort standard should be pretty low on that list. We still need to see how AMD’s new GPUs will perform, what features such as FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) 3.0 will bring, and it already makes sense for gaming monitors to break through the barrier.
The trend is headed in this direction, and the difference between DisplayPort 1.4a and 2.1 may become more significant much faster than we expect – at least for the high class of gamers who want to experiment with modern technology.