DisplayPort 2.1 became a bigger talking point than expected when AMD revealed its upcoming RX 7900 XTX and RX 7900 XT GPUs. It is the latest standard from DisplayPort, a revision to the 2.0 spec released in 2019, and is a natural connection for future GPUs. There’s just one problem – Nvidia’s behemoth RTX 4090 still uses DisplayPort 1.4a.
While the 1.4a spec is too much for most people, the inclusion of DisplayPort 2.1 gives AMD an advantage this generation. No, I’m not here to sell you on 8K gaming – in some parts of the world, 8K isn’t possible – but for the masses of competitive gamers and VR enthusiasts, DisplayPort 2.1 is possible to mark a great change.
It was four years in the making
VESA, the organization that defines and certifies the DisplayPort standard, released DisplayPort 2.1 in October 2022. It usually takes years for products to make their way to the market that support a new standard, but DisplayPort 2.1 is nothing new. It is an update to DisplayPort 2.0, which was released in 2019, and a big improvement over DisplayPort 1.4 that we saw from 2016.
Like any other connection, it depends on the bandwidth. DisplayPort 1.4a, which you can see on all graphics cards short of the Intel Arc A770 and A750, and the upcoming AMD RX 7900 XTX, over 25.92 Gbps of data rate. DisplayPort 2.1 goes up to 77.37Gbps (the theoretical bandwidth is higher, if you see different numbers, but this is the actual data rate that the phone can handle). If you run some, yes hard, math, you’ll see the data rate required for 4K at 120Hz with HDR turned out to be 32.27Gbps – higher than what DisplayPort 1.4a is capable of.
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 math is not missing, but not missing. And it can reduce the required data up to a 3:1 ratio, taking that number 32.27Gbps to 10.76Gbps. That’s fine, and DSC is the only reason DisplayPort 1.4 hasn’t been kicked to the curb.
The problem is that the limits of DisplayPort 1.4 are starting to crop up, even with DSC enabled. It is not possible to run a theoretical 4K monitor at 360Hz at its full refresh rate, even with DSC limited by 3:1 (the required data rate is 36.54Gbps, if you are wondering). And the higher color depth for HDR adds more bandwidth requirements, as do higher refresh rates and resolutions.
4K 360Hz audio is now available, but we have hardware that can handle that display. AMD claims 295 fps at 4K in Apex Legend and 355 fps inside Overwatch 2. Also, the RTX 4090 can shoot over 300 fps at 4K in The sixth rainbow, and the power of the development of the DLSS 3 and the FSR 3 will come to challenge the state of the 4K at 240Hz high that we have now in gaming monitors.
Most people don’t need that new retirement account, but let’s be honest; Most people don’t need to spend $1,600 (or even $1,000) on a GPU.
We have the supply
Surprisingly, we are not waiting for the device to use the monitors properly. We are waiting on the monitors to show the new devices. Samsung teased its “8K” Odyssey Neo G9 for CES this year – for the record, it’s not a true 8K, but a two-sided 4K display in a 32:9 aspect ratio – and we expect to see it in the a little. A handful of 8K gaming monitors will be on display at Samsung’s show.
That show is pretty solid too. If Samsung intends to continue with the 240Hz refresh rate as the current version, you’re looking at a data rate of over 45Gbps with HDR on (36.19Gbps with HDR off), and that’s with the 3:1 pressure. This is all for now, we have to wait until we see this display and other 8K options, but the numbers show that the RTX 4090 can’t manage them due to its DisplayPort connection 1.4a (at least at full refresh rate, DisplayPort is backwards compatible).
There is no need to limit this conversation to 8K or the highest refresh rate in 4K. OLED TVs that facilitate watching games will become popular, and they can see great benefits from 5K and 6K resolutions. As I’ve seen with LG’s UltraGear 48 OLED, the pixel density needs to be higher for a bigger screen closer to your face. DisplayPort 1.4a can drive 5K and 6K with DSC, but not at refresh rates above 120Hz and not at high HDR color depth.
That data rate capping is reflected in VR, too. The Pimax Crystal, currently a Kickstarter campaign, should claim about 29Gbps of data with DSC at 3:1 depending on the specifications. DisplayPort 1.4a is included, but it’s limited.
From high-end displays to VR headsets to high refresh rates in 4K, DisplayPort 1.4ai is starting to reach its full potential. If AMD and Nvidia stick with DisplayPort 1.4a, it doesn’t matter. Display manufacturers can adapt to what is currently available on the market. But AMD is opening the floodgates with its new GPUs.
It’s a significant difference, but not a selling point
Out of all the factors that make up a buying decision, DisplayPort should definitely be at the bottom of that list. We need to see how AMD’s new GPUs perform, what features such as FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR) 3.0 will bring, and if it’s better to move gaming monitors to this. time.
That’s where the trend is going, though, and the difference between DisplayPort 1.4aa and 2.1 could be a lot closer than we thought – at least for a tablet level of players willing to experiment with bleeding-edge technology.