AVOID these 3 mistakes with HDMI, 144Hz and 4K

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This box of HDMI cables… they should all work the same right? A cable is a cable yeah? WRONG! While older VGA and DVI-A cables used an analog signal generally showed a picture no matter what, newer digital signal cables like HDMI and DisplayPort have transfer limits like CAT5 networking cable.

But maybe you grabbed a 144Hz gaming or 4K monitor but it doesn’t display, has sparkles or intermittently blanks out? In the market and want to avoid problems when you finally pull the trigger?

And we’ll answer some common questions like will a 4K 60Hz monitor crank up to 144Hz, or will a 144Hz monitor do 4K if you downscale to 60Hz? No, are you crazy?

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AVOID these 3 mistakes with HDMI, 144Hz and 4K!

Today we’ll look at 3 mistakes to avoid with hooking up 144Hz and 4K monitors with HDMI, quickly touch on whether to use HDMI or DisplayPort, and give you some quick tips. Quick, like how quickly your components get cooled from our sponsor, Noctua.

Digital Cables aren’t the same as Analog

So after hooking up MANY 144Hz and 4K monitors and TVs, we have several tips to make your new setup go smoothly, and don’t forget if this helps you please hit that like and subscribe, give us a quick follow on social media, and if have questions, let us know in the comments, and if it’s not covered in the video, we’ll try to answer some.

3 MISTAKES to avoid with HDMI, 144Hz and 4K!

And our third tip may help you the most, so stay tuned. So VGA, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, what’s the difference, they all connect displays right? While VGA and DVI-A for Analog are built to handle up to 1080p and transmit an analog signal down the wire, they had a bit more tolerance for length, interference and problems. Later DVI-D for digital, HDMI and DisplayPort transmit a digital signal down a better manufactured and shielded cable.

One 1080p screen is 2 million pixels, 2K or 1440p is 3.6 million, and 4K is 8.2 million. If the you’re pushing more data through your HDMI cable than it’s rated for, or if it’s too long or damaged, you’ll get a blank screen, or if it’s right at the edge, you may get sparkles in your picture. If you’ve experienced issues with hooking up gigabit internet, but only getting 100 Meg speed, this is very similar. And don’t forget your monitor is always the sharpest running at its native resolution.

3 mistakes with HDMI #1: Res vs Hz- Trade resolution for refresh?

So the first mistake, and we get this question a lot, is can a 4K 60Hz monitor do 144Hz if you overclock it? How about if you drop down the resolution to 1440p, also called 2K, can it do 144Hz then?

No, it can’t. The monitor is built for its highest spec, for maximum 4K resolution, or for maximum refresh rate. If you’re playing online shooters and need fast refresh, get a 1440p 144Hz monitor. If you need 4K for work or watching media, decent 60 hertz models are in the 350 to 450 dollar range. There’s 4K TV and monitors at 120 or 144 hertz starting around the 1000 dollar mark, but unless you’ve got an RTX 3090, your GPU has zero chance at hitting 4K 144hz at Ultra settings.

While a current GPU can easily handle 1080p gaming on one monitor while playing video on another 1080p screen, 4K is a different beast, requiring 4 times the output over 1080p. 4K delivers 8.2 million pixels, a big step up over the 1080p’s 2 million. Over a second, that’s 124 million pixels for 1080p, 497 million for 4K. For 1440p, base resolution is 3.6 million pixels, at 60Hz, 221 million per second, at 144Hz it’s 530 million. Of course codecs and compression lighten this load.

And stuttering can occur when running two monitors with different refresh rates, like with a 60 and 144Hz monitor hooked up to the same system, especially while gaming. You won’t see massive gains overclocking a monitor either, if you can get it to work. It’s also possibly risky, there’s a small risk of you damaging your monitor. Some 60Hz screens can possibly overclock to 75Hz, or slightly more, but you assume all risk.

3 mistakes with HDMI #2: Input/Source not 2.0

Next we need to look at the connection, that all three points in the chain support 1440p 144Hz or 4K. There’s the PC or game console output, cable and monitor or TV input. Think of HDMI like a water hose, with a small hose, you get 1080p resolution no problem. With a bigger hose, you can get 144Hz or 4K output, though if any one point in the chain is using a smaller size, the flow will be restricted.

If your graphics card outputs through an HDMI 1.4 port, the pipe connector isn’t wide enough to handle all that data flowing through, it needs HDMI 2.0 or later. Older GTX 970’s can’t do 4K over HDMI, however their DisplayPort 1.2 can do 2K 144Hz or 4K60. GTX 10-series cards and newer have HDMI 2.0 ports, with the GTX 1080 the first decent enough for gaming at high refresh or high resolutions, and for AMD I think it’s the 5700XT.

Why won’t your PS4 do 4K, but your friends’ can? The original and slim PS4 only output at 1080p, whereas the PS4 Pro can do 4K at 60Hz. And you Xbox gamers, chime in down below to let us know which models can and can’t do 4K, and we’ll try to include that in updates in this companion post.

On the monitor side, some monitors cough Samsung, link here for this albeit excellent monitor with one useless HDMI port, tried to pull a fast one using one port with HDMI 1.4. Most newer monitors support max resolution on all ports, but not all ports are equally capable, a bit more with the current Samsung lineup, so be aware.

Monitors and TVs can be very close in capability, but not all monitors will work with all combinations of resolution and refresh rate. Unlike TVs which are designed to handle 30 and 24Hz movie sources, monitors are generally expecting to receive a 60Hz signal from your computer, some like the Viewsonic VX3211 4K we reviewed had difficulties showing a 4K 30Hz signal. If you see Freesync, G-Sync or adaptive sync, your monitor can usually accept these refresh rates, but it’s not a guarantee.

A quick note, while you’ll likely never encounter HDCP (High Bandwidth Digital Content Protection) issues with video playback with a PC connected to a monitor with DisplayPort, we’ve had problems with HDMI rarely when going through a capture card or an adapter. For PC gaming, we prefer to use DisplayPort to hook up monitors, also getting around annoying HDMI black level mismatches. DisplayPort cables tend to just… work.

However for home theater, HDMI is the winner. Using DisplayPort to HDMI active adapters we’ve had problems with KODI passing through DTS and Dolby audio, tons of troubleshooting there and even when you get it working, it sometimes drops the audio for a few seconds every hour or two. Man, I can’t wait to get some new NVIDIA GPUs to fix this.

3 mistakes with HDMI #3: HDMI 1.4 not 2.0 cable

Finally, the tip that’ll help you the most, the HDMI cable itself. While a HDMI 1.4 cable is more like a garden hose, an HDMI 2.0 or 2.1 is more like a water pipe, able to carry way more. Physically the same size, the internal wiring is designed to carry the huge amounts of data of HDMI 2.0 that both 1440p 144Hz and 4K 60Hz require.

Some HDMI cables may have 1.4 or 2.0 markings, but a lot don’t, so with a 4K60 hertz source and 4K60 hertz TV or monitor, we’re ready to check. With an HDMI 1.4 cable you’ll only connect at 4K 30 hertz, and this is how you can test unmarked cables. Rarely, short HDMI 1.4 cables might work at 4K 60Hz, but they may not be stable over the long term. If your cables don’t work, grab a new HDMI 2.0 or later cable to test. And don’t forget some monitors won’t accept 4K at 30Hz.

We’ve found round HDMI cables less problematic than flat cables, though it’s still luck of the draw. Gold plated ends do inhibit corrosion over time which is useful, and lots of budget cables have this. There’s no benefit from super expensive cables, they’re made the same way likely at the same factories, and you’re just throwing money away. With an HDMI 2.0 or DisplayPort cable, if you yank or kink it, the sensitive wiring inside may get damaged, refusing to display or giving you digital sparkles or blanking, so try to be a little careful.

How about HDMI cables for HDR? HDMI 2.0a is first to deliver HDR, but if you have a box that does HDR, and a TV or monitor that handles HDR, you’re good there. We bought non-revision-A HDMI 2.0 cables and all did 4K 60Hz with HDR, so far. If you want some future proofing, grabbing an HDMI 2.1 cable for 8K TVs might be useful down the road, if it doesn’t cost a lot more.

Let’s talk about source output versus display upscaling for a second. If you hook up an old graphics card, PS4 non-Pro or DVD player to a 2K 144 or 4K 60 monitor, you’ll probably still see a lower res 1080p picture even with an HDMI 1.4 cable. That’s because the monitor is stretching or upscaling the image to fill all the pixels on the screen. However using this same HDMI 1.4 cable and trying to push a higher 1440p 144 or 4K60Hz signal, the cable will be the issue here, and likely not show anything at all.

3 mistakes with HDMI Bonus Tip: USB-C

Only some USB-C connectors actually carry video, ones that do are often marked with a thunderbolt symbol. Flat out, cheap USB-C hubs won’t do 4K 60Hz, and you can plain forget about any 144Hz output. Approaching the 60 to 80 dollar mark, USB-C hubs start supporting HDMI 4K 60Hz output, higher end may have DisplayPort too. Always check the reviews to try to confirm. And don’t expect dual outputs, like a HDMI and VGA, to deliver different resolutions either, these aren’t as configurable as a graphics card.

For example, we grabbed this $50-ish dollar hub, it’s got an HDMI 4K60 out and VGA too. Great no problem, that’s one 1080p screen with VGA and a 4K monitor right? Except when the HDMI and VGA are both connected, it does 4K at only 30Hz, true of a lot of the AmazonUS options we browsed. If you’re getting one, look for 4K 60Hz capability with a gigabit internet LAN port.

After all that HDMI talk, DisplayPort generally has the least hassles for PC users, except if you’re running screens at different refresh rates. And due to the demanding high pixel output, don’t expect to game at 4K Ultra details on your main monitor while playing 4K video on a second screen without stuttering. If you’re having problems, the weak link in the chain could be an old graphics card, a hobbled cough Samsung HDMI port, or probably, an HDMI 1.4 garden hose when you need a new high bandwidth HDMI 2.0 or better pipe.

Remember HDMI 1.4 and cables physically look about the same, so doing a little testing with cables you have lying around with a 4K 60Hz output and 4K display will help. Grab some metallic type markers and you can mark 1.4 or 2.0 on the cable ends, which will help a lot as you upgrade to 1440p 144Hz gaming or over-hyped err, glorious 4K with HDR.

We’ve linked to some HDMI cables on Amazon, and if you decide to grab some, shopping through our affiliate links will help us here with no extra cost to you. And follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at techspinreview. We’ve got more episodes and reviews on YouTube so be sure to check those out too.

The big takeaway we have is, we’re really disappointed in the HDMI specification and HDMI.org itself. While making money by certifying all these cable manufacturers, they forgot to specify that manufacturers should clearly distinguish the cables. This makes the upgrade to high refresh rates and resolution way harder than it needs to be for you, the consumer. Hey HDMI, did you guys not see color coding for USB 3.0 connectors? I mean, make the cables easy to spot for the consumer, right? How hard is a “2.0” at a cable end?

Thanks goes to Noctua for being our sponsor this episode, we’re using their high static pressure fans to cool the hard drives in our NAS build, video up here, and they’re perfect for cooling your rig, and you can check them out at the link in the description below.

For further reading, a good resource you can check is https://www.displayninja.com/which-cable-do-i-need-for-144hzf/

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Rick Novlesky

Rick balances his work for Techspin writing, shooting and production with equal parts of sleep deprivation and coffee intake.