The abbreviation “VGA” is instantly labeled as “old technology,” which is not incorrect. Having made its foray into the industry in 1987, VGA has undoubtedly been around for quite some time.
VGA uses analog signals in the world that has shifted to digital connection standards years ago.
Although an analog signal does not undergo processing like digital signals and does not exhibit input lag, it’s still no competition to the various other capabilities of the latest audio-video standards, such as HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface).
Another area where VGA trails is “video resolution.” But how far behind is VGA? Is it capable of 2K and 4K resolutions? Can it at least manage 1080p signals?
Let’s dive in to discuss that and more.
- What is VGA?
- VGA Max Resolution
- VGA Resolutions
What is VGA?
VGA (video graphics array) is a display standard IBM developed and made public in 1987.
The abbreviation “VGA” commonly denotes the ports, cables, and connectors that link monitors and video cards.
VGA employs analog signals. Its standard video resolution is 640 x 480 pixels and supports a refresh rate of 60 or 70 Hz. Those are figures that the 1987 IBM chip outputted. VGA’s abilities have improved over the years.
The standard Windows graphics mode was 640 x 480, 60 Hz up to Windows 2000. Currently, Windows defaults to 1024 x 768 pixels. It generally doesn’t permit resolution under 800 x 600 pixels as default.
As mentioned above, VGA has developed over the years, or its video resolution and color data numbers have improved. The physical VGA connection can handle much greater resolutions, provided the quality of the cable and its shielding are on point.
For instance, the Super VGA (SVGA) standard, an extension of VGA, supports up to 1280 x 1024 resolution with a 24-bit color depth. SVGA, however, is synonymous with the 800 x 600 resolution.
Although VGA or the VGA connector is still around, it’s no longer the standard, particularly after HDMI and DVI (Digital Visual Interface) interfaces’ foray into the market.
But the fact that VGA has been around for so long and is still in use warrants getting to know the standard more.
VGA Consolidated Different Graphics Capabilities
Before VGA’s introduction in 1987, different display adapters existed, and IBM also used them in their PCs. However, the issue with those adapters was that they were too specialized.
For instance, the MDA (Monochrome Display Adapter) card IBM introduced in 1981 was purely for texts. It was only monochrome text mode and had no graphics modes.
Hercules developed a clone card that could display graphics. It combined IBM’s purely text-based MDA display standard and a bitmapped graphics mode, facilitating both graphics and high-quality text with a single card.
The CGA (Color Graphics Adapter) card suited pure graphical applications, such as playing games, but struggled with word processing or general computer usage due to its low-text resolution.
The EGA (Enhanced Graphics Adapter) card tried combining both text and high-resolution graphic modes. However, its 640 x 350 graphics mode needed to be square enough for a 4:3 ratio.
IBM introduced VGA to address all the issues with a single graphics definition. It supported all graphics modes that MDA, EGA, and CGA cards supported, besides several new modes.
Initially, IBM didn’t release a discrete VGA card, unlike MDA, EGA, CGA, and the previous third-party options. The very first implementation for the public was as a component integrated into the IBM PS/2.
Later, Big Blue released IBM PS/2 Display Adapter, a standalone VGA-based display adapter that one could add to devices that didn’t come with it built in.
Note that VGA is backward-compatible with CGA, EGA, and other previous IBM video standards.
VGA Connector and Pin Configuration
VGA uses a 15-pin connector (referred to as “DB-15,” HD-15,” and “DE-15”) spread across five rows, with each pinhole handling a specific function.
The initial three pins in the first row transmit RGB (red, green, and blue) color signals, helping create colored displays. The fourth pin helps with monitor identification, and the fifth pin serves as the RGB signals’ ground pin.
The second row’s sixth, seventh, and eighth pins offer return pathways for the RGB signals. The ninth pin mitigates improper connector insertion. The 10th pin’s a ground pin for synchronizing signals.
The 11th pin helps identify the monitor or transfer data. The 12th and 15th holes handle the data line between the display and source devices.
The 13th and 14th pins transport horizontal and vertical syncing signals, respectively, helping with display timing.
|4||n/c||Monitor ID 2|
|6||RED_RTN||Red analog ground|
|7||GREEN_RTN||Green analog ground|
|8||BLUE_RTN||Blue analog ground|
|9||VDC||5 VDC supply (fused)|
|11||n/c||Monitor ID 0|
|12||SDA||Monitor ID 1|
|15||SCL||Monitor ID 3|
Certain high-end video cards and monitors could employ several BNC connectors instead. These connectors use five distinct 75-ohm coaxial cords, boasting improved connection quality with little crosstalk possibilities.
The 15-pin connector is open, or the RGB signals aren’t protected from each other. Crosstalk, as a result, is quite possible with it.
BNC connectors’ complete coaxial shielding prevents crosstalk. But the circular connectors render BNC big and bulky.
By the way, some portable devices, such as laptops, could employ a mini-VGA, two-row connector.
There are also VGA extenders, also called VGA boosters, that help boost VGA signals if the cord between the two connecting devices is excessively long.
VGA Max Resolution
Initially, VGA could only muster a resolution of up to 640 x 480. IBM tried to upgrade VGA to XGA (extended graphics array) or the 1024 x 768 video resolution.
XGA was quickly superseded by SXGA (1280 x 1024) or WXGA (widescreen XGA and its different resolutions). XGA didn’t become a dominant standard or as ubiquitous as VGA.
The maximum resolution VGA can currently achieve is 2048 x 1536 pixels. The highest VGA resolutions for 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios are 6400 x 4800 and 7680 x 4800 pixels, respectively.
To achieve those extremely high-resolution experiences, however, you’d need a capable video card and compatible monitor. Also, both devices must have a VGA port. The cable used should preferably be short.
Because VGA uses analog signals, a greater travel distance would mean increased chances of signal degradation or line disturbances from external sources such as cell phones or microwaves.
The standard VGA resolution is 640 x 480. It was monochrome or supported 16 colors. VGA displayed 256 colors if the resolution is lowered to 320 x 200 pixels.
Its successors, such as SVGA and XGA, took the mantle forward and improved the resolution figures and a few other capabilities.
Below listed are the video resolutions of different display standards belonging to the VGA family:
4:3 Aspect Ratio
|Color Graphics Adaptor||CGA||320 x 200; 640 x 200|
|Quarter VGA||QVGA||320 x 240|
|Enhanced Graphics Adaptor||EGA||640 x 350|
|Video Graphics Array||VGA||640 x 480|
|Super VGA||SVGA||800 x 600|
|Extended Graphics Array||XGA||1024 x 768|
|Super XGA||SXGA||1280 x 1024|
|Super XGA+||SXGA+||1400 x 1050|
|Ultra XGA||UXGA||1600 x 1200|
|Quad XGA||QXGA||2048 x 1536|
|Quad SXGA||QSXGA||2560 x 2048|
|Quad Ultra XGA||QUXGA||3200 x 2400|
|Hex Super XGA||HSXGA||5120 x 4096|
|Hex Ultra XGA||HUXGA||6400 x 4800|
Despite the different names and improved capabilities, the display standards mentioned above use the same 15-pin VGA connector cable.
16:9 and 16:10 Aspect Ratios
|Wide Quarter VGA||WQVGA||400 x 240|
|Wide Video Graphics Array||WVGA||852 x 480; 858 x 484|
|Wide Extended Graphics Array||WXGA||1366 x 768|
|Wide Super XGA||WSXGA||1600 x 1024|
|Wide Super XGA+||WSXGA+||1680 x 1050|
|Wide Ultra XGA||WUXGA||1920 x 1200|
|Wide Quad XGA||WQXGA||2560 x 1600|
|Wide Quad SXGA||WQSXGA||3200 x 2048|
|Wide Quad Ultra XGA||WQUXGA||3840 x 2400|
|Wide Hex Super XGA||WHSXGA||6400 x 4096|
|Wide Hex Ultra XGA||WHUXGA||7680 x 4800|
1. Does VGA Transmit Audio?
No, VGA transmits video only as it wasn’t designed to carry audio signals. There’s no provision with its various pins to transmit audio information.
To deliver audio with a VGA connection, use a separate cable in addition to the VGA cable, even if using a converter.
2. How is VGA Different from HDMI and DVI?
VGA is an analog standard. HDMI and DVI employ digital signals. The ports, connectors, and cables used across the three are different in shape, size, etc.
HDMI is the only standard to support both video and audio. VGA supports only video. DVI is video-only as well. The latter two require separate cables to support audio.
On the video front, both HDMI and DVI can have greater resolutions than VGA. Compared to DVI, HDMI is more robust with its visual fidelity capabilities.
DVI is primarily found in high-end graphics cards and computer monitors because it can transmit uncompressed, high-quality video signals.
3. How Does VGA to HDMI Work?
If your computer or graphics card uses the HDMI port and your TV or standalone monitor employs a VGA port, don’t worry. You can still connect the two with an adapter that shall convert the digital signals of the HDMI into VGA signals.
Use an HDMI to VGA converter, such as this Benfei VGA to HDMI Adapter . Ensure the VGA side is a male connector, as it needs to plug into your computer. The converter’s HDMI end is a female port.
Things can also work the other way around, or a converter can connect a monitor or external display with a VGA port and an HDMI port-equipped video card. In this case, the HDMI connector is male and the VGA end is female, like with this Moread HDMI to VGA Adapter .
Similar is the case with DVI to VGA connections. Adapters like this Benfei DVI-D to VGA Adapter can be used to establish the link. Check the ports on the respective devices before buying an adapter.
4. Is VGA Hot Pluggable?
No, VGA is not “hot-pluggable.” You cannot plug in or out a VGA cable without first turning off your monitor or computer. That’s another aspect where the latest multimedia interfaces, such as HDMI, one-up VGA.
5. Does VGA support 4K?
The physical VGA connection standard doesn’t support 4K (3840 x 2160) due to its analog nature and restricting hardware.
If you use VGA for 4K or even higher video resolutions, the picture quality or clarity will take a hit, and there will be signal cutouts and interference issues.
For 4K video, you’ll need HDMI or DisplayPort.
Similarly, VGA cannot output 120 Hz (or greater) visuals.
6. What are Some Other Video Standards Comparable to VGA?
S-Video and composite video are on par with VGA. Like VGA, they’ve been around for decades and use analog signals.
If you had to choose between the three, opt for VGA for its improved image quality. But your pick will also depend on the connectors your hardware support.
VGA is not the most robust video graphics standard anymore, or it’s outdated. But it’s also not obsolete or completely unusable.
The maximum video resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels it supports is certainly nothing to scoff at. The latest hardware sports HDMI and DisplayPort as standard. You can find the VGA port on slightly older monitors, video cards, and classic gaming consoles, which are still very likely in use.
If you are having trouble pairing those VGA-equipped devices with non-VGA machines, use conversion tools or adapters to good effect.
Do not buy a new device right away—that is, of course, if you’re happy with VGA’s video quality. If VGA’s limiting refresh rates and video details are bothering you, get new hardware.
Regardless, a computer or monitor upgrade is imminent if you still use VGA due to the sharper picture quality and increased level of detail digital or modern connection standards provide.
Catherine Tramell has been covering technology as a freelance writer for over a decade. She has been writing for Pointer Clicker for over a year, further expanding her expertise as a tech columnist. Catherine likes spending time with her family and friends and her pastimes are reading books and news articles.