Max Resolution With VGA – Can VGA Support 1080p & 4K?

If you have grown up in the late nineties and early 2000s, you might be well familiar with the 15-pin VGA connector that usually came in blue color and had two screws at either end for secure pinning.

VGA which stands for Video Graphics Arrey was actually the name of the graphics processor introduced by IBM in 1987 and the 15-pin connector was used to connect the card to different display devices.

HDMI has since replaced the old VGA technology in most modern devices but you can still find it in old TVs, monitors, and computers.

If you have one of these devices with a VGA connector, you must be wondering about the max resolution with VGA and can VGA support 1080p or 4K.

Max resolution with VGA

The original VGA graphics card was capable of producing a max resolution of 640 x 480 at a 60Hz refresh rate.

But the VGA connector has no technical limit on how much it can support. Since the VGA graphic cards are no longer around, if you are asking this question, you are asking about the VGA connector. In this article, I am going to explain what the max resolution you can attain with your old VGA connector and if you can use it to send 1080p or 4K video to a screen.

How does VGA work?

VGA was a video transmission protocol developed by IBM in the late 1980s. It quickly became the world standard and other companies and brands adopted it for their devices as well.

VGA is an analog device where information is transmitted in form of pin voltages. Unlike its more modern counterpart like USB or HDMI, VGA does not utilize digital protocols. See a typical VGA connector pin below

Max Resolution With VGA
VGA connector pins

VGA works by transmitting image encoding via 3 colors via pins. If you see the diagram above, you will see the RED, GREEN & BLUE pins at the top row. These pins transmit video data via varying voltages.

For example, for a full black pixel, they will show 0v, 0v 0v on all pins, and for a white pixel, they will show 0.7v,0.7v,0.7v on the three pins. For any color between black & white, the voltages will vary

Since this is an analog input, there is no technical limit of resolution the connector can carry. It really up to the graphics card and transceiver at both ends to transmit and receive high-resolution videos.

While reading up for this article, I saw quite misleading information even coming from well reputed site like HP that the maximum resolution for VGA is 640×480. That’s the limit of the original graphics card designed by IBM back in 80s and not the resolution of the VGA connector.

The VGA connector has much more signal bandwidth than this. In fact, a good quality VGA cable can transmit 2048×1536 px at 85Hz. That’s 388MHz of bandwidth and carries a lot of information.

So, in theory, a VGA connector can have a max resolution of 2K (2048px wide) but we rarely see VGA being used for transmitting high-resolution videos. There are several reasons for this:

  • Since VGA is analog, signal degradation takes place over the length of the cable resulting in loss of information and low quality.
  • Singla degradation is also lost if you are coupling VGA with a digital screen (like modern LCD monitors). The loss happens during analog to digital converter.
  • VGA can only transmit video but no audio.

Due to these reasons, people seldom use VGA for high-quality video transmission. In fact, HDMI, DVI, and other digital protocols have been in use for HD transmission for over a decade now.

Can VGA support 1080p videos?

VGA can easily support 1080p videos if you get a good quality VGA connector cable (QXGA standard) and keep its length as short as possible to minimize signal degradation.

My VisionTek Radeon 5450 GPU has HDMI/DVI and VGA ports. I can easily connect my monitor with the VGA port and watch 1080p HD videos on it. In fact, when I keep the resolution to 1080p and switch between HDMI and VGA, I rarely see any difference between the two.

So, if your graphics card or processor can produce 1080p graphics, the VGA connector has no issues transmitting it across the device. However, if the cable quality is low and the length is long, you might see reduced quality due to signal degradation. That’s unavoidable.

But given a choice between VGA and HDMI/DVI/DP or any other digital transmission system to watch 1080p videos, I would go for the newer digital systems like HDMI because they don’t have the signal degradation issue.

Can VGA support 4K videos

As I said above, the highest resolution you can pass theoretically pass through a VGA connector is 2048×1536 px at 85Hz. That’s just enough to show a 2K video. That means VGA cannot support 4K videos.

A 4K video stream needs too much bandwidth to properly display and a VGA transceiver will really struggle to handle that much data coming in per second.

So, if you want to watch 4K movies on your newer LCD but your old PC just has a VGA connector, you are out of luck. You will need to change your PC graphics card and install a new one that can transmit via HDMI or DisplayPort (DP).

VGA vs HDMI

Graphics processors and displays got better and better after the first VGA was introduced in lathe te 80s. After 2010, HDMI became the more dominant way of displaying media on sharp HD and UHD screens.

So what is the main difference between VGA and HDMI and how is the latter better?

The main difference between the two protocols and connectors is very obvious. VGA is an analog protocol that works over varying voltages between 0v & 0.7v. On the other hand, HDMI is a digital protocol that works with 0s & 1s.

When it comes to transmission bandwidth, HDMI is a clear winner. With HDMI protocol and high-quality cable, you can achieve up to 8K video transmission (provided you have supported transceivers). With future updates, it’s possible to go as high as 16K video.

On the other hand, VGA can only do 1080p video transmission at 60 Hz.

Another major difference between the two is the audio transmission. VGA only carries video data while HDMI carries video, audio and certain other control signals.

Also, the information passing through VGA cable is unprotected because its just analog voltages. On the other hand, HDMI signals are protected by using High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) encryption. This reduces the risk of signal tempering and data theft.

Conclusion

VGA used to be the world’s standard for video transmission. Since it came out in 1987, it ruled for nearly 35 years when HDMI took over.

If you have an old VGA display and wondering if it can display HD content from your laptop, it certainly can. You can easily watch 1080p content using a good-quality VGA connector. But you cannot watch 4K content due to the fact that VGA cannot do above 2K.

I hope you find this article helpful and if you still have any questions, see the FAQ part below or leave a comment and I will answer it

FAQs

Can you get 1080p with VGA?

Yes, you can get 1080p with VGA as long as your video graphics card is capable of producing 1080p graphics and your display is 1080p compatible.

Can VGA do 1080p 144hz?

VGA does not support a refresh rate above 85Hz. So you cannot do 1080p 144Hz using a VGA cable.

Is DisplayPort better than VGA?

DisplayPort is a modern digital media transmission protocol and is certainly better than the analog VGA protocol. It can transmit higher bandwidth and display 4K videos along with videos while VGA can only do up to 1080p video.

How can I increase my VGA resolution?

To get the most resolution out of your VGA connector, make sure you are using a high-quality coaxial cable that is well shielded from electrical flux, and also make sure the length is not unnecessarily long.