HDMI vs Thunderbolt: The Ultimate Comparison Guide

HDMI is the industry standard system for connecting HD video equipment. It is the favored connector for connecting your laptop to a TV or monitor because it can send HD video and audio signals through just one cable. On the other side, there is Intel’s famous Thunderbolt interface, which has been linked with Apple for a while now. 

Thunderbolt is the newest technology in connecting devices. It is a high-speed technology that can support both HD display and data on one single cable. Most laptops and TVs nowadays have at least one of these ports. 

This often leaves people puzzled when choosing which cable and port to use for their specific needs. So, let’s compare HDMI vs Thunderbolt in this article. We will see how these two connectors compare with each other and which one comes out on top.

What Is HDMI Interface? 

HDMI, or High Definition Multimedia Interface, is a digital interface that substitutes older analog video standards. It carries both video and audio signals over one cable. Multimedia companies got together to create HDMI, aiming to have one cable connection for transmitting digital audio and video signals between various electronic devices. 

HDMI is basically a proprietary video connection. You can find HDMI on almost all consumer electronics devices, which includes music systems, televisions, DVRs, and computers. HDMI is like a version of DVI, and it’s compatible with DVI. 

As a result, you can easily connect a DVI display with an HDMI source and connect an HDMI display with a DVI source through a cheap and simple adapter. But unlike DVI, every color channel in HDMI carries multiplexed audio data.

Keep in mind that HDMI can only transfer audio and video signals; it doesn’t have data compatibility. Introduced in 2002, there are many versions of HDMI. They are HDMI 1.0, HDMI 1.1, HDMI 1.2, HDMI 1.3, HDMI 1.4, HDMI 2.0, and HDMI 2.1. The latest HDMI version is HDMI 2.1, which supports Game Mode VRR technology and has a bandwidth of 48 Gbps.

What Is Thunderbolt Interface?

Thunderbolt is a modern technology that was created by the collaboration of Intel and Apple in 2011. It is perfect for connecting an external hard drive, monitor, or display to your computer, making it the top choice for external connection of devices. 

Every MacBook Pro model comes equipped with Thunderbolt ports, showing that Apple prioritizes them for the long-term development of Macs. Just like USBs, Thunderbolt is plug-and-play, but what makes it amazing is that you can connect up to six devices in a saddle chain. 

It suggests that rather than plugging every device into a separate port on the MacBook, they all connect to each other. Also, Thunderbolt works with existing DisplayPort devices. There are various types of Thunderbolt interfaces. They are Thunderbolt 1, Thunderbolt 2, Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 4, and Thunderbolt 5. 

Thunderbolt 1 transfers data at 10 Gbps in dual-channel and bi-directional. Thunderbolt 2 doubles that data transfer speed to 20 Gbps. The Thunderbolt 3 has a super-fast 40 Gbps bandwidth that is separated and symmetric. This means it has one channel for data and another for video. The Thunderbolt 4 has the same bandwidth as Thunderbolt 3. 

Thunderbolt 5 is the newest version, and it has the best features. It provides 80 gigabits per second of bi-directional bandwidth. Also, with its Bandwidth Boost feature, Thunderbolt 5 gives you up to 120 gigabits per second for the ultimate display experience.

What Are The Differences between HDMI and Thunderbolt?

One big difference between HDMI and Thunderbolt is that Thunderbolt supports data, audio, and video interfaces, while HDMI is mainly a display connection used in various electrical devices such as computers and televisions. 

HDMI connectors came into the market through collaboration between Hitachi, Panasonic, Sony, Phillips, etc. On the flip side, Thunderbolt was launched by Intel in partnership with Apple. Below, you will find some other major differences between HDMI and Thunderbolt.

Connectivity Differences between HDMI and Thunderbolt

Apart from transferring top-quality audio and video signals between devices, HDMI also transmits extra signals. HDMI uses the Display Data Channel (DDC) to identify an HDMI-compatible display’s capabilities, like audio, resolutions, and color depth. It goes further by supporting internet sharing between devices via HEC, which is the HDMI Ethernet Channel.

In contrast, Thunderbolt represents the latest technology in device connectivity, transferring data, power, audio, and video all through a single cable in two directions. Like Mini DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 1 and 2 both use the same connector. On the other hand, Thunderbolt 3 utilizes the USB Type-C connector.

Comparing Interfaces of HDMI and Thunderbolt

High Definition Multimedia Interface, commonly known as HDMI, is a standard for a digital interface. It uses an HD signal to transmit video and audio signals through just one cable. HDMI is like a bigger version of DVI and shares the same TDMS (Transition Minimized Differential Signaling) technology. 

Thunderbolt is a modern technology that offers very high data transfer speeds. Its data transfer speeds range from 10 to 120 gigabits per second. Thunderbolt supports both Mini DisplayPort and PCI Express standards on one single cable. 

Also, it enables you to connect several electronic devices together in a daisy chain. These devices may include monitors, video recording cards, storage gadgets, and more.

Comparing Features of HDMI and Thunderbolt

HDMI is a digital connector that mixes video and audio signals for use in devices like HDTVs, video game consoles, stereo receivers, Blu-ray players, and more. It follows EIA/CEA-861 standards that cover wavelengths and video codecs. 

The EIA/CEA-861 standards also cover unencrypted LPCM audio and transmission of compression, along with VESA EDID implementations and auxiliary data. Many manufacturers use HDMI as it is a broadly embraced modular technology for clear video and audio output. 

HDMI cables come in regular and enhanced versions, and also some without an ethernet connection. HDCP is used to protect material on HDMI. In addition, a single remote can control multiple devices connected with HDMI that have Consumer Electronics Control (CEC).

Thunderbolt is a newer technology that lets you connect multiple devices to your computer or laptop with just one cable.  It provides great displays and fast communication over one single port. Thunderbolt is one single cable that combines DisplayPort and PCIe into two signals and also provides DC power.

It looks like a USB-C port, and they are technically the same when you plug them in. Thunderbolt 5 is created on industry standards, which include PCIe Gen 4, USB4, and  DisplayPort 2.1. Also, it works well with older versions of Thunderbolt. 

A good alternative to a FireWire connection is to use the Thunderbolt interface to connect particular devices to your MacBook. It’s faster than FTP and USB 3.0 and has more video capacity compared to HDMI. For bus-powered devices, Thunderbolt supports power over cable. It covers both standards of Mini DisplayPort and Parallel Port on a long wire.

The Differences in Performance between HDMI and Thunderbolt

The max data clock rate supported by HDMI 1.2 is 165MHz. With HDMI 1.3, it increases to 340MHz, giving a true data throughput of 8.16 gigabits per second. HDMI 1.4 supports 3-dimensional Blu-ray video playback, audio return, and Ethernet connections via the HDMI cable. 

Moving forward, HDMI 2.0 raises the bandwidth to 18Gbps and supports 4K resolution at 60Hz. It comes with a dynamic A/V stream synchronization feature and more features. HDMI 2.1 took it a step further, supporting 4K resolution at 120Hz and 8K resolution at 60Hz. 

It can even support 10K resolution. On the other hand, Thunderbolt 3 supports 1440p resolution at 30-240 Hz and 4K resolution at 30-120 Hz. Thunderbolt 1 and 2 have data transfer speeds of up to 20 gigabits per second. 

Thunderbolt 3 doubles that speed to an impressive 40 Gbps while maintaining minimal power consumption. The newly upgraded Thunderbolt 5 is entirely USB 80 gigabits per second standard compliant, ready to support the next era of high-end connectivity, displays, and storage.

Final Verdict on HDMI vs Thunderbolt

HDMI is the standard connector for connecting HD video devices, and it is everywhere in the consumer electronics world. You will see HDMI ports on set-top boxes, HDTVs, video game consoles, Blu-ray players, camcorders, digital cameras, and more. Yet, HDMI falls behind 

Thunderbolt, mainly because it does not support data transfer. 

And that isn’t the only factor where it falls behind. Thunderbolt outshines HDMI by supporting many displays through one connector. With Thunderbolt, you can even plug in a hard drive or pen drive directly into your monitor, accessing the data without the hassle of connecting additional cables. 

On the other hand, HDMI sticks to one display, and one connector, and has no data transfer capability. Thunderbolt, a relatively recent tech initially tied to Apple devices, broadens its reach to other PCs with Thunderbolt 3.  

Thunderbolt, a comparatively new technology primarily restricted to Apple devices, broadens its reach to other PCs with Thunderbolt 3. We are hopeful that this article on HDMI vs Thunderbolt has helped you to choose one between these connectors.

David Huner
David Hunerhttps://yourtechscholar.com
I have completed my graduation from The University of Phoenix. Being a graduate, I’ve been writing on tech tips and products for several years. I love to write about all the latest trends in technology, as well as give my personal take on new products. If you’re looking for some inspiration or just want to read more articles like this one, check out our website!
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