So does VGA carry audio? No. Yes, Video Graphics Array (VGA) is significantly different from other audio-visual (AV) connection standards like High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) and DisplayPort (DP). It is similar to Digital Visual Interface (DVI) though. Both don’t support an audio signal in cable or port even if they’re converted into HDMI with a corresponding adapter. So how does VGA get audio?
The VGA port, cable (a D-shaped connector with 15 pins on it), and format all don’t carry sound at all. You’ll need a separate audio cable for your computer’s audio port and/or headphones in order to port the audio in. You have VGA for your monitor and a separate audio port for your headphones and/or speakers.
Your Guide to VGA Audio and Much More
Like with other PC mediums, you need a separate cable for audio to put in your soundbar, subwoofer, base, and/or Sound Blaster speaker to your PC or laptop with a VGA port. You also need a separate audio port and sound card in order for the display to carry sound, but then again HDMI displays in the 21st century tend to have their own speakers since they’re usually HDTVs.
This is because VGA is a computer format where there’s almost a separate device for every function, from monitors to keyboards, to mice (the computer mouse), to sound speakers. With that in mind, what is VGA anyway?
- What is VGA? VGA stands for Video Graphics Array. It’s the video display controller graphics standard that was first introduced in 1987 for the IBM PS/2 line of computers. It was preceded by CGA and EGA that were formats introduced for earlier IBM PCs. VGA exceeded its other graphics array predecessors through widespread adoption among clone manufacturers. The terms have also come to mean an analog computer display standard, the 640 x 480 resolution feature of VGA hardware or the 15-pin D-subminiature VGA connector.
- XGA versus Super VGA: Officially, it was followed by the Extended Graphics Array (XGA) standard, but it didn’t spread out as much as VGA and it was ultimately superseded by numerous VGA extensions made by clone manufacturers collectively known as Super VGA. XGA shouldn’t be confused with Super VGA since they offer separate methods of improving upon what VGA delivers. Super VGA is more of a VGA upgrade and XGA is supposed to be a new graphics array format altogether.
- VGA and High-Definition Video: The use of VGA persists not only because of legacy systems requiring VGA connectors or at least a VGA connector adapter. It also continues to be used due to its ability to display high-definition video, which includes resolutions of 1080p and so forth. Event though VGA’s transmission bandwidth is high enough to support even playback of HD video, it still gets some picture quality degradation due to the limitations o analog versus digital as well as cable length and quality.
- HD Degradation of Analog versus Digital: The degradation of a 1080p or 1080i HD resolution video is discernible on the analog VGA platform depending on the display being used, as a CRT television or monitor, and the individual’s eyesight, but it’s obvious when compared to DP, DVI, or HDMI inputs. Digital is clear by default, such that it’s consistently clear across a certain length of the cable and when that length goes over, the signal simply cuts off suddenly. With analog, degradation comes about the longer the length of the cable until the signal cuts off altogether.
- The Original VGA Specifications: The original VGA for IBM PS/2 model PCs had the following specs. Maximum of 800 horizontal pixels, maximum of 600 lines, usual line rate fixed at 31.46875 Hz, selectable 28.322 MHz or 25.175 MHz master pixel clock, 262,144-color global palette at 6 bits with 64 possible levels for the red, blue, and green channels care of RAMDAC, 16-color and 256-color palette display modes, and 256 kilobytes of video RAM (you can order 128 KB RAM instead but at the cost of losing some or all hi-res 16-color modes).
- VGA Output Capabilities and Standard Graphics Modes: VGA’s output capabilities include supporting alphanumeric text modes and All Points Addressable graphics modes. What’s more, standard graphics modes are 320 x 200 in 256 colors (Mode 13h), 320 x 20 in 4 or 16 colors, 640 x 350 or 640 x 200 in 16 colors or monochrome (EGA compatibility mode), and 640 x 480 in 16 colors or monochrome (the latter matching IBM’s Multi-Color Graphics Array). The 320 x 200 256-color mode and 640 x 480 16-color mode have fully redefinable palettes, with every entry selectable from an 18-bit or 262,133-color RGB table.
- VGA Details on High-Resolution Mode and Other Defaults: The high-resolution mode for 640 x 480 and 256 color has a fixed palette under the Microsoft Windows format, which anyone familiar with early Windows and VGA should know. The other color modes for VGA are defaults for compatible EGA or CGA palettes, which include the ability of applications to redefine the 16-color EGA palette from a master table of 64 colors. VGA-specific programming could also further redefine certain palettes as well if called for.
- Display Modes for VGA on Even Higher Resolutions: The display modes of VGA on even higher resolutions than the default 640 x 480 16-color mode are also achievable, even with standard cards and monitors. A VGA system can produce displays of 16-color 512-800 pixels wide or 256-color 256-400 pixels wide as well as heights of 200 or 350-410 lines (includes 400 line) at 70 Hz refresh rate, 224-256 or 448-512 lines (includes 240 or 480 line) at 60 Hz refresh rate, 512-600 lines at reduced refresh rates of 50 Hz and below, depending on individual monitor compatibility. At 70 Hz, 175-205 line modes might be possible as well as 256-300 lines at 60 Hz, but there are impractical.
- VGA’s Technical Details and Circuitry Design: VGA wasn’t initially called an adapter but instead an array because like other arrays before it, it was implemented in chip form. The chip is also known as ASIC or Application-Specific Integrated Circuit that replaced dozens of discrete logic chips that covered the full-length ISA boards of CGA and MDA as well as the Motorola 6845 video address generator. What this means is that it’s a chip that directly served as the replacement for custom LSIs such as the 6845 and many discrete logic chips on the board for EGA, thus simplifying the circuitry design for graphics connections for years to come.
- Direct Motherboard Placement: VGA became not only the graphics connection standard for IBM PS/2 line of computers, but it’s also been the format of choice for clone PC manufacturers exactly because its single-chip implementation allowed it to be directly placed on the personal computer’s motherboard with little to no difficulty. Just slap it in and make it work, which in turn increases the video subsystem’s dependability due to the reduction of the number of component connections needed to be lined up or soldered into place.
- Requires Only Video Memory: As discussed above, VGA is merely a video graphics display connection and you need a separate sound chip or card and port plus cable and speaker in order to hear the sounds from your PC. If you’re connecting your desktop tower to a TV set instead of a computer monitor, you need various adapters and perhaps an RCA audio connector in order to link your PC to the TV in an audio-visual fashion and not only in a video manner. The lack of audio made VGA simpler to adapt using separate audio ports.
- A Simpler and More Streamlined Connection: VGA’s video-only nature is an advantage in the PC builder market, allowing it to be used and expand beyond the IBM PS/2 line of computers it was originally supposed to cater to. The component connections of VGA, in particular, is reduced to the only one due to it only requiring video memory as well as an external RAMDAC and timing crystals. Therefore, the resulting first IBM PS/2 models were equipped with VGA on the motherboard versus to IBM PC desktop models—PC AT, PC/XT, and the PC itself—that had more complicated circuitry requiring a display adapter installed in a slot to allow monitor connection.
In a Nutshell
The VGA display connection format from 1987 was the last IBM graphics standards which the majority of PC clone manufacturers conformed to. None of them bothered to make the standard of their own graphics because it makes more sense to use the existing one that everyone was still using anyway. Nearly all post-1990s and early-2000s PC graphics hardware-implemented VGA. At any rate, VGA never did support audio along with the video, requiring a separate port and cable for that. Ironically, what made VGA popular during its time—a video port that’s separate from the audio port—is the opposite of what made HDMI ubiquitous, which was to combine audio and video feeds into one port and cable.
Later on, VGA was ultimately replaced by HDMI although there were also other formats like DVI (that had no audio support like VGA) and DP (which had audio and video mixed into one cable like with HDMI). At any rate, VGA remains part of AV history as the PC display connection format to follow in the Nineties.