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The promise of USB-C was one universal, well designed connector for
connecting just about everything. No more worrying about cable
orientation! One cable for video, data, audio AND even power - huzzah!
Sounds great, doesn't it?
In practise, though, it's quickly become a very hard to understand mess (as every-one-agrees) ...and a lot of people run into issues specifically when it comes to getting the right cable to connect their USB-C computer to their monitor.
In this article, we'll go through a few scenarios and then point you at the key things to look for in cables when buying them. We'll even provide some links to cables we've tested or had positive reports about.
IMPORTANT - this IS genuinely hard to get right, and we have only used/tested so many combinations.
Thus, we offer general advice below, but...
ABSOLUTELY NO GUARANTEES ANY SPECIFIC COMBINATION OR RECOMMENDATION WILL WORK FOR YOU.
When using USB-C to attach most monitors, you are in fact using DisplayPort-protocol-over-USB-C - that is, the connection is functionally and electrically equivalent to a more traditional DisplayPort connection, but the physical connector is USB-C.
What you are specifically looking for, then, is a video capable USB-C cable that supports up to the video throughput you need (usually these mention 10 Gbps speeds and video, AKA 'alt-mode' support).
The other aspect to consider is the charging side of the cable. You definitely don't want a 'charging cable' that only supports USB-2 speeds (480 Mbps), and power charging. These look identical, but are really much simpler cables, are usually the cheaper options, and are not suitable for video connections. I.e. they will NOT work as video cables.
On the other hand, you might want a cable that DOES support charging in addition to video. Some support 3A/60W, others support up to the maximum spec. of 100W.
One thing worth noting is that 'docks' are notoriously problematic for higher end video connections and routinely interfere with calibration. They are fine for other purposes but if at all possible attach your monitor directly to your computer and not a dock.
Important - 'Thunderbolt Monitors' are NOT the same thing....
Do note though, a few monitors are actually 'Thunderbolt USB-C' monitors.
If that is the case for you, you will most likely 'want' to pay a small fortune for Apple's official Thunderbolt 3 cable for monitors as this is the best tested option offering the full potential of Thunderbolt 3 (i.e. 40 Gbps throughput). But note, none of the monitors we sell, i.e. those from Eizo or BenQ, are Thunderbolt monitors at time of writing, so this is not necessary for most.
As a hook-up, USB-C to USB-C can be ideal - you can have just one cable carrying the video signal, data (e.g. for the calibration side of things, or to enable downstream USB/ SD card ports on the monitor, audio (if your monitor has speakers, or an audio output) - AND even power.
To get this working, though, you need to be very careful with cable selection. If your monitor comes with a USB-C cable, then this is the obvious choice of cable to use, and should 'just work'. However not every monitor comes with every cable.
Things you should look for in your USB-C to USB-C cable purchase:
Moshi, as usual, have one of the best cables - they have a 1m USB-C to USB-C monitor cable - supporting 4k/60hz - and supporting power delivery up to 100W - available at MacGear - ~$79. A shame it's not a bit longer, though.
This option from Amazon should be a good choice - Anker USB-C / 40 Gbps / 100 W ...but note it is very short at ~ 50cm. ~$50.
Apple have some pricey options - and, unusually for Apple cables (which are notorious in the displays world for being over-priced and riddled with issues), these particular ones would appear to be actually good and reliable. They are full USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 40Gbps cables - should support ALL capabilities (4k video, 100W of charging, and maximum speed data transfer) - of both USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 - 0.8m ($65) and 2m ($199) versions.
We also like these inexpensive cables from Radio Parts Group (RPG), just around the corner from us in West Melbourne: 1m version (LC7962). These work fine for 4k/60Hz with all the monitors we have here, and support charging too.
This is a very common scenario and a lot simpler to understand and get working than a direct USB-C connection - ironically.
Both USB-C to Display Port and USB-C to HDMI cables are, in 2020, readily available from Officeworks, JB-HiFi, most computer stores etc. All should in theory work ok for up to 4k/60hz.
Of the two options (DisplayPort and HDMI), use USB-C to DisplayPort by preference if possible. The DisplayPort connector is more physically reliable, and in theory DisplayPort offers slightly higher bandwidth. In practise the two are usually functionally equivalent, but note, if you are using a direct hardware calibration monitor, then in addition to your USB-C to DisplayPort cable, you will also need to attached he standard USB cable (that comes with all the monitors we sell). This cable is used to carry the calibration data side of things, and to enable any downstream USB ports on your monitor.
The best one we know of is the Moshi USB-C to DisplayPort 5k/60hz 1.5m cable - but these cost about $100-$110 and can sometimes be hard to get hold off (JB often have them, MacGear too). These seem to be particularly reliable and are the most compatible cables we know - even the notoriously fussy iMac Pro video cards will happily use these for reliable output.
- Bruce B -
Quick note on the fantastic service from Image Science. I ordered my i1Display Tuesday and it rocked up Wednesday, and for your advice on choice of unit. Sensational service. Much appreciated.