What Is a Display Adapter?

H. Bliss

Also called a video card or video expansion card, a display adapter is a type of hardware that installs into an existing computer to output a visual image, usually to a monitor or projector. In addition to a monitor, every computer needs some kind of video display adapter to output any image. The adapter can be used to add a video output to a computer with no video output, or it can be used to modify or upgrade a computer's existing video output. This type of hardware can come in the form of a simple plug or a complex video device.

A display that works with a display adapter.
A display that works with a display adapter.

When dealing with computers, a display refers to the video output device, most often a monitor, and the hardware in the computer which orchestrates the monitor image, usually called a video card or graphics card. As a unit, the parts of the computer setup that create a picture are collectively called the display. Whether the hardware is a simple plug or a professional video card, a display adapter can be any piece of hardware that upgrades or adapts the chain of hardware that makes up a display.

A display adapter may be used to output an image to a projector.
A display adapter may be used to output an image to a projector.

Display adapter devices can come in many types for many purposes. Some computer users use the term display adapter to describe an adapter plug for a display device. An adapter plug that modifies a connection from standard video graphics array (VGA) to digital video interface (DVI) is one example of a simple display adapter. This type of adapter makes it possible to use hardware with inputs that differ from those used by the graphics card in the computer.

Some adapters modify a video setup to give the user the ability to switch among different video inputs from several computers or split the feed from one video card to several monitors. Other adapters are used upgrade a graphics system completely, often to install a more powerful display system. Many users employ these adapters to upgrade hardware to handle features like 3D computer graphics for computer games and professional audio-visual plugs and jacks for users who wish to load video into the computer.

Manufacturers that make display adapters include Advanced Micro Devices® (AMD), eVGA®, Hewlett-Packard® (HP) and Alienware®. Popular video card brands include GeForce®, Radeon® and NVidia®. Video card manufacturers make a number of different models of sound card ranging from basic to professional; each sound card has its own level of output quality and computer power requirements. When buying new display hardware, checking the specifications can help a user determine which sound card is the highest quality. Hardware specifications are usually listed on the side of the product packaging or on the hardware manufacturer's website.

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