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From a Single DisplayPort to Multiple Monitors: Multi-Stream Transport and What it Means for You

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When the ability to connect to multiple monitors was introduced many years ago, it allowed working on multiple documents to become incredibly efficient. Display devices are a critical component of the workstation experience. According to a Jon Peddie Research study, multi-display systems can result in a 42 percent increase in productivity, and the demand for more screens are increasing. New technology, specifically DisplayPort’s Multi-Stream Transport (MST) – is now making this a reality for many users. Picture this: email on one screen, an Excel spreadsheet on a second, and a PowerPoint presentation on a third.

Smaller devices = fewer ports

Today, graphics cards are capable of handling the demands of at least two simultaneous outputs, and often even more. With the shrinking size of our devices, particularly laptops, tablets and smartphones – the availability of alternative ports (e.g. VGA, DVI, and HDMI) is becoming a rare sight. The smart people at the Video Electronics Standards Association saw an opportunity in this trend. They set about developing MST technology to allow a single DisplayPort port to extend your desktop across multiple monitors. MST was introduced in DisplayPort 1.2 (2009) and in the market shortly thereafter (see DisplayPort’s product database if your monitor is supported).

What does MST mean for you?

MST can be leveraged using two types of system configurations. The first option is to use MST with daisy-chainable displays, which must have built-in MST functionality. “Daisy-chaining” is a term that describes the ability to connect a series of devices together using a single standard DisplayPort 1.2 cable connection between each two devices and possibly more.  The new DisplayPort v1.2 daisy-chainable displays have both a DisplayPort input and a DisplayPort output.  The DisplayPort output connects to the next downstream display.  This arrangement, one DisplayPort cable between each set of monitors, provides a less cluttered system configuration. Each of the displays, with the exception of the last display in the chain, must have DisplayPort 1.2 receiver(s) and transmitter(s). The last display can be an older DP 1.1 monitor. The operating system on the source device will see the daisy-chain devices as separate displays, and they behave as if they were connected via their own separate inputs (see the image below to see how the screens are arranged).

Screen A, B, and C are each connected using a single DisplayPort cable.  Screen A is then connected to the laptop or PC, which addresses the three as separate displays.

MSTapp_ABC_screens

The second option is the MST hub configuration. The hub provides the MST functionality by splitting up the DisplayPort 1.2 video that streams from the source device and independently routes them to each display device. This way, the displays appear separately in the operating system and can be arranged as an extended desktop. The MST hub configuration allows the use of non-DisplayPort 1.2 monitors or legacy monitors you may have such as VGA, DVI or HDMI with the assistance of DisplayPort to VGA/DVI/HDMI converters. The only factor limiting the number of displays is the graphics card (see your manufacturer’s website for more information).

See the MST hub configuration below.

MST

Screen A is how the extended desktop configuration would be displayed.

MSTapp_AAA_screen

Using the MST hub with the assistance of DisplayPort to VGA/DVI/HDMI converters to connect with legacy monitors.

MSTapp2._Displayportimage

 

Other devices supporting MST

Newer devices will almost certainly have support for MST, including tablets such as the Microsoft Surface Pro (2 and 3) as well as the Lenovo X1 Carbon (Gen 3 or newer). Apple was slow to adopt MST in their version of DisplayPort, so check here to see which devices offer support.

Multiple monitors via USB adapters

If your device doesn’t have DisplayPort yet, it is possible to use a USB 3.0 port to connect multiple monitors using an external video card adapter. In fact, DisplayPort and the USB-IF announced support for DisplayPort over USB-C (Type-C Alt Mode), meaning that a single USB-C cable will be able to carry not only data and power, but DisplayPort audio and video as well. We will have to wait for the software and hardware support for this, but it is an exciting development that will make use of multiple monitors even easier.

Next steps for multiple monitor set-up:

13 Comments

  1. Lisa 2 years ago

    What are the hotkey commands to move/toggle screens between monitors?

    • Susan Mutterback
      Susan Mutterback 2 years ago

      Hi Lisa,

      If using Windows, use the “Windows Key” + Shift + Left or Right arrow key that will move the selected Window from one display to another.

  2. Bas 12 months ago

    Does the MST hub work at 60hz for a mac book pro retina early 2015 with a 3840×2160 resolution? If so, where can I order the hub?

    • Susan Mutterback
      Susan Mutterback 11 months ago

      Hi Bas,

      None of our MST hubs currently work at 4K@60Hz. However, before you make a purchase you should make sure you can use an MST hub in Mac OS. If you would like more information on this issue, I would recommend the following FAQ: https://www.startech.com/faq/mst-hubs-mac-osx-support.

      Thanks!

  3. Smithf702 12 months ago

    very nice post, i certainly love this web site, keep on it keafebfbbdaeaeed

  4. Nick Franceschetti 9 months ago

    I’m running on Windows 10 OS and I have a Asus ROG and I’m trying to operate two monitors off one output. I already tried a splitter, but you can’t set it up to operate as two separate monitors, and that’s what I’m looking to do. I would like to have the option to run in a 4k resolution if possible. I have one USBC port and USB 3.0 ports and 1 HDMI. I’m using the USBC port as Ethernet connection, can be worked around with adapters. The big picture is, I don’t use my laptops screen, I keep it closed, and I want to run both monitors separately off of one cdmi output. Both Inputs on LG monitors only have HDMI Inputs. Would love some guidance, I was reading on this MST deal, but it won’t support aspect ratio and resolution. Thanks!

    • Susan Mutterback
      Susan Mutterback 9 months ago

      Hi Nick,

      If you need some guidance on your setup, please reach out to our Technical Support. The best way to get support assistance is by contacting us via our online chat tool, which you can find here: https://www.startech.com/Chat. You can find additional ways to contact us here: https://www.startech.com/Support. We are available 24×5, Sunday 9pm to Friday.

      Thanks!

  5. Oscar 6 months ago

    I am trying to connect 2 additional monitors to my HP Pavilion All-in-one desktop computer. Can I use a HDMI splitter instead? or do I have to buy a MST? I understand the HDMI splitter will only transfer the same video and audio among monitors, but will it allow me to multitask and work on all 3 monitors at the same time?, in other words, displaying and working on different apps (Microsoft Word on monitor 1, Internet on monitor 2, reading an e-book on monitor 3). Thank you, your prompt response will be greatly appreciated.

    • Susan Mutterback
      Susan Mutterback 6 months ago

      Hi Oscar, Our Technical Support Team will be able to assist you with finding what type of product you need to complete your set-up. https://www.startech.com/support

  6. Adam 6 months ago

    I am a graphic designer and need to upgrade my Intel HD 4600. I want to run 2 monitors and am leaning towards the QNIX QX2710 LED Evolution ll it supports 2560×1440 10Bit/Virtual 4K at a very reasonable price.

    The card needs to support 2 monitors with the following connections DVI-D (DUAL Link), Displayport, HDMI, or VGA/SVGA D-sub connections.

    I am not looking for a high end gaming card I mostly work in Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and some Premier. My PC’s processor is i7 quad core.

    Thanks

    • Susan Mutterback
      Susan Mutterback 6 months ago

      Hi Adam,

      Best to contact our Technical Support Team to ask for a product recommendation. They would be happy to help you out!
      https://www.startech.com/support

      Thanks

  7. shoes 2 months ago

    Thanks for finally writing about >From a Single DisplayPort to Multiple Monitors:
    Multi-Stream Transport and What it Means for You | StarTech.Blog
    <Loved it!

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