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Resolution 101 – What it is and when it matters

When you’re looking at buying a television in today’s market, there are going to be a lot of numbers thrown at you.  They all mean something different and are important for varying reasons, but the most important among them is the resolution of the television.  All other factors aside, most of the sharpness and fidelity of an image on the screen will be dictated by its resolution.

Simply put, the resolution of the television is the number of pixels that are packed into the screen.  A pixel is a dot of color which, when combined with a bunch of other pixels, makes up an image.  The more pixels there are, the sharper the image.  When you’re looking at the resolution of your television, phone, or computer monitor, it will be represented in a number of different ways.

The most common resolutions you’ll encounter these days are 1080p and 4K, though there are many, many others.  All of the different resolutions you can find have specific ratios of pixels in them as well, which are usually based upon the most common broadcast ratio (which is 1.78:1 or 16:9, commonly referred to as “widescreen”).

Let’s take the lowest resolution you can generally find in a television these days: 720p.  What that means is that there are 720 lines that are 1280 pixels wide, all stacked on top of each other.  The little “p” at the end means that each line is progressively scanned each time the screen refreshes (as opposed to an interlace scan, which only refreshes every other line and is not commonly used in any media these days); manufacturers these days all use progressive scans on their televisions, so you don’t have to worry about whether or not that top-of-the-line 8K television comes equipped or not.

Generally, when you buy a television, the exact resolution will be listed, but just in case you were curious, here is a handy table that tells you how many pixels you should expect when purchasing a television.

 

Resolution Dimensions Total Pixels
720p 1280 x 720 921,600
1080p 1920 x 1080 2,073,600
Ultra HD (4K) 3840 x 2160 8,294,400
DCI “Cinema” 4K 4096 x 2160 8,847,360
8K 7680 x 4320 33,177,600

 

One quick look at that chart, and you can see what the biggest difference is: the total pixel count.  A 4K screen has nearly ten times the pixels of a 720p, and an 8K screen has four times that.  And the more pixels, the sharper the image is going to be.  That won’t be the only measure of pixels that matter, though.  The number of pixels per inch (PPI) is also important to consider—and it’s also the biggest difference between phones, computer monitors, and televisions.

Some of the best-selling smart phones on the market are 1080p, and a great portion of the computer monitor market offers 4K.  A 1080p iPhone, a 1080p computer monitor, and a 1080p television all have the same number of pixels, but compared to the TV, the pixels are crammed tighter into every inch available on the screen—the pixels are actually smaller than they are in a TV.  Computer monitors and smart phones are meant to be viewed from closer distances than TVs, meaning that their images become harder to see the further you get away from the screen.  A TV, on the other hand, is meant to be viewed from a distance, so it needs bigger pixels to get that job done.

The rule follows for TVs of different sizes, too, however.  So the bigger your TV is, the bigger your pixels are going to be relative to a smaller screen with the same resolution.  So while that 20” 1080p screen might look super nice, if you go much larger, you might consider getting a 4K or even 8K screen in order to maintain image fidelity.  Just remember, more pixels are going to produce a sharper image!

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