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A Guide To TV Resolutions

When we talk about TV resolutions, it has nothing to do with promising to watch more, less, or different TV in the New Year. TV resolution relates to the picture on your TV’s screen and refers to the number of pixels that the screen contains. When you are shopping for a TV, resolution is what the tag with numbers like 1080p are trying to tell you about. Salespeople who tell you that a TV is “4K Ultra HD” or something similar are also giving you resolution information. 

But what do those numbers signify and how does understanding them help you make a more informed decision when making a purchase? What is the best resolution to buy for your needs and budget?

Your TVs Native Resolution

Every flat-screen TV has a native resolution, regardless of whether it is an LCD, LED, OLED, or plasma TV. This resolution is a measure of the pixels that make up the screen.

Pixels are small dots or squares that make up an image. They can be set to light up in different colours and these serve as the building blocks of every image that appears on your TV screen. They are too small to see individually, but as you move in closer to your TV, you will eventually get close enough to see that the image is comprised of a grid of tiny, coloured dots.

The more pixels there are, the more realistic the picture will be. As an example of this, compare old video games where the characters looked like they were made from Lego (fewer pixels) to modern, almost photo-realistic video games (more pixels). This can serve as something of a guide, though it is a bit more complex than that because the level of detail is also dependent on your distance from the screen.

For the moment, simply remember that the native resolution of your flat-screen TV is a fixed number, representing the number of pixels that the screen has, and that the pixels, in turn, generally represent how sharp the image will be.

About High-Definition TVs

When it comes to high-definition TV screens, the most common native resolution is 1920 X 1080. This means that the screen will have 1,920 pixels horizontally and 1,080 pixels vertically. In total, the screen will have 2,073,600 pixels.

When a TV has this number of pixels, it will be referred to as 1080i or 1080p. The letter following the 1080 indicates Interlaced or progressive, which simply indicates how the images are displayed. Both are HD certified and capable of showing 1920 X 1080 pixels.

TV screens with this native resolution will be referred to as “Full HD,” but there are other screens with lower native resolutions, referred to as “HD Ready.” While they have resolutions like 1280 X 720 or 1024 X 768, they are still considered high-definition screens.

Ultra HD Resolution TVs

Taking a step up from HD, Ultra HD TV screens will usually be referred to as either 4K or 8K, but you may also encounter Ultra HD 4K/ 8K, SUHD, or other designations. Despite the different names, they all refer to the same Ultra HD resolution.

The names may lead to some confusion if you assume the TVs have 4,000 or 8,000 pixels, but the numbers are actually 3840 X 2160 (a total of 8,294,400 pixels, or 4 times that of Full HD) for the 4K TVs and 760 X 4320 (a total of 33,177,600, or 4 times that of 4K) for the 8K.

How Does Image Resolution Differ From Native Resolution?

So far, we have been talking about the native resolution of the TV. Image resolution refers to the number of pixels in the image being sent to your TV. While the native resolution (your TV) is fixed, the image resolution (the signal) can vary according to the way it was recorded and transmitted.

TV and video image resolutions can be split into three main categories: Standard Definition, High-Definition, and Ultra High-Definition

Standard Definition

At one time, standard definition transmissions were the most common—hence the term “standard.” Today, it is being replaced by high-definition transmission. A standard definition picture’s resolution will be either 480i or 576i, depending on your location. This means that 480i images will have 640 pixels horizontally and 640 pixels vertically. As with 1080i, the letter “i” signifies that it is an interlaced image, which was a method used to reduce the bandwidth required for transmission, at a cost of picture quality.

In NTSC regions, standard definition DVDs are 480 pixels vertically but are transmitted with progressive scan, making them 480p. Standard definition continues to be usable but will show its age on newer TVs. Images will be of lower quality, lacking the crisp, sharp definition available with HD and UHD.

 High-Definition

Under the banner of high-resolution, 1080p is one of the best resolution images and is common on Blu-rays and some streaming services. With 1,920 horizontal pixels and 1,080 vertical ones, it totals more than 2 million pixels, making it significantly higher than the 307,200 pixels in standard definition’s 480i images. This results in a much sharper, clearer image.

Despite the availability of content with even higher resolution, there are comparatively few sources of 1080i images, including Blu-ray players, some gaming consoles, and streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube. This means that you will not be making full use of your screen’s capabilities unless you are watching images from these sources.

High-definition images come in three types:

 

• 720p is 1280 X 720, progressive scan

• 1080i is 1920 X 1080, interlaced scan

• 1080p is 1920 X 1080 progressive scan

All three of these are considered high-definition and each of them will provide an excellent image on your flat screen HD TV. TV transmission will be 720p or 1080i due to transmission restrictions.

4K UHD Video Images

Ultra-high definition 4K resolution images are known as 2160p. They have a minimum resolution of 3840 X 2160 pixels and are recorded using progressive scan, giving them 8.3 million pixels.

Although 4K tends to be on many viewers’ lips these days, 4K video is presently rather limited. The best way to experience high quality 4K video right now is on an Ultra HD Blue-ray player. Barring that, you may also find some 4K video content on the few streaming services offering it: Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, and Vimeo. These services can provide excellent image quality but cannot maintain the consistent high-bitrate video quality that you will find on a Blu-ray disk.

While some channels are transmitting in 4K, they are still rare, offering few opportunities to take full advantage on newer TVs.

HDTV Resolution: How Important Is It?

Truthfully, at the moment your TV screen’s native resolution isn’t as important as you might think. The reason for that is that for you to get the best picture your TV can provide, you need a transmitted image resolution that matches the TV’s native resolution. For example, to fully enjoy your TV’s 1080p or 4K resolution, you need to be viewing a 1080p or 4K source. Often, that simply won’t be available.

The TV’s native resolution is just one of the factors determining how good the image appears to you. The others include:

• Screen size

• How close you are sitting to the screen

• The resolution of the source image

• The quality of your TV’s processing

• The colour accuracy of the TV’s processing

Native Resolution and Image

Often, the images you will be watching on a 1080p screen will not be transmitted in 1080p. In fact, if you have a 1080p screen, you will only receive true 1080p images from Blu-ray players, PS4/Xbox games, and certain streaming services. Other images will not be 1080p and for them to be displayed properly will require your TV to process them. The same will occur with your lovely new 4K TV because most of the images you will be watching will not be transmitted in the necessary Ultra HD.

So, what happens then?

Upscaling is a process whereby your TV increases the pixel count of a lower resolution image, allowing the image to fit a TV with many more pixels than the image initially intended. 

When the image resolution does not match the native resolution, the image will have to be scaled by your TV to fit the screen correctly and not all TVs handle this task equally well. This will, of course, affect the quality of the image you are viewing.

Your 4K TV will suffer the same fate because the available sources for 4K content are limited. Because of this, you may find that the other factors are a more important consideration than the screen resolution. For example, colour accuracy and contrast ratio are believed by many to be of greater value to picture quality than simply seeking higher resolutions, making OLED TVs with their high contrast ratios a popular option. 

When faced with 1080i and 720p formats, your 4K TV will have some work to do, de-interlacing the former and upscaling the latter. Both will have an effect on the quality of your picture. The result will depend be more on the quality of the transmission and the processing ability of your TV than the TV’s native resolution. In the same way, an image in standard definition would have to be upscaled to either 720 or 1080 to fit on your HD TV, depending on its native resolution.

Essentially what this all means is that having a 1080p screen will mean very little when you are watching an image with comparatively poor resolution. An upscaled image can be made to look reasonably good, but it will not match one that is legitimately HD.

The Effect of Seating Distance

While many viewers will insist on having a higher resolution screen, the truth is that for most of them, there will be no discernible difference in image quality between 720p and 1080p if they are seated more than 6 or 7 feet from the screen. This also holds true when comparing 1080p and 4K.

To judge the distance at which resolution becomes less obvious for the average viewer, multiply the diagonal screen size by 1.5. If you are using a 720p or 1080p TV, you are unlikely to notice a significant difference between different high-definition images unless the TV is very large, or you are sitting within 5 to 6 feet of the screen. Again, this also holds true for a 4K Ultra HD screen.

Keeping all this in mind, it should be clear that while the native resolution of a TV plays a role in the image quality of what you are watching, it isn’t the most important consideration when you are looking to buy a new TV to buy. As much as the resolution is often what is stressed by advertisers and salesmen, you need to be aware of other factors to make a decision about what is the best choice for you.

In particular, the processing ability of the TV is an important consideration because it will be expected to handle different resolutions from multiple sources. Knowing that the average person finds it hard to differentiate between different HD resolutions, you should avoid worrying too much about the number of pixels and focus on those elements that are more likely to make a difference to your eyes, such as the colour accuracy and the contrast ratio.

Also, keep in mind where you will be sitting when watching. How close will you be to the screen? Will it be close enough to make a difference? Is the screen large enough? It is also worth considering your own vision. As mentioned, many people will not see a significant difference much of the time. Is your vision good enough to do so?

New models are being released all the time and the trend is toward 1920 X 1080 (HD) and 3840 X 2160 (UHD) becoming standard. This means you have fewer options available than in the past. Still, you may find yourself unsure of what to do when choosing between 1080p and 4K. Of course, 4K sounds more impressive, but remember that there are relatively few choices allowing you to use its full potential.

When choosing a new TV, be sure to look at more than the numbers.  And once you find the TV with the resolution you need, make sure you add the right custom home theater recliners from Elite HTS

 
size, distance and resolution for home theater TVs

The Effect of Seating Distance

While many viewers will insist on having a higher resolution screen, the truth is that for most of them, there will be no discernible difference in image quality between 720p and 1080p if they are seated more than 6 or 7 feet from the screen. This also holds true when comparing 1080p and 4K.

To judge the distance at which resolution becomes less obvious for the average viewer, multiply the diagonal screen size by 1.5. If you are using a 720p or 1080p TV, you are unlikely to notice a significant difference between different high-definition images unless the TV is very large, or you are sitting within 5 to 6 feet of the screen. Again, this also holds true for a 4K Ultra HD screen.

Keeping all this in mind, it should be clear that while the native resolution of a TV plays a role in the image quality of what you are watching, it isn’t the most important consideration when you are looking to buy a new TV to buy. As much as the resolution is often what is stressed by advertisers and salesmen, you need to be aware of other factors to make a decision about what is the best choice for you.

In particular, the processing ability of the TV is an important consideration because it will be expected to handle different resolutions from multiple sources. Knowing that the average person finds it hard to differentiate between different HD resolutions, you should avoid worrying too much about the number of pixels and focus on those elements that are more likely to make a difference to your eyes, such as the colour accuracy and the contrast ratio.

Also, keep in mind where you will be sitting when watching. How close will you be to the screen? Will it be close enough to make a difference? Is the screen large enough? It is also worth considering your own vision. As mentioned, many people will not see a significant difference much of the time. Is your vision good enough to do so?

New models are being released all the time and the trend is toward 1920 X 1080 (HD) and 3840 X 2160 (UHD) becoming standard. This means you have fewer options available than in the past. Still, you may find yourself unsure of what to do when choosing between 1080p and 4K. Of course, 4K sounds more impressive, but remember that there are relatively few choices allowing you to use its full potential.

When choosing a new TV, be sure to look at more than the numbers.  And once you find the TV with the resolution you need, make sure you add the right custom home theater recliners from Elite HTS