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What is the Resolution?

Updated Oct 19, 2012 By Cedric Demers
Differences between Ultra HD (4k), 1080p, 720p and 480p resolutions
Ultra HD (4k) vs 1080p vs 720p vs DVD resolution size

The resolution of a television is the number of pixels in each dimension that the television can display natively. You can watch a media that is not in the television native resolution. However, watching content in a lower resolution than the television will not increase the quality of it. Watching 720p content on a 1080p television will not look better than on a 720p television. Inversely, you will lose details if you watch a 1080p content on a 720p television.

The image to the right compares the sizes in term of pixels of the different resolutions. You can see that the 1080p resolution has about 4 times the total area of the DVD resolution. Ultra HD (also known as 4k) is also about four times bigger than 1080p.

Which resolution should I get?

Chart of which resolution is worth it, DVD, 720p, 1080p or Ultra HD (4k)
The resolution needed depends on the size and distance of the television due to the limitation of the human eye
(learn more about this here)

A higher resolution might not be worth it for you. The resolution that you need depends on three factors: the size of your television, how close you sit to it and what kind of footage you are watching (discussed in the next section).

The human eye of a person with a perfect vision (20/20 for North America or 6/6 in Europe) can only distinguish a detail 1/60 of a degree apart. This means that at a certain distance, for a specific size, you cannot see perfectly the full resolution of a television. The chart to the right plots that distance for the different television sizes for the 4 main resolutions (480p, 720p, 1080p and Ultra HD).

Using this data, if you are siting 8 feet away from your television, you will not see a difference between 720p and 1080p for a television less than 40”. Similarly, the new Ultra HD resolution is only worth it if you have a television bigger than 60” and sitting relatively close to it.

What content are available in which resolutions?

Content Resolution
Standard channel 480i
HD channel 720p or 1080i
Netflix Up to 720p
Blu-ray 1080p
Resolutions of contents

A high resolution television is worth nothing if you will only be watching standard television. The best resolution media is currently Blu-ray at 1080p, which is even higher than most HD channels or Netflix. If you do not plan on watching Blu-ray movies, a 720p resolution is sufficient for your needs.

As of today (2012), there are no widely available sources for Ultra HD media, even if most movies are currently filmed and displayed in theater on a Ultra HD resolution.

What is the most common native resolution for a television?

In 2012, most televisions are now in the 1080p native resolution. Only the lower end models are 720p. The Ultra HD resolution is not widely available to the public. Models have been shown to CES 2012, but their prices are out of reach of the normal public and they are not found in common stores.


If you want a television smaller than 40”, stick to 720p only; your eye will not be able to tell the difference at a distance. The 1080p resolution is worth it from 40” to 60”. You will only start noticing the difference with a Ultra HD (4k) resolution above 60”. However, there are very few Ultra HD televisions available as well as very few media in the Ultra HD format.

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Jun 22 2014
Why does 42 plasma tvs have resolution of 1024 x 768 and still look quite good?
The resolution is not the only factor for the picture quality. The most important one is still the contrast ratio, which plasma TVs are excellent for.
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