What is the Resolution? (Ultra HD (4k), 1080p, 720p, DVD)
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?
(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?
|HD channel||720p or 1080i|
|Netflix||Up to 720p|
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.
First, the television cannot create new information, it can only extrapolate from the available information. This means that the television cannot know what was between two pixels. So it will guess instead. Second, there is a loss of information when upscaling to match the desired resolution. Unless the scale factor is exactly a whole number (which is mostly never the case), some information will be loss by trying to fit 1 pixel into a fraction. For example, let say you want to upscale a 1x3 picture (consisting of a white pixel next to a black one and then a white pixel) into a 1x4. What do you do? The two on the side can be white, but none at the center can be black without deforming the picture, so it will mostly be gray.
As a side note, this assume the resolution upscaling is done on frames independently of each others. Technically, you also have access to information present on the previous and next frames. There are some research done in that field that do look promising, but the algorithms aren't really effective yet besides very controlled cases.
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