Updated

What is the Resolution?

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 TV can display natively.

The higher the resolution, the more details the picture has. The resolution is not the only factor in picture quality, but it is the easiest one to understand and notice.

You can watch media that is not in the TV's native resolution. However, watching content in a lower resolution than the TV will not increase the quality. Inversely, you will lose detail if you watch 1080p content on a 720p TV. Learn more about upscaling.

Name Alt. Names Columns
Width in pixels
Lines
Height in pixels
Common Media
480p Standard 720 480 DVD
Standard Channels
720p HD
HD Ready
1280 720 HD channels (some are 1080i)
1080p Full HD
FHD
1920 1080 Blu-ray
4k 2160p
Ultra HD
UHD
3840 2160 Very limited

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 20/20 vision (6/6 in Europe) can only distinguish detail 1/60 of a degree apart (Wikipedia source). This means that at a certain distance, for a specific size, you will not be able to see the full resolution of a television. The chart plots that distance for different television sizes at the four main resolutions (480p, 720p, 1080p and Ultra HD).

Using this data, if you are siting eight feet away from your television, you will not see a difference between 720p and 1080p for a television under 40" in size. Similarly, the new Ultra HD resolution is only worth it if you have a television bigger than 60" and are sitting relatively close to it (more info on UHD vs 1080p).

What content is available in which resolution?

Content Resolution
Standard channel 480i
HD channel 720p or 1080i
Netflix Up to 4k
Blu-ray 1080p
Resolutions of contents

Though screen resolution has improved dramatically in the past several years, the quality of available content hasn't managed to keep pace. The content is now the bottleneck. Blu-ray is still the best physical media. HD channels are falling behind as they are either only 720p or 1080i.

More content is being made available in 4k, though the selection is still nowhere near what you see with 1080p. We have compiled a list of some of the more common source of 4k UHD content, which you can find here.

What is the most common native resolution for a television?

720p TVs are rare now. Some 32" and 43" plasma TVs are 720p. With LED TVs, it's rare for even 32" TVs to be 720p nowadays. Most 720p TVs are in the sub-32" sizes.

1080p TVs are the most common. If you buy a TV today, this will most likely be the resolution.

4k TVs have increased their market share in 2014. Every brand has a few of them now, but the prices are still above mainstream level. We list our favourite 4k TVs here.

Conclusion

The resolution is an important factor in the picture quality of a TV, but the resolution you experience while watching is also dependent on the size of your TV and your viewing distance. As the effective resolution will be the minimum between the resolution of the media and your TV, you need high quality media to fully appreciate whatever you're looking at.

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Questions & Answers

12 ANSWERED QUESTIONS
48
Why do 42" plasma TVs have a resolution of 1024 x 768 and still look quite good?
The resolution is not the only factor involved in picture quality. The most important one is still contrast ratio, which plasma TVs are excellent for.
6
Why do stock charts look much clearer on a computer monitor than on an LED TV? The amount of space required for a stock chart on a TV is much greater than that required for a computer monitor.
This is most likely just a configuration problem on your TV. Make sure the TV has a direct mapping of the pixels (with no overscan) and disable all processing settings.
6
When viewing digital photos on my 1080p TV they don't look amazing. Would they be better on a 4k TV? Or is the problem something else?
It depends on a few things, but the most important ones are the quality of the photographs and the picture quality of the TV.
Upgrading to a 4k TV wouldn't help unless your problem was that your current TV couldn't display all the detail that is in the photos. If the images don't look good, the more likely issue is that the quality of the images themselves is poor, or that your TV's picture isn't great.
Try to find good picture settings for your TV, and use those when looking at your photos. You should also make sure your camera settings are correct and that your shots are well-lit, in focus, etc.
2
Hello. Let me start off by just giving you guys/gals the people's award for all the research you do. This website is extremely informative and allows the consumer a fair, non-swindling opinion on TV sets.I love it!
Here is my question: Is there a way to rate a TV set's upscaling ability? Does this factor in to any tests currently? I've noticed that Samsung does great with upscaling lower resolution content, but some Vizio TVs are rated higher, despite being without the ability to upscale efficiently. I am not a gamer, and normal cable is about 80 percent of what I watch, with 20 percent being streamed movies.
We do score our TVs for upscaling, rating them based on how well they display 480p, 720p, and (for 4k TVs) 1080p. Unfortunately, we currently have no objective way to measure this, since different TVs do different things when upscaling, so the scores are subjective.
By comparing the results we've seen from all the TVs, Samsung, Sony, and LG TVs are all mostly good at upscaling, while Vizio and Sharp aren't as good. If you want to watch low-resolution media and your TV will be doing the upscaling (some cable boxes can also upscale), get one of the first three.
2
Why are 4k TVs given a 9 for 1080p resolution and regular 1080p TVs like the Vizio E-series have a 10 for 1080p? Does that mean the E-series has better 1080p picture than a Samsung JU7100 with a score of 9 in that resolution?
Even great upscaling like you get with the JU7100 isn't perfect, and so 1080p on 4k looks a bit less crisp than it does on a genuine 1080p TV. So in terms of the resolution of the image, yes, 1080p looks a bit better on the E-series. For overall picture (things like uniformity, motion blur, etc), though, the JU7100 is better.
1
Are there any LED televisions around that have good quality pictures both sitting directly in front of the set and at an angle? I am thinking of buying a 60 to 65 inch set. Sitting about 11 feet away, dead center. The set will be mounted on a wall and the side seats about 4 and a half feet away.
Unfortunately, there is no perfect mix available. If you want good quality when viewed at wide angles, an IPS TV will be your best bet - you lose out on a bit of contrast, but the side seats will at least get to enjoy better color saturation. The best TV for that kind of setup is the Sony KDL65W950B.
1
Cable company just upgraded me to HD service for my new Samsung UN60J6300. The picture looks great, but the display is showing 1280 x 720 @ 60p. I thought I just purchased a 1080p TV. Does cable promise more than it can deliver? Or it there a setting I have to make?
It's normal for cable to transmit a 720p or 1080i signal, and your TV will upscale that to 1080p automatically. There's nothing you need to do here.
1
I just purchased a Vizio E55 C2. I have ATT Uverse. The cable box gives you the option of changing the signal, 720p or 1080i. Does it matter what it is set at? Or does the TV automatically deal with the incoming signal? Thanks! -Dave
The Vizio E will deal with the incoming signal but it isn't the best at upscaling cable resolutions. For that reason, and if it is an available option, set it at 1080p. If 1080p isn't an option, select 1080i. Also, if there is a 'Native' option, make sure it isn't selected.
0
What is the best 24-28" tv? Is it worth buying a 1080 dpi tv vs a 720 dpi tv if we are sitting 6-8 feet from tv. Most TVs in the 24-28" size seem to be 720 dpi. Is that because the extra dpi doesn't matter on such a small size screen?
The smallest TVs we reviewed are of 32" in size so we can't really recommend any smaller ones. At those sizes and viewing distance it's hard to see a difference between 720p and 1080p. 720p will be fine.
0
I bought the Samsung JS9500 and am not all that impressed with the difference in picture quality when compared to my Samsung 60" plasma. The JS9500 also seems to have a lot of motion issues, and that's with turning off all of the junk that is not needed and every combination in between. 3D is awesome, but the picture still seems to have a fair amount of motion issues. Is there any solutions? Would calibration help? Future software update? Is it just a 4k thing?
No, calibration won't help, and it's not related to 4k.
LED TVs in general don't look quite as good for motion as plasma sets do. If you want something that looks a bit better, an OLED TV would be the answer. If that's not an option you want to explore, then you'll need to try to adjust to the look of LED - and it doesn't get much better than the JS9500.
0
My cheap new Sceptre 1080p TV is failing to upscale certain 16:9 sources to fill the screen automatically, and there is no manual setting to make it do so, either.
This happens with component DVD signals (upscaled only to 720p size), and with *some* over-the-air 720p stations (appear at 720p size), but not others which correctly upscale to 1080p size.
I haven't tested with cable boxes but suspect similar problems. All 4:3 sources (even component DVD) upscale properly to fill the screen top-to-bottom. A related issue is the "Movies!" over-the-air network which transmits 4:3 Anamorphic and is not being automatically stretched to 16:9 by the TV (have to dig for settings). Have you ever heard of this happening with any other TV? I call it a defectively designed product not doing its basic functionally -- evil/clueless Sceptre tech support calls it "complying with all industry standards".
We haven't encountered that problem, no.
If you want a solution, the easiest fix (if possible) would be to use an upscaling DVD player, which would send an upscaled, screen-fitting 1080p signal to the TV. For a cable box, choosing an option to send a 1080i signal would probably achieve the same result.
0
You mentioned that it's normal for most cable to transmit 720p or 1080i signals. I purchased two 1080p televisions (55" Vizio and 40" Magnavox). My TV's did not upscale automatically to 1080p yet. Should I contact my cable provider (Comcast). I have the top of the line HD service from Comcast. Not sure what to do. Thanks
Your TVs will always upscale to 1080p, so you have nothing to worry about. When you press the 'Info' button on the remote, the signal displayed is the incoming one, not the upscaled one.
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