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What is the Resolution?

Differences between 8k, Ultra HD (4k), 1080p, 720p and 480p resolutions

What is the resolution, and why does it matter? Is this something you need to consider when buying a new TV? Or is it simply a technical specification of the TV that doesn't warrant any further thought? We set out to answer all of these questions, and to try and demystify a few technical terms.

What is it?

Simply put, the resolution is the number of pixels used to make up an image. Higher resolution displays allow you to see more fine details in your favorite games, movies, and TV shows.

While the resolution isn't the only aspect of picture quality, it is important, and most people will easily notice and appreciate the difference between a high-resolution TV and a low-resolution one.

The resolution of the media itself is also important to consider. Although modern upscaling technology has significantly improved, your TV will only look its best when displaying content that has the same resolution.

Learn more about upscaling.

Why does it matter?

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)

Upgrading your TV's resolution isn't always necessary. Depending on the size of your TV and the distance you sit from it, upgrading to a 4k TV might not make a difference in detail.

An average person with 20/20 vision (6/6 in Europe) can only distinguish detail 1/60 of a degree apart. Because of this, sitting closer to a TV makes it easier to see imperfections in the resolution. 

Size is also a factor. A 65" TV and a 32" can both share the same resolution, but because of their size difference, the pixels are larger on the larger TV, since the same image is stretched over a larger surface.

Using this data, it means that you need to sit closer than 7ft from a 55 inch TV to notice the individual pixels. This also means that if you sit anywhere further than 7ft, you probably won't be able to tell the difference between a 4k TV and a 1080p one (more info on UHD vs 1080p).

This is even more of an issue with new 8k TVs. You need to sit within 4ft of a 65" TV in order to tell the difference between it and a 4k TV. This is much closer than most people are comfortable sitting.

What is the most common native resolution for a television?

The majority of TVs on the market today have a native 4k resolution. Ranging from cheap, basic, budget TVs to the largest, most advanced 100" TVs, LED, OLED, or QLED. Find out the best 4k TVs here.

1080p displays, which used to be the most popular, are now very rare, and are usually found on smaller, more budget-oriented models. To get anything above 43", you'll have to go for 4k.

There are still a few 720p TVs on the market too, but these are now quite difficult to find. Only very small TVs, usually 32 inches or smaller, can be found with this resolution. Usually, they're very cheap TVs, and often aren't very good.

There are also a few 8k TVs starting to hit the market now. These TVs are currently extremely expensive, and as there is currently very little 8k content available, it isn't worth investing in at the moment.

What content is available in which resolution?

Name Alt. Names Width in pixels 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
Game consoles
4k 2160p
Ultra HD
UHD
3840 2160

Streaming
Blu-ray
4k gaming

8k

8k UHD

UHD-2

7680 4320 None

Higher resolution screens allow you to see more fine details in your favorite content, but they can only display what information they are given, so they are only as good as the content. Even though higher-resolution screens have become much more popular in recent years, it's taken a few years for content to catch up. Streaming services, like Netflix, were the first to upgrade to 4k, but in recent years, Blu-ray players and game consoles have caught up as well. 

Broadcast HD TV channels are still far behind, though. While there are a few full-time 4k channels available now, the cost of upgrading the infrastructure is prohibitive and slows down development. It isn't unlikely that a movement towards 4k HDR TV broadcasts is coming in the near future, though.

While a lot more content is now found in 4k, most of the stuff from recent years is still only 1080p. We have compiled a list of some of the more common sources of 4k UHD content, which you can find here.

Pixel Issues

There are a few different panel technologies, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Manufacturers have started using different tricks to try and improve some of the shortfalls of each technology, for example, the narrow viewing angles of VA panels. Whether through hardware or software, these tricks aren't without their flaws, and they can cause noticeable issues with certain types of content.

RGBW

  RGB RGBW RGB+W
Horizontal Resolution 3840 3840 3840
Subpixels per row 11520 11520 15360
Pixels

On most TVs, a pixel is made up of a red, blue, and green subpixel. RGBW panels, like the one found on the UK6300, add an additional white subpixel, while keeping the same total number of subpixels. Whereas RGB panels always use the same three subpixels, RGBW panels alternate between four subpixel structures: RGB, WRG, BWR, and GBW. This means that only one pixel on four has red, green, and blue subpixels.

IPS - RGB

LG UF7600

IPS - RGBW

LG UF6800

This usually isn't very noticeable, but in some cases, especially when using it as a PC monitor, it can cause issues. For example, the above images show the same purple line on two different displays. On the left, the line is displayed on an IPS TV with standard RGB subpixels, and on the right, the same line is displayed on an RGBW IPS panel. As you can see, the RGBW panel is less precise, as the display has to use the surrounding pixels to display the desired color. Again, with most normal content this isn't very noticeable, but on a PC, where there are often smaller UI elements, some inaccuracies like this can be noticeable.

OLED TVs also use RGBW panels, but they're a bit different. Instead of alternating between 4 subpixel structures, they add a white subpixel to each pixel. Because of this, every pixel in an OLED panel has all three colors, and can display any color accurately, without using surrounding pixels.

Subpixel Dithering

LG C9
Sony X900F
LG SM9000
LG UK6300
Samsung Q90/Q90R in PC mode.

Some TVs, like the Samsung Q90R and Q900R, have the right number of pixels and subpixels, but the pixels aren't all directly usable. Instead, some of the subpixels are dimmed, a technique known as dithering, with the goal of improving the horizontal viewing angles. This means that fine details are less precise, as described by flatpanelshd in their Q90R review.

This isn't as noticeable as RGBW panels for some things, including text, and unlike RGBW panels, this can be disabled. All of the above photos were taken in 'PC' mode, so they are supposed to display chroma 4:4:4 content properly. On the Q90R and Q900R, the subpixel dithering effect is disabled in 'PC' mode, as you can see in the photos above. On the UK6300 though, the undesirable effects of the RGBW panel are clearly visible, even in 'PC' mode.

Conclusion

The TV's resolution is one of the most important aspects that defines its picture quality, but it is highly dependent on the quality of the content you are watching as well as the position you are watching it from. If you sit further away from your TV, the difference can become impossible to notice. The same thing applies to the content itself; using a brand new 4k TV to watch VHS tapes won't make much of a difference.

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