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720p vs. 1080p

One of the key factors distinguishing HDTVs today is resolution. Currently, HDTVs are available in either of two resolutions, known as 720p and 1080p respectively. What’s the difference between the two? Is it necessary to get 1080p to enjoy the full HD experience? We’ll explore these questions and others, and tell you what you need to know in order to make an informed decision.

What are these numbers?

720p and 1080p represent the resolution of the HDTV, much like a computer monitor. The only difference is that in a computer monitor, you’d see a resolution like 1280×1024, which gives you the width as well as the height, in pixels. When referring to HDTVs, the aspect ratio (the shape) of the TV is always the same, 16:9, aka anamorphic widescreen. Since the aspect ratio is the same, comparing horizontal resolution alone will suffice, and that is exactly what these numbers represent. 720p is an HDTV with a resolution of 1280×720 pixels, and 1080p is 1920×1080 pixels.

Sit almost 6 feet from your computer screen to view the comparison above. This accurately depicts the visual difference between 720p and 1080p.

Something that adds to the confusion is that most 720p HDTVs on the market are not exactly 720p. Some of them use 1366×768, some use 1024×768, and some have slightly different resolutions still. Manufacturers will use these other resolutions for a number of reasons (such as manufacturing cost), but all these TVs are still referred to as 720p TVs, mainly because they are not 1080p TVs.

HD content is usually available in 720p, 1080i and 1080p resolutions, but most modern TVs can accept all the signals, regardless of their actual resolution. In the past, salespeople have referred to 720p TVs as 1080i TVs, but the norm is now to call them 720p-capable.

Are 1080p TVs Better?

Well, 1080p HDTVs often cost more, because they can display every single pixel of a 1920x1080p video image. All else being equal, a 1080p TV will be sharper, but in real life, this is not always the case.

When you look at your computer monitor, resolution is very important. Text, graphics and images will look vastly different with higher or lower resolutions, but this is not the case with video. Video loses resolution with motion, more so on LCDs than plasmas, but there are other factors when considering video quality:

1) Contrast Ratio
2) Black Level
3) Color Accuracy & Saturation
4) Resolution

Another big factor is viewing distance. The true benefit of 1080p only becomes apparent at close distances or very large screen sizes. For example, if you have a 50” 1080p HDTV, and sit 8 feet away from it, it won’t look any different to you than a 720p HDTV.


So, in essence, a 1080p TV will be better if:

1) it is equal or better than a comparable 720p model in contrast, black level and color accuracy
2) you sit close enough to take advantage of the increased resolution
3) you are watching 1080p content, such as movies on Blu-Ray disc

If you don’t meet all these requirements, a 720p TV will be as good for you as a 1080p model. Even in the best of circumstances, like when we test a number of TVs side-by-side in a dark environment, very little difference, if any, can be discerned between 1080p models and 720p ones. In some cases, a very good 720p model will actually look a lot better than 1080p ones, such as the Pioneer PDP-5080HD. It is last year’s 50-inch 720p model from Pioneer, and actually looks sharper and overall much better than most, if not all 1080p LCD HDTVs. This year’s 50-inch Pioneer PDP-5020FD is 1080p, but the difference is not really noticeable from normal viewing distances. Have a look at what makes for a good HDTV here, and good luck with your purchase!

5 Responses to “720p vs. 1080p”
Dodgeblogium » CoTV part whatever… - March 12th, 2009 at 7:52 am

[…] Fleming presents 720p vs. 1080p posted at Satellite TV […]

[…] In addition to that, there are a number of factors that are more important than resolution, and those are contrast, black level, color saturation and color accuracy. These days, the price difference between 720p and 1080p TVs is closing, and the majority of TVs on the market are 1080p, so these points may become moot soon. For more information on 720p and 1080p check out our 720p VS 1080p guide. […]

rocky - June 7th, 2009 at 3:38 am

How about a bit of honesty when presenting
screen shots like the above, show both with
the same contrast for a true comparison,

Smile - June 9th, 2009 at 6:41 am

June 2009.
I bought two 50″ plasmas from Samsung. One 720p and the other 1080p. The 720p has an old DVD player with the old three colour input cables. The 1080p has a new Blue Ray player and new 1080p cables. I played standard DVD scenes from the movie Cars (for colors) and the Buddy Holly Story (for skin tones). I looked real hard and checked for the slightest difference. I could not tell any difference at all. None! The colours on both these TV’s are awsome! But I like the 1080p better because it makes me feel good to say it.

smile - June 9th, 2009 at 10:03 am

Also, The 1080p needed a wall mount so I paid the delivery and install fee. It went into a tight spot and I needed the extra help. I took the 720p home myself in my truck. The set up was easy as any normal TV. I bought them at Best Buy, but Walmart sells the same TV for the same price. I don’t own any Blue Ray disks.
They’re too expensive, but I may get a few for very special movies later.

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