The world of high-tech television has its own language. When you’re looking for a new set, you’re often staring at a wall of screens with marginally different views, with only a set of numbers to differentiate them. To start out, it’s helpful to know one of the most basic elements of a television: its resolution. High definition televisions, which are pouring into the market and become more affordable for the average consumer, come in two resolutions: 720p and 1080p.
The lowest number in the pair, 720, stands for the 720 pixels of vertical resolution and progressive scan. All major HDTV broadcasting standards include a 720p format. The higher number, 1080p, is 1080 pixels of vertical resolution with a progressive scan. Both refer to a widescreen format.
In laymen terms, a picture with 1080 pixels will show finer details of a picture – a 720p picture of a waterfall may appear fuzzy to the trained eye, while a 1080p picture of a waterfall will show more movement and clarity (in other words, you can see the single drops of water as they splash.) The other difference is price; 1080p sets are still more expensive than their 720p counterparts.
There are relatively slight differences between the two, and it actually comes down to how you’ll be using your television. As of June 2014, 1080p over-the-air broadcasts still don’t exist. For regular cable, the standard is still 720p for the high-definition channels. All major networks operate by this standard because it’s more expensive to stream using a higher bandwidth necessary for 1080p. No pay service channel, like HBO or Starz, broadcast in 1080p, either. However, satellite channels, like DirecTV and Dish Network, do offer 1080p presentations that can be downloaded and played back later, but for a charge.
The biggest win for 1080p is for gamers and BluRay movie watchers. Games developed for newer gaming systems, like Xbox One and PlayStation4, are almost all in 1080p (although games for older systems still have 720p resolution). BluRay discs are almost all rendered in 1080p. You should also be aware that if a program or game is rendered in 720p, it will play at this resolution even if you have a larger screen.
In other words, you can size down, but you cant’t size up.
For games and BluRay discs, the 1080p symbol can be found on the back of the packaging.
Your choice between 1080p and 720p should be decided by your budget and how much you’ll use your set for 1080p programming. If you don’t have a BluRay player (and don’t plan on adding one to your home theater), a 720p set will be fine. If you are a gamer, avid BluRay viewer, or plan to expand or upgrade your devices in the near future, spend a little extra to upgrade to the 1080p – your future movie-watching self will thank you!