How Television Works

TV Pixels and Your Brain

Let's start at the beginning with a quick note about your brain. There are two amazing things about your brain that make television possible. By understanding these two facts, you gain a good bit of insight into why televisions are designed the way they are.

The first principle is this: If you divide a still image into a collection of small colored dots, your brain will reassemble the dots into a meaningful image. This is no small feat, as any researcher who has tried to program a computer to understand images will tell you. The only way we can see that this is actually happening is to blow the dots up so big that our brains can no longer assemble them, like this:

Most people, sitting right up close to their computer screens, cannot tell what this is a picture of -- the dots are too big for your brain to handle. If you stand 10 to 15 feet away from your monitor, however, your brain will be able to assemble the dots in the image and you will clearly see that it is the baby's face. By standing at a distance, the dots become small enough for your brain to integrate them into a recognizable image.

Both televisions and computer screens (as well as newspaper and magazine photos) rely on this fusion-of-small-colored-dots capability in the human brain to chop pictures up into thousands of individual elements. On a TV or computer screen, the dots are called pixels. The resolution of your computer's screen might be 800x600 pixels, or maybe 1024x768 pixels.