What Does 1080p Mean?

By: HowStuffWorks.com Contributors  | 

You're probably seen 1080p when using televisions, monitors, and content streaming services. But what does 1080p mean? Simply put, 1080p refers to a display resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels, offering a high-definition picture quality that is crisp and detailed.


1080p vs. 1080i

First, some background information about how a television set works. The CRT (cathode ray tube) TVs that some of us grew up with displayed a picture due to a gun shooting a stream of electrons across the screen in lines from left to right, starting at the top of the screen and moving down to the bottom. The phosphors coating the screen would glow as they were hit by the stream of electrons.

Since the early TV sets weren't able to display the entire picture on the screen without the top fading by the time the bottom was visible, manufacturers came up with a system in which only half of the lines of the display were refreshed each cycle, while the alternate lines were refreshed the next cycle. This is called interlacing, and it sometimes results in distortion if the images are those of a quickly moving subject. TV images are usually generated at 50 cycles per second.


TV technology has significantly advanced, and progressive scanning was developed. This is what the "p" in 1080p stands for, as opposed to 1080i, where the "i" stands for interlacing. A TV that's 1080p doesn't display a picture using odd and even lines, but rather the entire image is seen at once, similar to movie films. The 1080 refers to the resolution of the TV set. While the old CRT television sets used to display 576 horizon lines, the new digital high-definition (HD or high-def) TV sets boast 720 or 1080 lines that make up the image displayed, which gives a higher resolution. Indeed, you may find that digital pictures are four times sharper and clearer than analog ones.

Understanding Display Resolution

At the heart of digital display technology, including computer monitors, televisions, and even mobile phones, lies the concept of display resolution. The term 1080p not only signifies the vertical resolution but also implicates a specific aspect ratio, the proportional relationship between the width and height of the screen. This ratio, typically 16:9 for 1080p devices, ensures that the 1920 horizontal pixels stretch across the screen horizontally, creating a balanced and harmonious visual experience. This balance is crucial for both the creation and consumption of video content, affecting everything from the video recording process to the final video editing stages.


The Significance of Higher Resolutions

As we transition from 1080p (full HD) to ultra HD, 4K, and beyond, the increase in higher resolutions becomes evident. These advancements translate to more pixels displayed on the screen, leading to a sharper, more detailed image. A higher pixel count doesn't just enhance video quality; it revolutionizes the gaming experience and makes for a more immersive viewing experience. However, displaying higher resolutions such as 4K or ultra HD demands more processing power from devices and higher internet speed for streaming, factors that are crucial for a seamless experience.


Video Camera and Recording Resolutions

When it comes to video cameras, the native resolution — or the original recording resolution — plays a pivotal role in the quality of the footage. Cameras capable of capturing high definition resolution footage not only provide clearer images but also offer flexibility in video editing, allowing for cropping or zooming in post-production without significant loss of detail. This is essential for professional videographers who aim to deliver content in either 1080p or higher resolutions like 4K.


The Role of Screen Resolution in Devices

The screen resolution of a device, such as a new TV or computer monitor, determines the number of pixels displayed. A screen's native resolution is its optimal setting, offering the best resolution for viewing content. Using a lower resolution than the native can result in a less sharp image, while a higher resolution might not be supported by the screen's hardware. This makes choosing the right TV resolution or monitor setting crucial for achieving the best video quality possible.


Future Trends: Beyond 1080p

Looking into the foreseeable future, the evolution of display technology continues. While 1080p has become a standard for high-definition resolution, emerging technologies and the push for ultra HD and 4K indicate a shift towards even higher resolutions. This evolution aims to enhance the video content experience further, pushing the boundaries of realism in the digital world. However, it's not just about higher resolutions; factors like vertical resolution, horizontal resolution, and aspect ratio continue to play critical roles in how content is produced, displayed, and perceived.


Frequently Answered Questions

How do you explain 1080p?
1080p is a resolution of 1920x1080. This is the number of pixels that make up the width and height of the image.
What does the p in 1080p stand for?
The p in 1080p stands for progressive scan.