Is 1080p worth the extra money? Do I miss something if I buy a plasma TV that is just 720p? What are the differences between 720p vs 1080p and which one is better for me? I will answer these questions in this guide and more than just telling you what are the differences between 720p and 1080p I will actually show you so you see with your own eyes. This is a guide where the expression “an image is worth a thousand words” applies perfectly.
A Visual Comparison of 720p vs 1080p
Nice stuff first! The following images are screenshots from the 1080p version of The Matrix. The images have been manipulated on computer in order to closely depict the differences of 720p vs 1080p. The 1080p part of the image is a 100% crop from the original, while the 720p part is made by resizing the 1080p frame to 720p, cropping the region and then resizing to have the same size as the first image. Note that depending on the particular HDTV model used, you may experience slightly better or worse quality. This is because each HDTV model has its specific image processing system that offers slightly different results.
The first image set is to be viewed from where you normally sit when you use your computer (2 to 3 feet away). It was made to look optimally for 1080p crop at this distance. You will notice that certain areas of the 720p parts don’t look as good as the 1080p versions. But, if you make a step behind you will see they both look the same and you can’t make the difference anymore.
1080p Offers More Detail
A 720p frame has roughly about 1 million pixels. Compared to it, a 1080p frame has 2 million pixels. As you see, the amount of detail doubles. However in practice the difference between 1080p vs 720p is not as obvious as the one between standard definition vs high definition (480p vs 720p). For example a regular DVD isn’t even considered high definition because it is either 720×480 (NTSC) or 720×576 (PAL) but it looks much better than regular NTSC or PAL TV broadcasts and not as great as 720p. That being said, you do get more detail from 1080p than from any resolution if you have the “winning” formula for screen size, resolution and viewing distance – that is if you have the optimum conditions to get the most out of 1080p.
Screen Size, Resolution and Viewing Distance
This trio is the base for obtaining the best picture quality and amount of detail from your HDTV. There is a relation between the three and if you get them right you will get the best picture quality no matter if you choose 720p vs 1080p or you decide to go for the extra detail offered by 1080p. Unless you have the correct numbers for these three sizes, you can end up seeing the same detail from 1080p as you would from 720p. Worse than that, you might even get a poor experience from 720p and a very bad one from standard definition (SD) content like many TV programs.
Basically, you want to buy a HDTV that offers you the best picture quality and amount of detail for the specific distance you will be sitting away. The viewing distance is actually a constant because you will always sit at the same distance (unless, of course, you move your chair or coach closer). The screen size and resolution depend on your budget. The larger the screen and resolution is, the higher the price will be.
In order to get the extra detail from 1080p, the screen size must be big enough and the distance short enough for your eyes to actually see the extra detail. Basically, unless you have a very short distance between you and the TV, you will need a larger screen with 1080p than with 720p. That means in order to actually benefit from 1080p you pay not just for the extra resolution but also for the extra screen size.
720p vs 1080p Content
The only pure 1080p content comes from high definition DVDs like Blue Ray and HD DVD. Regular DVDs are way below that, hawing just 480p or 576p. You also get HD content from TV broadcasts but for now only 1080i and 720p. Basically 1080i offers pretty much the same amount of detail as 1080p but the quality of fast moving scenes is a bit inferior to 1080p. To understand this better read the 1080p vs 1080i guide. 720p content will of course look the same (or very similar) on a 1080p screen as it does on a 720p screen because what also matters is the content resolution not just the screen resolution.
Enhanced definition (EDTV) like DVDs and standard definition content (regular TV channels) will also look the same on 720p vs 1080p. You must keep in mind that if you intend to watch a lot of standard definition (SD) content, doing so on 1080p HDTV that sits at the optimal distance for 1080p content will make the SD content absolutely ugly. In this case the TV will act like a magnifying glass, enhancing the imperfections specific to SD content. If you intend to watch a lot of ED or SD content you might want to consider buying a TV that will not give you the full advantage of 1080p but will look acceptable with SD and ED content.
1080p Is the Best You Can Get
If you do get the right size of TV for your viewing distance and you watch true 1080p content, 1080p is unmatched and will look amazing. It will look much better than 720p seen from 720p’s optimal distance and you will see detail like never before on a TV. Add to that the great quality of the colors and contrast offered by the top plasma TVs and you have the best visual experience you can get. Fail to get the right screen size for your viewing distance and you will only spend money for something you can’t benefit from.
What about 728p vs 1080p?
728p is an incorrect alias of 720p. Because native resolutions of HDTVs are not all the same, some panels having the vertical resolution of 720 pixels while others (most) have 728 pixels, manufacturers prefer to advertise the content resolution that matches the screen native resolution instead of the actual horizontal and vertical resolution of the screen itself. Some actually prefer to just label them as Full-HD or HD-Ready because it’s easier to remember by consumers. So basically because 728p means just 28 more pixels vertically, the discussion applies to it as well.