What’s the Difference Between 1080p, 1080i, 720p and Other Resolutions?

1080p seems to be all the buzz in the electronics world today. I know that you’ve heard the term before in commercials for High Def TV’s, Blu-Ray Disc Players or from the “all knowing” salesmen in the electronics isle of a department store. It is true, 1080p resolution will give the highest picture quality possible. However you have to have equipment that can support it, and at the moment there isn’t a whole lot that can. The average consumer has absolutely no idea what resolution will even do for them and will probably end up getting provoked into buying something that will do them no good. I’m not saying that manufacturers or service providers are trying to swindle you, just that the average consumer’s lack of knowledge may lead them to making the wrong decision when buying TV equipment.

I’ll give you a quick scenario of what happens to many un-informed consumers. Lets say you see a commercial for a Blu-Ray Disc Player that offers movies in 1080p Full HD resolution. You think that sounds good and buy one immediately. You get it hooked up and turn on a movie to test your new investment but you notice that it doesn’t look much different than before. Did the manufacturer lie to you? No, the reason it probably doesn’t look any different is that your TV might accept the 1080p resolution but won’t play the movie in full 1080p because the TV isn’t capable of doing so.

To avoid this kind of mishap, you need to first know what the number and letter mean in 1080p. The number 1080 refers to the number of horizontal lines used by a TV to produce an image on the screen also known as resolution. As of right now there are two different kinds of resolution Interlaced (i) and Progressive (p):

  • Interlaced Resolution- a method of scanning vertical lines onto a TV picture by scanning the odd lines first and then scanning the even lines to create a uniform picture.
  • Progressive Resolution- a method of scanning vertical lines onto a TV picture by scanning the lines in one consecutive pass allowing for a sharper picture. Flat Panel and most Digital Projection televisions use Progressive Resolution.

So 1080p means 1080 lines of progressive video rendering. Now that you have a better understanding of how to read resolution, here’s how you can apply it to find out what definition you are actually watching. There are four different levels of definition right now.

  • Standard Definition (480i). Standard Definition is what you would see on Digital Cable with a basic connection.
  • Enhanced Definition (480p), an example of Enhanced Definition would be a DVD playing on your typical DVD player, slightly better quality than standard but still not high definition.
  • High Definition (720p-1080i) – High definition produces a much better picture because of the large number of lines it is able to produce. This allows for images on the screen to have much greater detail.
  • Full HD (1080p) -The fourth level of definition and the highest available, found only on Blu-Ray Disc and HD DVD players.

1080p produces one incredible picture, but you need to have the right equipment to see it. Also keep in mind that just because you have a 1080p capable TV, that doesn’t mean you’re going to be seeing a 1080p picture every time you watch TV. There is nothing wrong with 720p and 1080i High Definition they both produce a terrific picture. To be completely honest it will be hard for most people to even tell the difference between High Def and Full HD. So before you go out and make a big purchase to improve the resolution of your TV whether it be to High Definition or Full HD, make sure your equipment is compatible. The TV’s that have come out in the last year or so can accept 1080p but only a select few will actually play it.

To take advantage of High Definition Television you need three things.

  1. An HD Display (Plasma, LCD TV)
  2. An HD Source ( HDTV Tuner, HD Satellite, HD Cable Box, Blu-Ray, HD DVD Player)
  3. Proper Cables (HDMI, Component Video)

127 comments on “What’s the Difference Between 1080p, 1080i, 720p and Other Resolutions?

  1. We have a 42″ Toshiba (42HL196) and was told that it was 1080P. However, we hooked up our new Blu-ray and found that we can only get 1080i. Is there a converter box or something we can add to give us a true 1080P or will we have to buy a new TV?

  2. We are going to buy a plasma or LCD TV and are a little confused at the benefits of one over the other. There is a Samsung 50″ class 720P Flat-Panel Plasma HDTV available for a good price. However, we have been told that we should not get a big screen unless it is a 1080P. It also seems like some people prefer the LCD over the plasma? Can you tell us why? We use cable TV and would like to buy the most reliable television with the best picture. Can you help?

  3. Hello,

    I have a Pioneer PDP-427XG, the number of pixels is 1024×768. My question is how come my TV is able to display 1080i? Where does the extra 312 megapixels come from? And how come my dad’s Samsung which have the same number of pixels can not display 1080i and can only display 720p. Thanks.


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    MonsterĀ® M1000 HDTV HDMI Cable or MonsterĀ® MC 1000HD Ultra High Speed HDMI Cable

  6. Scott Vance on said:

    I’m curious what my cable company broadcasts in HD. I have an Pioneer Kuro set, but wonder if my set is upgrading the signal from what it is receiving.

  7. H. Farshid on said:

    What’s the difference between megapixels and HD?

  8. Electronics Guru on said:

    H. Farshid: Thanks for your question.

    ‘Megapixel’ refers to resolutions above 1 million. The prefix “mega” means million, while “pixel” refers to actual electronic diodes (such as in a camera) or divisions of a display (such as a TV). So an HDTV with a resolution of 1920×1080 has some 2,073,600 pixels; you could call it a 2+ megapixel display. “HD” is simply a naming convention that refers to displays with resolutions higher than standard definition sets.

  9. Kevin on said:

    I recently purchased a Samsung 50″ class 720p 600Hz plasma model # PN50B450. The TV itself is amazing. My question is: This TV has a 600Hz refresh rate which I was told is great for watching sports. However I cannot find an HDMI cable that supports a 600Hz refresh rate. If I buy a HDMI that supports a 120Hz or 240Hz will I get the maximum picture quality from my TV? Also I was told that not all television service providers actually broadcast in 1080p resolution? So is there any reason really to buy a 1080p TV other than for Blu-ray or HD-DVDs?

  10. Jonathan on said:

    I have a few questions. I own an Epson Moviemate 55 Projector and was searching eBay for HDMI-to-VGA adapters. Will this give me a better image if my PS3 and projector are connected? My Samsung surround sound system also has HDMI. Will the adapter improve the image or will it just down-convert or pass-through the signal? I’m fairly certain my projector supports 720p and 1080i; 1080p looked blurry for some reason. Thanks for your help.

  11. Art Steed on said:

    I have a problem with flickering red flashes that appear on half of my Samsung 50″ plasma when I play DVDs through my Bose lifestyle (with VS-2). I’ve spoken to several techs at Bose and have tried several fixes (changing HDMI inputs, trying component video inputs) but the problem remains. When playing the TV through the VS-2 system, no flickering occurs unless there is also a DVD playing on the Bose. It’s very frustrating. Any ideas?

  12. I have a son who insists on playing his PS3 and X-Box 360 on my brand new High definition TV? Question #1: can those game systems ruin a High Definition or LCD TV? Second, any guidelines for how long you can play at a time or during 1 day?

  13. Electronics Guru on said:


    I assume you’re worried about image burn-in. This used to be a problem years ago when HDTVs first became available, but recent developments have basically made it a non-issue. Plus, new HDTVs are packed with features that make game play even more exciting, such as high refresh rates, bolder colors, better sound and expanded connection options.

    So, will gaming systems ruin your new HDTV? Probably not. If the TV is left on 24/7 at its full brightness, and if the screen remains static, then there may be some degradation soon than later. But keep in mind that panels are designed to function for dozens of years without noticeable loss of quality — and that’s with punishing testing standards.

    I won’t comment on guidelines because that’s something parents and their kids need to figure out. Remember that the TV doesn’t care what it displays: if it’s on and showing content it’s being worn, regardless of the source.

  14. What happens when running a 720p signal into a 1080i/p television? Will the TV only display 720 lines and leave the other 360 lines black?

  15. Electronics Guru on said:


    Most systems will convert the 720 signal into a 1080 signal. Some players/TVs have the option to preserve the actual signal, which would then create black lines, but the default standard is to display the incoming source at the TVs highest resolution. So, if your TV is 1080i, the 720p signal is received and converted to 1080i.

  16. Can you explain what the difference would be when watching a Blu-ray on a 720p TV vs. a 1080p? I want to know what to watch for. Will I even notice a difference on a 32″ LCD? I asked to see it in the store but they don’t have a Blu-ray hooked up to a 720p TV.

    Also, regarding 60Hz and 120Hz, what imperfections would I notice with 60Hz when compared to 120? I’m looking at the smaller 32″ sets in the store and I’m comparing the image to the larger sets and I can’t see a difference. Thanks in advance!

  17. Electronics Guru on said:


    Chances are good that on a 32″ LCD HDTV you will not be able to tell the difference between 720p and 1080p at standard viewing distances. The most obvious difference will be less detail, a subtle lack of crispness, due to the modification of the original HD source to a lower resolution (losing information). But this assumes the original content was recorded and sourced with 1920×1080 pixels of resolution.

    In terms of the 60Hz vs. 120Hz it comes down more to personal preference than much else. True, higher refresh rates produce smoother video, especially fast motion scenes, but the effect can bother some viewers and can look really fake. It really depends on the model and the viewer. And since we’ve grown up with 60-85hz CRT displays the jerkiness and motion artifacts seem standard when compared to the true 24fps of film once available only in the theater.

    My thoughts: if you’re going to invest in new technology don’t skimp: go 1080p and go with a fast panel. Why? 120Hz+ enables playback of 24fps films, reduces motion artifacts and appears more like our own vision — plus the 1080 resolution is the de facto standard and provides the best viewing currently commercially available. The combination thereof does less to the original content, thereby resulting in a purer experience. So when you’re shopping get the best product for your money (ie: maximize value but never compromise personal preference!).

  18. Robert on said:

    I just replaced a 1080i DLP HDTV that was hooked to a HD cable box with a LCD LED 1080p. The new picture is much better, but the old set said it was 1080i while the new one says 720p. I realize there isn’t suppose to be much difference but why isn’t the new set showing 1080i also? Blu-ray seems to be just fine at 1080p.

  19. Electronics Guru on said:


    I won’t be much help because I lack the details to really help you. But there are a few things to check and consider. They are,

    1. The content coming in to the TV varies depending on the source, such as 1080p from Blu-ray or 1080i and lower for satellite. It may well be that the content is 720p but is being displayed at the TV’s native resolution.

    2. The cables matter. If you’re running HDMI for Blu-ray then you’ll get full performance, but component is geared toward 1080i/720p and lower.

    3. Check your settings. Chances are you had your old setup just the way you liked it, but if you change TVs and have to re-run wires and stuff the old settings may be erased or changed. More likely, you’ll need to make sure your current system is set the way it needs to be first, then go back and make adjustments that you want (like visual and audio tweaks).

    4. New technology is smarter. If you upgraded to a new LED then it may be changing itself to provide the best picture even if you think it should be doing something else. For example, it may source 720p content instead of 1080i if the picture is better.

    Finally, check with your cable provider to see which programs are broadcast in HD and what the specs are in terms of resolution, frame rate, etc. If you’re getting 1080p from your Blu-ray then the 720p is caused by your cable box setup. I can’t help you with that — contact your service provider.

  20. mokain on said:


    I have a 2007 Samsung LN4042 LCD – 40″ which is 720p with a dynamic contrast of 7000:1. I have two questions –

    1. Can I use it in other countries out of US such as UAE (Dubai) or India?
    2. Does the low specs mean that the picture quality would be significantly bad compared to the newer HDTV’s with higher dynamic contrasts – that are thinner etc.

    Basically, I am wondering if i should sell this TV and buy something more latest or is this good enough for watching normal programming and movies as well as playing games?


  21. Electronics Guru on said:


    Thanks for your question.

    From a sales and tech-buff standpoint I would recommend upgrading. There are many HDTVs that are 1080p with contrast ratios of 20,000:1 and higher. You also have to consider that US televisions are NTSC format in 60Hz multiples, which is incompatible with other formats like those outside the US and certain parts of the world.

    You can buy converters and adapters but the quality will be less and the cost is high. Plus if you’re spending money to ship a TV around the globe you could put that money towards a new HDTV instead. It just depends on your budget, expected time in those countries and access to affordable technology.

    But keep in mind that a 2007 HDTV has technology from the previous year or two inside. It’s still a decent TV but features have improved and prices dropped on new sets.

    I hope I have helped!

  22. Hi, I have a Pioneer BDP-120 connected by HDMI to a Samsung 1080p 50 inch (PN50B530). I can’t get any of my Blu-rays to playback in 1080p. It is always in 720p, and when I go to the player’s settings, it won’t let me change HDMI output from Auto to 1080p. Any ideas?

  23. Electronics Guru on said:


    Thanks for your question. Yes, I have a few ideas that might help.

    1. Have you updated your components to the latest software/firmware versions? Many players and HDTVs are purchased and used with outdated versions of software and firmware which can cause problems related to playback, compatibility and enhanced features like exclusive online content, etc. Check your owners manual and the Pioneer and Samsung websites to see if you need to download and install updates for your Blu-ray disc player and HDTV.

    2. Check your HDMI cable. Is it a good cable? Is it seated (connected) properly? Is there another HD connection such as component? Sometimes this will create a conflict and the proper output setting will need to be changed.

    3. Are the player and HDTV directly connected? Running HDMI cables through switchers, VCRs and other devices often causes handshake problems and can trip HDCP which degrades the picture because it thinks you’re trying to illegally copy movies. Make sure each device is HDCP-compliant and is capable and configured to handle 1080p video via HDMI.

    If that of that works I would recommend resetting your devices. Again, consult your owners manuals for proper procedures. The purpose of a reset is to clear any custom settings that may be causing an issue, and will restart the handshake process between devices. Make sure and turn the TV on first, then the player, then the usual disc load and play.

    I hope this helps!

  24. I have 2 Projection TV’s. One is a Mitsubishi 73″ Wide-screen. The second TV is a Hitachi 60″ (4:3 Ratio). The Mitsubishi is capable of 1080i HD and the best possible connection is the Component inputs. We recently had DirecTV installed and have the HD receiver on the Mitsubishi, and the picture quality has greatly increased. My question is in reference to the Hitachi TV : The best possible connection on the Hitachi (Model# 60FX20B) is through the Component Video(Y-Pb-Pr). According to the manual, using this input will produce a 480i maximum resolution. The standard DirecTV receiver (which I’m using now) best possible output is the S-Video. (1) – If I upgrade to the HD receiver and have the Component Video outputs to use, will the picture quality improve and by how much? I completely understand the whole 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i and 1080p thing and know this will NOT be anywhere near “HD”. Just looking for the best picture possible right now. (Also connecting my Xbox 360 (using the Component Video). (2) – Would purchasing an “upscale” DVD player or Blu-Ray player help with picture quality or would it be a waste? Only having one “Component Video” input on the TV, I am looking at purchasing a 4-way Component Video switcher (by RCA) from Radio Shack which offers 4 component ins and 1 component out to run to the TV.

  25. Electronics Guru on said:


    I can’t give you a “how much” answer because there are just too many unknowns. But I can say that if you have a non-HD TV and a non-HD source, switching to component from S-video is going to produce small improvements in picture quality. In fact, the gain might be so small that the time and money invested in switches and upgrades wouldn’t be worth it.

    If you’re going to spend the money for a DVD player that upscales your video — and believe me, you’ll have to get a good one for decent results — you’d be better off going Blu-ray. Think about it: if you spend a little more you’ll have the latest player technology that plays BD’s and upscales!

    Another option would be to place a high-quality home theater receiver between your input and display components. This would allow your disc, satellite and gaming system to be run through a receiver which would simplify outputs and also allow for better sound. You may already have a receiver, but is it ready for HDMI and all the new surround sound modes, does it have an iPod jack?

    Things to consider, for sure.

    If you want to try component then go ahead and do it. Check the return policy for opened items, so if there’s no change or if the system gets too complicated you can return the new stuff. Or you can call and talk with one of our guys about upgrading your stuff. We have lots of really good specials, including BOGO sales on HDTVs, hundreds off Blu-ray players and all sorts of deals to get you setup right. Call 1-866-224-6171 and talk with our specialists. They’re not pushy and are happy to “talk shop” with home theater enthusiasts such as yourself!

  26. jj basilio on said:

    hi, i just bought a PS3, and i am planning to buy a 32″ LCD TV since my old one is a CRT. I’m just wondering if is it ok to just buy the HD ready rather than the Full HD because of the big price difference, for my PS3.

  27. Electronics Guru on said:

    JJ Basilio:

    The difference between an “HD ready” TV and a “full HD” TV is usually the tuner, or lack thereof. HD ready TVs typically lack the internal stuff needed to process over-the-air signals. In other words, if you’re using the TV just as a display for your PS3 you will be fine. I’m surprised you found a TV that lacks (what are now) standard features.

    My biggest concern is that if you’re buying an HD ready TV it may also lack other features such as support for new HD standards for resolution, refresh rate, color space, etc. If the TV seems to be OK in other performance terms but just lacks the tuner or “built-in processing” then go for it.

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