1080p vs. 720p

Here's a question I get a lot. This one's from Kevin Iole, a boxing and MMA columnist for Yahoo! Sports:

I have a 56-inch Samsung HL-R5667W DLP RPTV that I bought in June 2005. It's a 720p television. I wouldn't mind a larger screen, though we're happy with the picture we get on this one. But I keep hearing how great the picture is on a 1080p set. So my question is this: Will I see a significant improvement if I upgrade to a 1080p TV?

If I change, I'll either go with a Pioneer Kuro plasma or stay with DLP but go bigger with something like a 73-inch Mitsubishi. Is this change just throwing money away, or will we see a significantly better picture?

In terms of apparent detail, I suspect you won't see that much difference between 720p and 1080p—with good displays, both look great, even at moderately large sizes. On the other hand, as the screen gets much larger, the visible difference in detail between 720p and 1080p displays does become more apparent. This might be a moot point, since it's getting harder to find anything other than a 1080p display larger than 50 inches these days.

There is one factor that is often overlooked: Most HD content, including Blu-ray and most broadcast, cable, and satellite HDTV, has a resolution of 1920x1080. Blu-ray delivers its content with a 1080p signal, while broadcast HD is delivered with a 1080i signal, but both have a pixel resolution of 1920x1080.

When either type of signal is displayed on a 720p TV, the set must scale, or resize, the image to fit into the 1280x720 pixels of the display. Depending on the quality of the TV's scaler, this can result in visible artifacts that can be very distracting, even on small screens. I don't know if the Samsung you have does this scaling well or not; if you see artifacts such as softness or ringing (halos around sharp edges in the picture), it's not doing a good job.

By contrast, 1080p TVs avoid the whole issue by displaying all 1920x1080 pixels without scaling the image—that is, if they have a so-called "1:1 mode" that disables any overscanning. Look for this critical feature in any 1080p display.

I think the Kuro plasmas are among the very best video displays available today, so you can't go wrong there. But they are also very expensive, especially the 60-inch models, which is what I assume you're considering. The 73-inch Mitsubishi is probably good, but I haven't looked at one closely yet.

How far are you sitting from the screen? This is perhaps the most important factor in determining the best screen size for your situation. At a distance of 10 feet, a screen size of 73-90 inches (diagonal) is usually considered ideal for high-def images. At these sizes, you probably will see an improvement in detail with 1080p compared with 720p. On the other hand, there are no 720p displays available at this size, except for front projectors.

If you have an audio/video question for me, please send it to scott.wilkinson@sourceinterlink.com.

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David Vaughn's picture

Scott brings up a very good point on distance from the screen. Unless you are very close to the screen with a 56-inch set, you most likely will not notice a significant difference in the picture quality. A good friend of mine just upgraded his display to a 50-inch KURO plasma, but he chose a 720p version of the display because he could get it for just under $2000 vs. over $4000 for the 1080p version. The reason? He sits 10 feet away from the TV and at that distance, they looked exactly the same! Best regards, David

The FLAP's picture

I still am wondering the diference between 1080i 60 frames and 1080p at 30 frames. The best judge of a picture is your own eyes and not a spec.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Actually, I think you must mean 1080i at 30 frames per second as opposed to 1080p at 60 frames per second. A 1080i signal sends 60 interlaced fields per second, which results in 30 complete frames per second, whereas a 1080p signal sends 60 complete frames per second?that is, unless it's carrying 24 frames per second from a Blu-ray player. This is a big can of worms, too much to get into here. David makes an excellent point, which I did not state explicitly. If you sit far enough from a screen of any size, there is no visible difference in detail between 1280x720, 1366x768, and 1920x1080. As a result, whether or not you see a difference in detail depends on the screen size and your seating distance. However, even if you can't see a difference in detail, you might still see scaling artifacts.

david vaughn's picture

the scaling is the most important factor to me over the resolution. you want as little processing as possible, which scott mentioned in his blog. in the case of the pioneer, they are abover average in this regard from my limited viewing of their plasma's. scott and tom would be the experts here since they have had them at their disposal for extended periods of time. david

Neil W.Richards's picture

Please someone explain the differences between 1080i and 1080p.Is there a huge difference in picture quality?

Neil W.Richards's picture

Please someone explain the differences between 1080i and 1080p.Is there a huge difference in picture quality?

Scott Wilkinson's picture

This is another common question that causes much confusion. The terms 1080i and 1080p are most correctly applied to the signal that is sent from a source device (disc player, TV receiver, etc.). Moving video images are created by showing a rapid sequence of still images called frames, much like motion-picture film is a sequence of still frames. Video frames are sent as a series of horizontal lines, from the top of the screen to the bottom. A 1080p signal sends each frame in a single pass (which is known as "progressive," hence the "p"), whereas 1080i sends each frame in two parts?the odd-numbered lines followed by the even-numbered lines; this is called "interlaced," hence the letter "i." Many people also apply the terms 1080i and 1080p to video displays, but this is misleading. A display with 1920x1080 resolution can normally accept either type of signal and display each frame in its entirety. In some cases, these terms are used to indicate the type of signal a d

Mahmood Batasi's picture

Hi I have always wondered about the 720/1080p debate. I am running a Sim2 HT300e 720P projector onto a matt white 70 inch diagonal (just 5 ft wide) 16.9 ratio screen. I also sit 10.5ft away from the screen. (I actually purchased the Sim on the strength of the review done by Fred and Tom in Jun e 2005!) In that review, Tom mentioned about screen size being no larger than 7ft and he was right. My 5ft screen picture is nice and bright in a cream wallpapered room. I saw the replacement HT380 machine which is a 1080P model and a Runco 1080p 3 chipper both on a Stewart cinewide screen and while the picture was very very big and smooth, I felt i achieved very similar results in brightness and punch with my smaller screen. Certainly it made me realise how good 720p can look in the right circumstances.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

That's weird, the comment manager said I had more characters than I actually did. Anyway, in some cases, these terms are used to indicate the type of signal a display can accept. For example, a plasma with 1366x768 resolution can probably accept a 1080i signal, but not a 1080p signal, so it's referred to as a 1080i display. As to which is better, that depends on several factors. If the display has 1920x1080 resolution, it must have a 1080p signal before it actually displays the image. If it gets a 1080i signal, it must convert it to 1080p internally, a processed called deinterlacing. Alternatively, the source device might be able to deinterlace, or you could run the signal through an outboard video processor to deinterlace it. If the deinterlacing is done well, it should look fine, but if it's done poorly, it will look lousy. I realize this is a very brief and incomplete explanation; maybe I'll address it with more depth in my next blog.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

One more thing I forgot to mention: Both 1080i and 1080p signals convey video images with a resolution of 1920x1080 pixels in each still frame, and each frame consists of 1080 horizontal lines of pixels. Each horizontal line includes 1920 pixels. At the risk of repeating myself, a 1080p signal sends all horizontal lines in one pass, whereas a 1080i signal sends the odd-numbered lines followed by the even-numbered lines.

Brian Tarling's picture

Great topic Scott! I have a Runco 720P projector. My screen is 110.5 inches (diagonal) and the seats are 14 feet from the screen. B-ray is mastered at 1080p 24 frames. My Runco will not accept 1080p. So the 1080i output from the player would be used. Thus the picture quailty will be influenced by the conversion by the player from 1080p 24 to 1080i 60. Is this conversion done by the player a 'simple' process or will the resulting output vary from player to player? Of course the Runco will then have to scale the 1080i input to 720p. From what I have read the B-ray players don't convert to 720p very well but the Runco scales 1080i hi-def TV to 720p very well. As a secondary issue my Runco has a DVI input, but no HDMI, does this complicate the quality issue with a B-Ray player?

charles velasquez's picture

i just want to say that i see the difference from a 720p to a 1080p set. i'm a proud owner of a pioneer kuro 5080hd and the 5010fd i put them both side by side in my home theater room with the lights dim and the blinds drawn at a seating distance of 9ft. with the 5080 i can some pixelation especially from my cable system here in new york city, also the 5080 scales down the 1080i signal to it's native resolution which is 768p yes the picture looks very clean and sharp but i relaized that i prefer the 1080p set because it looks a lot more realistic and the colors are more punchy and the picture detail and contrast is awesome. know with 1080p set there's no scaling involved and you get a more life like picture especially with one and a half millon extra pixels i know that theres been quite a few comments made on some avs forums that there's no difference between 720p and 1080p, however i see the difference. i'm really glad that i purchased the 5010fd for my theater room and installed the

david vaughn's picture

last year i went from 720p to 1080p and there was a difference in quality. i sit 10 feet back from a 76.5 inch wide screen and the added resolution is noticable, especially from blu-ray and hd dvd. the other added benefit is that i was able to take a lumagen vision hdp out of the chain because i felt the added processing was no longer needed. david

mahmood batasi's picture

Interesting David. You sit nearly the same distance from your screen as i do. When you say that your screen is 76.5" 'wide', do you mean diagonal or across the width? Thanks

David Vaughn's picture

Mahmood, It is 76.5 inches in width, 88 inches diagonally. David

Louis's picture

....you are correct again Scott on your points, you do see a difference in a 93" screen, comparing different front projectors such as my former 720p BenQ PE8700+, and now my updated main projector 1080p BenQ W9000... big difference, even my wife let out a nice "wow" after she first saw the new picture. The image is a lot clearer, motion blur, etc. My budget system: http://forum.hometheatermag.com/photopost/showphoto.php/photo/923/limit/...

Charles's picture

Simply based on the comments above, am I right in saying that the resolution in a 1080i and 1080p are the same, but the method used to deliver them to the eye is different? Thanks!

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