Buying a new monitor is exciting, but jargon-filled spec sheets can leave you feeling overwhelmed. One of the main specs that defines your viewing experience is screen resolution.
If you’ve played around with Windows display settings in the past, you’ve probably come across the word resolution. Changing the resolution can help if you have an overscan problem when using your HDTV as a monitor or if you want to improve your screen quality. But what does resolution mean?
What does screen resolution mean?
Resolution is a measure that describes the clarity of an image displayed on the screen. The term is used for both hardware components such as displays (televisions, monitors, and mobile screens) and software components such as images.
Screen resolution is expressed as the number of pixels a screen produces horizontally and vertically (i.e. width x height).
Instead of writing resolution as width x height, most spec sheets use terms like 720p (HD), 1080p (Full HD), and 4K. These are the most used resolutions, at least currently, although there are also other resolutions such as 1440p, 2K and 8K.
All these resolutions can be expressed in width x height:
- 480p: 640 x 480 pixels (SD)
- 720p: 1280 x 720 pixels (HD)
- 1080p: 1920 x 1080 pixels (Full HD)
- 2K: 2048 x 1080 pixels
- 1440p: 2560 x 1440 pixels
- 4K: 3840 x 2160 pixels
- 8K: 7680 x 4320 pixels
We’ll come back to resolution, but first let’s talk about what pixels are.
What are pixels?
A pixel is a dot on your screen. Together, all the pixels on your screen make up the images you see on your TV or monitor. If you look very closely, you can see each pixel as little dots on the screen.
The more pixels on the screen, the better the image quality. That’s why higher resolution translates to better, sharper images.
For example, a 4K resolution screen is 3840 pixels left to right and 2160 pixels top to bottom. This means that the horizontal to vertical pixel ratio (i.e. aspect ratio) is 16:9.
Almost all screen resolutions (except some like 4K Ultra HD) have a 16:9 aspect ratio. This ensures smoothness so that images on your screen don’t appear stretched or distorted, or have padding around the edge.
Most Common Resolutions
720p, 1080p and 4K are currently the most common screen resolutions. Knowing a bit more about these resolutions is helpful when trying to make an informed decision about your new screen.
What is 720p resolution?
A 720p (i.e. high definition) screen is 1280 x 720 pixels, which means it has a total of 921,600 pixels. 720p was the industry standard ten years ago, but has since been superseded by 1080p. However, 720p is still used on many small screens.
What is 1080p resolution?
A 1080p (i.e. Full HD) display has 1920 x 1080 pixels, which translates to 2,073,600 pixels. That’s more than double on a 720p screen. If you are confused between 720p and 1080p, it is better to choose 1080p. It is currently the dominant resolution in which most television and online content is produced.
What is 4K resolution?
A 4K display measures 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, or a total of 8,294,400 pixels. That’s 4x the pixels on a 1080p screen, or 9x the pixels on a 720p screen. However, 4K displays can also be Ultra HD, which is different from 4K.
4K displays have been around for a while, but only recently entered the mainstream. This is because they used to be quite expensive, but now they are available at a much cheaper price.
Things to consider when choosing a resolution
Now that you know what resolution means, you might be curious about what factors to consider when choosing a screen resolution. The two main things you need to consider are your screen size and screen viewing distance.
If you’re buying a small screen, say 24in, anything beyond 1080p won’t make a significant difference. However, if you’re buying a 65-inch screen, you should at least choose 4K.
The reason? pixel density.
Pixel density is the number of pixels packed into one inch of the screen and is measured using a metric called pixels per inch (PPI). It is important that a large screen has a higher resolution so that the pixel density is high enough to display good quality images.
For example, a 65 inch TV with 4K resolution has a dpi of around 67. Compare that to a 24 inch TV with 1080p resolution, which has a higher dpi of around 91. Although the 65 inch TV has a higher resolution, images will appear sharper on the 24 inch TV due to the higher pixel density.
If you’re shopping for a TV, a ppi of 90-110 is considered the sweet spot. For a monitor, you should aim for a higher dpi of around 200-250 or more depending on your viewing distance. You can use an online dpi calculator to compare screens of different sizes and resolutions.
Another factor to consider is viewing distance, which depends on what you’re using the screen for. If you buy a TV, you’ll likely be viewing it from a greater distance than a monitor. This means you can opt for a slightly lower dpi.
However, if you buy a computer screen, your viewing distance from the screen will be relatively less. A higher ppi will ensure you don’t see any pixels on your screen while you’re using it.
Ready for an upgrade?
If you’ve had your screen for a while and it’s time to upgrade, aim for at least 1080p. If you don’t have a budget and are shopping for a medium or large screen, consider investing in a 4K screen.
When you’re spending big bucks on a 4K display, it’s natural to worry about how long it’ll last. However, 8K is far from entering the mainstream. Although it is available, it is inexpensive.