How to Choose Among 720p, 1080i, and 1080p TVs for 2019 Models

Illustration of a family watching HD television

Lifewire / Tim Liedtke

Just about everyone has moved away from standard-definition analog TVs in favor of the much superior high-definition televisions. HDTVs offer a 16:9 aspect ratio, which is similar in appearance to a movie theater screen, and they are available with higher-resolution screens, which impress with their clarity, color, and detail. Resolution is undoubtedly HDTVs biggest selling point. 

This information applies to televisions from a variety of manufacturers including, but not limited to, those made by LG, Samsung, Panasonic, Sony, and Vizio.

Screen Resolutions

In general, the higher the resolution of a TV, the sharper the picture and the higher the price tag.

The affordable HDTV resolutions are 720p, 1080i, and 1080p — the number stands for the number of lines that create the image, and the letter describes the type of scan used by the TV to display the picture: progressive or interlaced. Resolution matters because more lines mean a better picture. This is a similar concept to digital photos and how dots-per-inch determines print quality.

  • 720p has an image resolution of 1280 pixels by 720 lines. 720p was the first available HDTV resolution. It is still available but is not as popular as it once was now that the prices have come down on the 1080 TVs. By comparison, a 720p TV has twice the resolution of an analog TV picture.
  • 1080i has a resolution of 1920 pixels by 1080 horizontal lines. However, it is interlaced so the lines are painted on the screen in two passes of 540 lines each. The picture quality is fine for slow-moving content but not as desirable for fast-moving objects. 1080i was once the standard in HDTVs but no more. Its quality is not much better than the 720p TVs.
  • 1080p has a resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels, and it is a progressive scan, not interlaced, so it provides a picture with a full 2.07 million pixels. This is currently the best-selling TV format and it provides the best picture of the three models mentioned here.

Which HDTV Format Is Better—720p, 1080i, or 1080p?

Assuming all three of these TV formats are in your price range, 1080p TV is the best selection. The 720p and 1080i models rely on old technology that is gradually giving way to higher-resolution TVs. A 1080p device offers the best resolution and viewing experience. However, for TVs that are 32 inches or smaller, you won't see much difference between pictures on 1080p and 720p televisions. 

The Future of High-Definition TVs

Technology doesn't stand still, so you'll see other high-resolution TVs on the market. The 4K TVs are out now, and it won't be long before the 8K sets are available. Unless being on the cutting edge of technology is important to you — and you have a generous budget — ultra-high definition sets are not the best buys at this time because there isn't much content available that takes advantage of their super high resolutions.

  • 4K UHD: There are 4K televisions out now, but they are expensive. These TVs have a resolution of 3840 pixels by 2160 lines.
  • 8K UHD: Following right on the heels of 4K, 8K UHD should be available soon. No content is currently available for 8K TVs. The 8K TVs offer an astonishing 7680 pixels by 4320 lines.

About the Wide-Screen Advantage

The other improvement of HDTVs over analog TVs is the wide-screen aspect rather than the four-by-three screen. The wide-screen picture is good for our eyes—we see the rectangular wide-screen images better than the older format of analog TV. Our eyes view better from left to right than from to up to down. The ​widescreen also shows more of the on-screen action, which is great for sports and movies. All HDTVs feature the wide-screen aspect ratio, so this improvement doesn't figure into which TV format is better.