720p vs. 1080i vs. 1080p

More is better with HDTVs

Just about everyone has moved away from standard-definition analog TVs in favor of the much superior high-definition televisions in 720p, 1080i, or 1080p resolutions. 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 HDTV's biggest selling point.

The 1080p resolution has all but replaced 1080i. You can still find TVs with 1080i screens, but they're way less common.

Overall Findings

720 1080i 1080p
1280 pixels x 720 pixels 1920 pixels x 1080 lines 1920 by 1080 pixels
  Interlaced: split into two groups of 540 lines each Progressive scan: Draws all pixels at once

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.

Illustration of a family watching HD television
Lifewire / Tim Liedtke

1080i and 1080p are higher resolutions than 720, but they aren't the same. You should go for 1080p because of the more efficient way it projects images onto the screen.

Screen Resolutions: Bigger Is Better

720p 1080i 1080p
720 lines 1080 lines 1080 lines
Progressive scan Interlaced scan Progressive scan

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

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 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.

Price: You Get What You Pay For

720p 1080i 1080p
More affordable Harder to find Most expensive

The price fo a high-definition TV varies widely. It depends on a lot of factors, including manufacturers and other features. The type of display is just one part of the hardware. Other factors that contribute to the price include display size, availability of smart features, and screen type (i.e., LCD or LED).

In general, however, 720 screens are cheaper than 1080 ones. Within the 1080 tier, progressive-scan displays are more expensive than interlaced. But depending on all of the other factors, these comparisons may not always be the case.

Final Verdict

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.