All About 1080p TVs

Sony W650D 1080p LED/LCD TV
Sony W650D 1080p LED/LCD TV. Image provided by Sony Electronics

1080p Defined

1080p represents 1,080 lines (or pixel rows) displayed sequentially on a TV screen. In other words, all lines or pixel rows are scanned or displayed progressively, providing a very detailed high definition video image.

What is Classified as a 1080p TV

A TV can be classified or sold as a 1080p TV if it has a native pixel display resolution of the 1920x1080 pixels that are displayed progressively (the "p" part).

What that represents is 1,920 pixels across the screen and 1,080 pixels running from top to bottom. To get the number of total pixels displayed on the entire screen area you multiply 1,920 x1,080, which equals 2,073,600 or approximately 2.1 megapixels.

A 1080p TV also displays those pixels within a progressive scan framework. TVs that can only display images in a progressive scan framework are Plasma TVs, LCD TVs, OLED TVs, and DLP TVs.

NOTE: Both DLP and Plasma TVs have been discontinued but are still referred to in this article for those that own them, or run into a used unit available for purchase.

Also, all TVs with a native 1080p native pixel resolution must scale all 480p, 720p, and 1080i input sources to 1080p in order to display the input signal on the screen. In essence, the 1080p function on your TV may be done with internal scaling or processing or by accepting a straight incoming 1080p signal.

1080p/60 vs 1080p/24

The ability to view1080p images is not only determined by whether your HDTV has the ability to access a 1080p signal directly but also what format of 1080p your HDTV will accept.

Almost all HDTVs that accept a 1080p input signal directly can accept what is known as 1080p/60. 1080p/60 represents a 1080p signal transferred and displayed at a rate of 60 frames-per-second (30 frames, with frame displayed twice per second).

This represents a standard progressive scan 1920x1080 pixel video signal.

However, with the advent of Blu-ray Disc, a "new" variation of 1080p was also implemented: 1080p/24. What 1080p/24 represents is the frame rate of standard 35mm film transferred directly in its native 24 frames-per-second from a source (such as a film on a Blu-ray disc). The idea is to give the image a more standard film look.

This means that in order to display a 1080p/24 image on an HDTV, the HDTV has to have the ability to accept an input of 1080p resolution at 24 frames per second. For TVs that do not have this capability, all Blu-ray Disc players can also be set to output 720p, 1080i, or 1080p/60 signals, and, in many cases the Blu-ray Disc player will detect the appropriate resolution/frame rate automatically.

The 720p TV Conundrum

Another thing that consumers need to be aware of are TVs that may accept a 1080p input signal but may have a native pixel resolution that is actually lower than 1920x1080. In other words, if you buy a TV with either 1024x768 or 1366x768 native pixel resolution (which are promoted as 720p TVs), that means that those TVs can only display that number of pixels on the screen, running horizontally and vertically.

As a result, a TV with a native 1024x768 or 1366x768 pixel resolution must actually downscale an incoming 1080p signal in order to display that signal on the screen as an image.

Also, it is important to point out that some older 720p TVs don't accept 1080p input signals, but will accept 1080i input signals. The number incoming pixels is the same, but they are input in an interlaced format (each row of pixels are send alternately in an odd/even sequence), rather than a progressive format (each pixel row is sent sequentially). In this case, a 720p TV not only has to scale the incoming signal but must also "deinterlace" or convert the interlaced image into a progressive image in order to display the image on the screen.

What all this means is that if you purchase a TV with either 1024x768 or 1366x768 native pixel resolution, that is the resolution image you will see on the screen; a 1920x1080p image will be downscaled to 720p or a 480i image will be upscaled to 720p. The quality of the result will depend on how good the video processing circuitry is on the TV.

The 4K Factor

Another thing to take into consideration is the availability of 4K resolution content sources. It is important to point out that, with the exception of Sharp Quattron Plus sets (which are no longer available), 1080p TVs cannot accept 4K resolution input signals. In other words, unlike 480p, 720p, and 1080i input signals, which a 1080p TVs can scale up and additionally adjust for screen display, they cannot (except for exception noted) accept a 4K resolution video signal and scale it down for screen display.

The Bottom Line

Although you have several options in terms of purchasing TVs with various native display resolutions, as a consumer, don't let this confuse you. Keep in mind the space you have available to place your TV , the types of video sources you have, your budget, and, of course, how the images you see look to you.

If you are considering the purchase of an HDTV smaller than 40-inches, the actual visual difference between the three main high definition resolutions, 1080p, 1080i, and 720p are minimal if noticeable at all.

The larger the screen size, the more noticeable the difference between 1080p and other resolutions. If you are considering a purchase of an HDTV with a screen size of 40-inches or larger, it is best to  go for 1080p at least (although there are lot of 1080p TVs available in screen sizes of less than 40-inches). Also, consider 4K Ultra HD TVs in screen sizes 50-inches and larger (although there are 4K Ultra HD TVs that start in the 40-inch screen size).

For additional information on 1080p, especially its similarities and differences with 1080i, as well as what you need to get the most out of your HDTV, check out my companion articles: 1080i vs 1080p and What You Need to High Definition Resolution on an HDTV.

If you are shopping for a new TV, check out my suggestions for 1080p LCD and LED/LCD TVs 40-inches and Larger, 720p and 1080p 32 to 39-inch LCD and LED/LCD TVs, and 4K Ultra HD TVs.