FHD vs UHD: What's The Difference?

Make sense of full HD, ultra HD, and 4k screen resolutions

FHD vs UHD Example
Samsung

When shopping for a TV or home theater gear, consumers are bombarded with confusing terminology. Two of these terms are FHD and UHD. Both are important, but what do they mean?

This information applies to TVs from manufacturers including, but not limited to, LG, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, TCL, and Vizio. Additional FHD and UHD capable devices are made by these and other manufacturers.

What FHD Is

FHD stands for Full HD or Full High Definition and refers to 1080p video resolution. This means that a 1080p TV is an FHD TV. 

  • 1,920-pixel columns are arranged on the screen from left to right, while the 1,080 pixels are arranged in rows or lines that go from top to bottom of the screen. 
  • Each pixel row is displayed on the screen progressively (each row following the other in numerical sequence). This is what the "p" means in 1080p. 
  • The total number of pixels on a screen is determined by multiplying the number of pixels across (1920) and down (1080), which equals 2,073,600 (about 2 megapixels).
  • FHD TVs can be made using Plasma, LCD (including LED/LCD and QLED), OLED, and DLP technologies. DLP and Plasma TVs have been discontinued but are referred to for those that own them or find one used.

The term FHD is used is to distinguish 1080p from other high-definition (HD) resolutions, such as 720p and 1080i.

Samsung FHD TV Example
Samsung

What UHD Is

UHD stands for Ultra HD or Ultra High Definition which is also commonly referred to as 4K.

  • UHD is not precisely 4K, but for consumer TVs and related devices, it is considered close enough. As a result, 4K, Ultra HD, Ultra High Definition, and UHD are often used interchangeably.
  • UHD is 3,840 x 2160 pixels. There are 3,840 (which is approximately 4K) pixel columns arranged from left to right and 2,160 pixels arranged in rows from top to bottom of the screen, which is displayed progressively (2160p). The pixel total is 8,294,400 (approximately 8 megapixels).
  • UHD has four times the pixels (or twice the columns and rows) as FHD (or 1080p). Four FHD images can fit in the space of one UHD image. UHD resolution is twice FHD resolution. 

4K is more accurately 4096 x 2160 pixels, which is slightly wider horizontally but is the same vertically. The total number of pixels is 8,847,360. This standard is used in commercial cinema.

  • UHD TVs primarily use LCD (including LED/LCD and QLED) or OLED technologies.
  • Although UHD is based on resolution, TV makers have incorporated additional capabilities into many UHD TVs and devices, such as HDR and wide color gamut, not normally included in FHD TVs. These enhancements have a bigger visual impact on the viewer than just the resolution. Some high-end UHD TVs incorporating these added capabilities meet Ultra HD Premium standards.
Samsung UHD TV Example
Samsung

What You Need to See FHD

To see native 1080p resolution on an FHD TV you need source devices and content that can supply 1080p (FHD) resolution signals such as:

  • Blu-ray Disc.
  • Select streaming content from services such as Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Vudu, etc., delivered directly on smart TVs or via plug-in media streamer.
  • Select cable/satellite boxes and associated content. 
  • Select digital cameras and camcorders that record 1080p resolution images and video. 
  • Most game consoles.

Broadcast TV is not available in 1080p (FHD). Most stations broadcast in 720p or 1080i HD.

Technically, 1080i and 1080p are the same resolution, but 1080i is displayed using pixel rows displayed alternately rather than progressively. This means only half the resolution is transferred from a source to a TV at the same time. 

Non-HD (SD) resolution sources include:

  • A DVD player or DVD recorder.
  • VHS VCRs.
  • Standard resolution analog and digital camcorders.

A Full HD TV can display lower resolution signals via video upscaling or processing. Upscaling is not the same as true FHD but can provide a much better image than a non-upscaled image. Upscaling quality varies by TV brand and model. Also, if 1080p upscaling is performed by a source device, the FHD TV will detect it as a Full HD signal and not perform further upscaling. 

What You Need To See UHD

With a UHD (4K or Ultra HD) TV, not all you see on the screen is necessarily in UHD. UHD TVs are compatible with the same sources as an FHD TV, but to get full advantage of UHD resolution, the best sources are:

  • UHD Blu-ray Disc: This provides movies in native UHD resolution via a disc format. This requires the purchase of a new player and discs, but the players can still play DVDs and Blu-ray Discs.
  • UHD via Cable: Comcast provides UHD content directly, but the selection is very limited. There is a lack of UHD content on other cable services, except through streaming rather than directly through cable.
  • UHD via Satellite: Available from both Direct TV and Dish Network.
  • UHD Streaming: Netflix, Vudu, and Amazon Prime Video are some of the streaming services that offer 4K (UHD) content. These services are available on media streamers from Roku, Amazon (Fire TV), Apple TV, Google Chromecast, as well as select UHD Smart TVs. An internet speed of 15 to 25mbps is required for stable viewing.

While native UHD content is preferred, just as with FHD TVs, UHD TVs can upscale lower resolution SD and HD content to better match UHD TV display resolution.

As of 2019, there are no over-the-air UHD TV broadcasts available to the general public, although they are on the way

Cables and Connections for FHD and UHD

To get video signals from a source to an FHD or UHD TV there are wired and wireless connection options.

Wired Connections

HDMI: This is the standard wired connection for FHD and UHD source devices. Depending on which version(s) of HDMI a specific cable is compatible with determines the resolution and other features provided in combination with the source device and TV. For UHD TVs use cables labeled "High-Speed". HDMI is found on all Blu-ray/Ultra HD Blu-ray players, most media streamers, cable/satellite boxes, game consoles, and PCs and Laptops. 

HDMI Cable and Connections
DSGpro, iStock, Getty Images Plus, 182461665

Source devices with Display Port, DVI, VGA connections can be connected to an FHD or UHD TV's HDMI inputs via adapters or adapter cables. It is very rare to find a TV with a DisplayPort connection, but you may find DVI and/or VGA connections on some older FHD and UHD TVs.

Composite Video: Analog source devices, such as a VCR, DVD recorder, analog camcorder, or a DVD player with no HDMI output, can be connected to most FHD and UHD TVs using a composite video connection. The signals will be a standard resolution (480i). Composite video connections can't pass HD analog or digital video signals.

Composite RCA Type Video Cable and Connector
Getty Images - KLH49 - Collection E+

Component Video: This connection uses three RCA connectors with Red, Green, and Blue ends. Component video connections were developed to transfer resolutions up to 1080p, but since they are analog in nature and subject to piracy, after 2011, they have been restricted to standard resolution. On most FHD and UHD TVs, component video inputs may be combined with composite video inputs. This means you can't connect a composite and component video source to most FHD and UHD TVs at the same time. 

Component Video Cables Example
Robert Silva

USB: Many FHD and UHD TVs provide at least one USB port. Some TVs may include this only for service use, but most allow playback of still images, video, and audio files via plug-in flash drives. 

USB Port Close-Up
Getty Images, Sharleen Chao, Moment Open Collection, 585918717

Some smart FHD and UHD TVs allow connection of a USB windows keyboard and/or mouse as an alternate way to navigate the TV's menu, such as entering password logins and/or web browsing if the TV includes a built-in web browser.

Ethernet: On FHD or UHD smart TVs, another connection usually provided is Ethernet (aka LAN). This allows integration of a smart FHD or UHD TV into a home network via a router, providing access to the Internet. From there you can install firmware updates, and play audio, video, and still image content stored on a PC or stream movies and TV shows from online services.

Ethernet/LAN Cable
Robert Silva

Wireless Connections

Wi-Fi: Most Smart FHD and UHD TVs provide built-in Wi-Fi. This performs the same function as an Ethernet cable, but since it is wireless it is more convenient if the TV is far from your router. However, Wi-Fi is not as stable as a physical connection, which may result in inconsistent results when streaming video content, especially 4K video content. 

Screen Mirroring/Casting: Another way to view content wirelessly on many smart FHD or UHD TVs is via Screen Mirroring or Casting from a compatible smartphone, tablet, or PC. Depending on the device doing the mirroring/casting, you may have access to FHD or UHD resolution in combination with compatible content.

FHD and UHD TV Viewing Distance

Getting the most out of an FHD or UHD TV not only depends on content sources but also how large the screen is and the distance you sit from it.

Man Watching TV with Remote
Getty Images, mgkaya, collection E+, 173884141

If you have 55 or 65-inch UHD TV, you can sit closer than you can with an FHD TV of the same screen size and still get a comfortable viewing experience. The reason is that the pixels are much smaller on a UHD TV than on an equivalent sized FHD TV. As a result, the distance where UHD TV pixels become visible is much closer.

The table below outlines a range of suggested viewing distances for popular TV diagonal screen sizes (D).

Optimal Viewing Distances for FHD and UHD TVs
Diagonal Screen Size (D-inches) Screen Width (W-Inches) Viewing Distance (Feet)
40 34.9 4.3 – 8.3
43 37.5 4.6 – 9.0
50 43.6 5.4 – 10.4
55 47.9 5.9 – 11.5
65 56.7 7.2 – 13.5
75 65.2 8.10 – 15.6
85 73.9 9.25 – 17.7

For FHD TVs, start with the higher number and move the seating position closer. For UHD TVs, start with the lower number and move your seating back if necessary for a more comfortable distance. At the point you start to see the pixels, or possibly edge harshness, you are too close. 

The Bottom Line

4K Resolution Comparison Chart
Courtesy of OPPO Digital

Depending on your needs and desires, FHD (1080p) can provide a good viewing experience, but UHD (4K) elevates that experience further, especially on larger screens. However, keep the following in mind:

  • It's now rare to find an FHD TV in a screen size larger than 49-inches or a UHD TV with a screen size smaller than 40-inches. Make sure the size you choose fits your viewing environment.  
  • Make sure you have access to content that is most suitable for FHD or UHD viewing (over-the-air, cable/satellite, streaming, Blu-ray, etc.). 
  • Make sure that the FHD or UHD TV provides the connections you need for your other devices (antenna, disc player, media streamer, game console, etc.). 
  • Check the FHD or UHD TV and other devices for features that you desire (refresh rate/motion processing, smart features, HDR, wide color gamut, light output, ease-of-use).
  • FHD and UHD TVs come in a wide range of prices depending on the brand, model, screen size, and features, from the low hundreds to the high thousands.