What Is Resolution?

Picture resolution in PowerPoint
© Wendy Russell

The term resolution describes the number of dots, or pixels, that an image contains or that can be displayed on a computer monitor, television, or other display devices. These dots number in the thousands or millions, and the higher their number the greater the clarity and quality.

Resolution in computer monitors

A computer monitor's resolution refers to the approximate number of pixels the device is capable of displaying. It's expressed as the number of horizontal dots by the number of vertical dots; for example, an 800 x 600 resolution means the device can show 800 pixels across by 600 pixels down. In total, this screen displays 480,000 pixels. 

  • 1366 x 768
  • 1600 x 900
  • 1920 x 1080
  • 2560 x 1440
  • 3840 x 2160 (often referred to as 4k resolution)

Resolution in TVs

For televisions, resolution is similar but it is expressed a bit differently. TV picture quality focuses more on pixel density than it does the gross number of pixels. In other words, the number of pixels per unit of area (generally an inch) dictates the picture's quality, not the total number of pixels. Thus, a TV's resolution is expressed in pixels per inch (PPI or P). The most common TV resolutions are 720p, 1080p, and 2160p, all of which are considered high definition.

Resolution in images

The resolution of an electronic image (photo, graphic, etc.) refers to the number of pixels it contains, usually expressed as millions of pixels, or megapixels (MP). Digital cameras and smartphone cameras are usually rated by the number of megapixels in the images they capture.

The greater an image's resolution, the better its quality. As with computer monitors, the measurement is expressed as width by height, multiplied to yield a number in megapixels. For example, an image that is 2048 pixels across by 1536 pixels down (2048 x 1536) contains 3,145,728 pixels; in other words, it's a 3.1-megapixel (3MP) image.

The takeaway

Whether referring to computer monitors, TVs, or images, resolution is an indicator of the clarity and quality of a display or image.