What Does 1080p Mean?

What 1080p is and why it is important in the TV world

When shopping for a new TV or home theater component, people are often bombarded with complex lingo and terminology that can be quite confusing.

One confusing concept is video resolution. One very important video resolution term to understand is 1080p, but what does it mean?

Television with pixel measurements along the side showing 1080 X 1920
Lifewire / Maddy Price

What Does1080p Mean?

Digital displays consist of pixels, which are arranged in rows or lines. "1080p" refers to a display that has 1,920 pixels arrayed horizontally and 1,080 pixels arrayed vertically.

Said another way, the 1,920 pixels on an HD display are arranged in vertical rows crossing the screen from left to right, while the 1,080 pixels are arranged in rows or lines that go from top to bottom. 1,080 (which is referred to as the horizontal resolution) is where the "1080" part of the term "1080p" comes from.

The Total Number of Pixels in 1080p

With 1,920 pixels displayed across the screen and 1,080 pixels running from top to bottom, you end up with a lot of pixels. When you multiply the number of pixels across (1920) and down (1080), the total is 2,073,600. Referred to as "pixel density," this is the total number of pixels displayed on the screen. In digital camera/photography terms, it is about 2 Megapixels.

However, while the number of pixels remains the same regardless of the screen size, the number of pixels-per-inch changes as screen sizes change.

Where 1080p Fits In

1080p is considered quality video resolution for use in TVs and video projectors (currently 4K is higher—equivalent to 8.3 megapixels), but neither holds a candle to the megapixel resolution of even most of the inexpensive digital still cameras. The reason for this is that it takes a lot more bandwidth and processing power to produce moving images than still images. Currently, the maximum video resolution that is possible using current technology is 8K, which finally approaches a digital still camera resolution of 33.2 megapixels). However, it will still be few years before 8K technology becomes mainstream.

Here Comes the "p"

Now that you have the pixel part of "1080p" down, what about the "p?" In short, the "p" stands for "progressive." This refers to how pixel rows (or lines) are displayed on a TV or video projection screen. When an image is progressively displayed, it means that the pixel rows are all displayed on the screen sequentially (one after the other in numerical order).

How 1080p Relates to TVs

1080p is part of the High-Definition (HD) video standards landscape. HDTVs, especially those that are 40-inches or larger, have at least a 1080p native display (or pixel) resolution, although a growing number are now 4K Ultra HD TVs.

This means that if you input signal into a 1080p TV that has a resolution of less than 1080p, the TV will have to process that signal so that it will display the image on its entire screen surface. This process is referred to as "Upscaling."

This also means that input signals with less than 1080p resolution will not look as good as a true 1080p video resolution signal because the TV has to fill in what it thinks is missing. With moving images, this can result in unwanted artifacts such as jagged edges, color bleeding, macroblocking, and pixelation (this is definitely the case when playing those old VHS tapes). The more precise guess the TV makes, the better the image will look. The TV should not have any difficulty with 1080p input signals, such as those from Blu-ray Disc, and streaming/cable/satellite services that may offer channels in 1080p.

TV broadcast signals are another matter. Although 1080p is considered Full HD, it is not officially part of the structure that TV stations use when broadcasting high-definition video signals over the air. Those signals will either be 1080i (CBS, NBC, CW), 720p (ABC), or 480i depending what resolution the station, or their associated network has adopted. Also, 4K TV broadcasting is on the way.