What the Term 1080p Means

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

Vizio D-Series 1080p Smart TV Example

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When shopping for a new TV or home theater component, consumers are bombarded with terminology that can be quite confusing.

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

The Definition of 1080p

1080p represents 1,920 pixels displayed across a screen horizontally and 1,080 pixels down a screen vertically.

The pixels are arranged in rows or lines. This means that those 1,920 pixels are arranged in vertical rows that cross the screen from left to right (or right to left if you prefer), while the 1,080 pixels are arranged in rows or lines, that go from top to bottom of the screen horizontally. 1,080 (which is referred to as the horizontal resolution — since the end of each pixel row is on the left and right edges of the screen) is where the 1080 part of the term 1080p comes from.

The Total Number of Pixels in 1080p

You might think that 1,920 pixels displayed across the screen, and 1,080 pixels running from top to bottom, don't really seem that much. However, when you multiply the number of pixels across (1920) and down (1080), the total is 2,073,600. This is the total number of pixels displayed on the screen. In digital camera/photography terms, this is about 2 Megapixels. This is referred to as Pixel Density.

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 near the top of video resolution quality for use in TVs and video projectors (currently 4K is the highest — equivalent to 8.3 megapixels), doesn't hold 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, and 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 we see 8K TVs as a common product offered to consumers.

Here Comes the "P" Part

OK, now that you have the pixel part of 1080p down, what about the P part? What the P stands for is progressive. No, it doesn't have anything to do with politics but has to do with 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 video standards landscape. For example, HDTVs, especially those that are 40-inches or larger, have at least a 1080p native display (or pixel) resolution (although an increasing 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.