video resolutions

Video Resolutions: From Basics to Expert Insights

Video resolutions are the backbone of our modern visual experience, determining the level of detail and clarity in images and videos. To make informed decisions about displays and content creation, it’s crucial to understand these resolutions. In this article, we will delve into the basics of video resolutions, provide a technical introduction, explore various types of resolutions, discuss their aspect ratios, uncover their historical context, share some fascinating facts, showcase famous devices that utilize them, and scrutinize the pros and cons of each resolution type.

What does the number part of my video’s resolution actually mean?

The numbers like 360p, 480p, 720p, and 1080p show how many lines a video has from the top to the bottom. For example, a 480p video is made of 480 lines stacked on each other, and each line is 852 pixels wide. So, a 480p video is 852 pixels wide and 480 pixels tall.

To compare, think about a 720p HD video. It has 720 lines, and each line is 1,280 pixels wide. This makes it more than two times sharper than a 480p video. It can also be watched on a much bigger screen.

Video resolution is the number of pixels contained in each frame.

Video resolution is like the video’s sharpness and clearness. It’s figured out by how many tiny dots (pixels) are in each frame. The most common shape for screens is 16 units wide for every 9 units tall.

More pixels mean a crisper picture, while fewer pixels mean a fuzzier image. When we talk about 720p or 1080p, it’s because we count the pixels in a vertical line down the screen. But for 2K, 4K, or 8K, it’s about the pixels in a horizontal line across the frame.

As per the research findings of renowned scientist and photographer Dr. Roger Clark, it is suggested that the human eye possesses an impressive resolution of approximately 576 megapixels.

Progressive scan versus interlaced

The “p” you see after a resolution number, like in 1080p, isn’t for pixels; it’s for “progressive scan.” This is how we load the pixels in each new frame of a video. In simple terms, it means all the pixels in each new frame show up on the screen at once, which is the best way for digital media.

There’s another way called “interlaced scan,” where pixels for each new frame load in alternating lines. It saves data but can make fast movements look flickery or blurry.

The difference between video resolution and frame rate.

Digital videos are like lots of pictures shown one after the other. Resolution is about how much detail each picture has, while frame rate is about how quickly these pictures change, like how many pictures we show in one second.

Just like you pick the quality of the pictures (resolution) depending on what you want to see, you also choose how fast the pictures change (frame rate) based on the type of action you want to capture and the way you plan to share the video.

The number part of your video’s resolution signifies the number of horizontal lines present in the video from top to bottom. In simpler terms, a 480p video consists of 480 lines stacked on top of each other, with each line being 852 pixels wide. Therefore, a 480p video has a resolution of 852×480 pixels. To put this into perspective, a 720p HD video boasts 720 lines, each 1,280 pixels wide, making it over twice as sharp as a 480p video. This level of detail allows 720p videos to be viewed on larger screens without losing quality.

Basics of Video Resolutions

At its core, video resolution defines the number of pixels in each dimension, typically displayed in a width x height format. Higher resolutions mean more pixels, delivering sharper and more detailed visuals. Let’s explore some popular video resolutions and their intricacies:

SD (Standard Definition)

  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3
  • First Introduced: 1950s
  • Facts: SD was the dominant resolution for decades, offering a pixel count of 720 x 480 for NTSC and 720 x 576 for PAL systems.
  • Famous Devices: Old CRT TVs, VHS tapes
  • Pros: Sufficient for small screens, historically significant.
  • Cons: Low resolution by today’s standards, lacks detail.

Standard Definition, often referred to as SD, was the mainstay of television for decades. It uses an aspect ratio of 4:3 and offers resolutions of 720 x 480 pixels for NTSC and 720 x 576 pixels for PAL systems. SD content is characterized by its lower pixel count, which is a limitation when compared to more modern formats. It is most famously associated with old CRT televisions and VHS tapes.

Standard definition is no longer the standard.

In the past, video quality was split into two categories: standard definition (SD video) and high definition (HD video). Anything below 720 is considered standard definition. Yet, with the ongoing enhancement of screen resolutions on computer monitors and televisions, it has become increasingly rare for content to be recorded in standard definition (SD).

HD (High Definition)

  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9
  • First Introduced: 1998
  • Facts: HD became a game-changer for TV and film industries, offering superior clarity compared to standard definition (SD),  providing a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels (720p) or 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080p).
  • Famous Devices: HD TVs, Blu-ray players
  • Pros: Enhanced clarity, widescreen format.
  • Cons: Can be less impressive on larger screens.

High Definition, or HD, marked a significant leap in video quality. It employs a widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9 and is available in two common resolutions: 1280 x 720 pixels (720p) or 1920 x 1080 pixels (1080p). HD brought about enhanced clarity and was a catalyst for the shift from standard definition to high-definition content. HD TVs and Blu-ray players became the flagship devices for this resolution, revolutionizing home entertainment.

720 resolution (HD)

This is the smallest resolution that’s still classified as HDTV and is commonly referred to as “HD.” Nowadays, most videos are filmed in resolutions of at least 1080 pixels, but 720p (1280 x 720 pixels) can be a suitable choice for smaller web content. Nevertheless, considering that the majority of computer screens now support HD, it’s generally recommended to opt for a higher resolution than 720 when creating content for web use and streaming.

1080 resolution (full HD)

Often referred to as “full HD,” 1080 (1920 x 1080 pixels) has become the industry standard for a crisp HD digital video that doesn’t break your storage space. 1080 is now common screen resolution for newer smartphones.

2K (Cinema 2K)

  • Aspect Ratio: Varies (often 17:9)
  • First Introduced: 1997
  • Facts: 2K is a standard for digital cinema, with resolutions of 2048 x 1080 or 2048 x 1556 pixels.
  • Famous Devices: Digital cinema projectors, some professional cameras
  • Pros: Ideal for cinema projection, greater detail.
  • Cons: Limited consumer applications, not suitable for most TVs.

Moving up, you’ll find QHD (2560 x 1440 pixels) or 2K resolution (2048 x 1080 pixels). These formats offer greater flexibility for editing images, accommodate larger displays, and allow for reframing without any loss in quality.

Cinema 2K, with its 2048 x 1080 or 2048 x 1556 pixel resolution, was established as a digital cinema standard. It caters to various aspect ratios, often 17:9, making it versatile for cinematic projection. While 2K is predominantly found in digital cinema projectors, some high-end professional cameras are equipped to record in this resolution.

4K (Ultra High Definition)

  • Aspect Ratio: 1.90∶1
  • First Introduced: Early 2010s
  • Facts: 4K is becoming the new standard for television and cinema, offering four times the resolution of Full HD, offering resolutions of 3840 x 2160 pixels (UHD) or 4096 x 2160 pixels (DCI 4K).
  • Famous Devices: 4K TVs, smartphones, GoPro cameras
  • Pros: Exceptional detail, superior image quality.
  • Cons: Limited availability of 4K content.

Known as 4K and frequently promoted as UHD (ultra-high-definition television), this resolution technically measures 3840 x 2160 pixels. While it may appear quite similar to 2K for most viewers, it provides filmmakers with additional space for zooming in and making edits. As video editor and director Margaret Kurniawan points out, resolutions like 2K and 4K are primarily designed for theatrical viewing or handling intricate color and graphics work. She adds, “The disparity between 4K and 2K is not significantly noticeable unless you specifically intend to perform close-up edits or adjust colors.” So it matters in post, but it doesn’t matter much when someone’s viewing it.”

Ultra High Definition, or 4K, is fast becoming the standard for television and cinema. It boasts resolutions of 3840 x 2160 pixels (UHD) or 4096 x 2160 pixels (DCI 4K) with a 16:9 aspect ratio. 4K offers exceptional detail and image quality. 4K TVs, smartphones, and cameras, including GoPro devices, are popular mediums for experiencing this stunning resolution.

8K (Super Hi-Vision)

  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9
  • First Introduced: 2010s
  • Facts: 8K represents the pinnacle of resolution, with resolutions of 7680 x 4320 pixels.
  • Famous Devices: High-end 8K TVs, professional video cameras
  • Pros: Unmatched clarity, ideal for large displays.
  • Cons: Scarce 8K content, substantial hardware requirements.

Super Hi-Vision, or 8K, represents the pinnacle of resolution with its impressive 7680 x 4320 pixel display. Its 16:9 aspect ratio ensures a familiar widescreen experience. Although 8K content is still relatively scarce, high-end 8K TVs and professional video cameras are leading the charge in showcasing this resolution’s unmatched clarity, making it ideal for large displays.

Videographers usually don’t have to film in 8K (7680 x 4320 pixels), but this super-high resolution option allows for creating impressive effects and zooming in on distant shots without any blurriness. Leonard mentions that there are two main reasons to use 8K. He says, “One reason is for special effects because it gives us more detailed information, especially for things like green screens or precise editing”. And the other is reframing. You can reframe to a proper close-up and you won’t notice any degradation in quality.”

16K (Beyond the Horizon)

  • Aspect Ratio: Varies
  • First Introduced: August 2018
  • Facts: The future of video resolution, 16K takes detail to a whole new level with approximately 16,000 horizontal pixels.
  • Famous Devices: Limited adoption in select professional applications.
  • Pros: Unprecedented clarity, especially for large-format displays.
  • Cons: Extremely rare, enormous data and hardware demands.

16K resolution typically denotes a digital video or image with dimensions measuring a staggering 15,360 x 8,640 pixels. This terminology can also extend to refer to a display or recording device capable of generating images at this exceptionally high resolution.

Similar to previous resolution standards like 4K and 8K, the name “16K” relates to the sheer number of pixels stretching across the longest dimension of the image, amounting to an impressive sum of approximately 16,000 pixels.

While the dimensions of 15,360 x 8,640 pixels with a 16:9 aspect ratio are most commonly cited, it’s worth noting that variations in resolution may exist depending on the specific application or context in which the footage is employed.