The resolution of a television is the number of pixels in each dimension that the TV can display natively.
The higher the resolution, the more details the picture has. The resolution is not the only factor in picture quality, but it is the easiest one to understand and notice.
You can watch media that is not in the TV's native resolution. However, watching content in a lower resolution than the TV will not increase the quality. Inversely, you will lose detail if you watch 1080p content on a 720p TV. Learn more about upscaling.
Width in pixels
Height in pixels
|1280||720||HD channels (some are 1080i)|
Which resolution should I get?
(learn more about this here)
A higher resolution might not be worth it for you. The resolution that you need depends on three factors: the size of your television, how close you sit to it, and what kind of footage you are watching (discussed in the next section).
The human eye of a person with 20/20 vision (6/6 in Europe) can only distinguish detail 1/60 of a degree apart (Wikipedia source). This means that at a certain distance, for a specific size, you will not be able to see the full resolution of a television. The chart plots that distance for different television sizes at the four main resolutions (480p, 720p, 1080p and Ultra HD).
Using this data, if you are siting eight feet away from your television, you will not see a difference between 720p and 1080p for a television under 40" in size. Similarly, the new Ultra HD resolution is only worth it if you have a television bigger than 60" and are sitting relatively close to it (more info on UHD vs 1080p).
What content is available in which resolution?
|HD channel||720p or 1080i|
|Netflix||Up to 4k|
Though screen resolution has improved dramatically in the past several years, the quality of available content hasn't managed to keep pace. The content is now the bottleneck. Blu-ray is still the best physical media. HD channels are falling behind as they are either only 720p or 1080i.
More content is being made available in 4k, though the selection is still nowhere near what you see with 1080p. We have compiled a list of some of the more common source of 4k UHD content, which you can find here.
What is the most common native resolution for a television?
720p TVs are rare now. Some 32" and 43" plasma TVs are 720p. With LED TVs, it's rare for even 32" TVs to be 720p nowadays. Most 720p TVs are in the sub-32" sizes.
1080p TVs are the most common. If you buy a TV today, this will most likely be the resolution.
4k TVs have increased their market share in 2014. Every brand has a few of them now, but the prices are still above mainstream level. We list our favourite 4k TVs here.
The resolution is an important factor in the picture quality of a TV, but the resolution you experience while watching is also dependent on the size of your TV and your viewing distance. As the effective resolution will be the minimum between the resolution of the media and your TV, you need high quality media to fully appreciate whatever you're looking at.