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What is 1080p? What’s the difference between 1080, 720 and 4k? Maybe you’ve never even heard of 4k but there is more than enough video rhetoric out there to make even the most adamant technophile weep tears of geeky sadness. Let’s try to get learned-up before the word-coma sets in.

The very basic need-to-know about screen resolution (sharpness)

When you watch a video, there are two things to consider:

  • Sharpness and clarity of the picture = Resolution
  • The technology and format the video was shot with/in = Production
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If you hear the super-cool AV kids talking about high definition or HD, they are talking about resolution. 1080p, 720p and 4k are all high definition resolutions and normal wide-screen HD resolutions in our industry.

How is ‘resolution’ determined and how can you tell?

1080p-vs-4k-720p-what-is-high-definition-videoWhen a screen projects the image from a video, it scans the images for you to see. The human eye can’t discern the process but all monitors are comprised of vertical and horizontal lines that divide the screen into tiny pixels. How many of these lines are used, dictates the resolution of the screen and typically how large the screen can get until your eye can actually see these tiny squares (pixelation). In the examples above, these resolutions are:

1080p = 1920 vertical lines by 1080 horizontal lines = 1920×1080

720p = 1080 vertical lines by 720 horizontal lines = 1080×720

4k = (at least) 3840 vertical lines by 2160 horizontal lines = 3840×2160

“But hey, how come 4k isn’t 4000 vertical lines?” you ask. The naming of ‘4k’ isn’t based on the amount of lines, like 1080 and 720 but we’ll tackle that later in the article. For now, we need to know how the production, or technology makes these ‘Ultra High Definition’ formats worthwhile or wasteful, depending on what you are wanting to achieve.

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There is one other factor at play here and that is FPS or frames-per-second. Video is little more than a series of sequential images flashed before your eyes in rapid succession to create moving images. FPS dictates how many images are ‘flashed’ in a second. To keep this simple, we’ll say that the standard 24fps is cinematic or gives a filmic, movie quality and 60fps gives a ‘true-to-life’ feel or news, sports, video blog broadcast. This is why certain videos have a distinct ‘tone’ or feel.

Protip: The ‘p’ in 1080p and 720p stands for ‘progressive scan’ and is the common projection format after ‘i’ – as in 1080i (interlaced) – faded from prominence.

How does better technology equal better video and better ‘production’

Screen and display technology typically predates video production, software and capture (camera) technology. This means that consumers end up with TVs and monitors that are capable of far better picture than we can provide. The rapid evolution of consumer technology means that the content was not far behind, however.

4k resolutions must register at least 3840×2160, which we can loosely consider 2160p to keep perspective. These resolutions were named for ease of use, rather than their physical vertical line count (like 1080 or 720). The 4k (UHD) resolution equated to 2×2 1080 screens or ‘Quad HD’ and rounded off as 4kx2k. As we see more and more massive screens at home or high-res monitors on our computers (with terms like ‘Retina Display’), 4k is starting to crest the luxury side of web video.



Now, camera and production technology that can use 4k formatting is more than available and this technology is far better for ‘true-to-life’ storytelling. More importantly, a professional video production company or someone with more extensive savvy can code video to adjust, based on your audience’s technology and Internet connection, so your professional video is always served in the highest possible quality and format.


Brad Dicks

Author Brad Dicks

Brad is a business communicator with a penchant for anything digital. In his exploration of content development, social media strategy, technology and training, Brad has produced hands-on programming for national brands, such as: Loblaw Companies Limited, Apple Canada, Encore Market Engagement and the Music Industry Association.

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