It’s becoming less of a question today, with 1080p HDTVs dropping in price, but many people still want to know: What’s the difference between 720p and 1080p.

You should know that these designations refer to the resolution of your screen or your projector, whether you’re talking about an HDTV screen, a computer monitor or projection systems. The numbers refer to how many pixels per square inch the image is made up of.

1080p = 1,920×1080 pixels

720p actually equates to either 1,366×768, 1,280×720, or 1,024×768, but the phrase 720p caught on, and it’s how we refer to screens or projectors with image resolution nearly half of 1080p. (But nearly double 460p, which is the resolution of a digital image on an older tube television. This is one reason so many people are upgrading their old television sets to high-definition TVs, even if the old TV hasn’t broken yet.)

Understanding 720p and 1080p really is as simple as that.

Do Pixels Matter?

Either way you look at it, HDTVs of any resolution provide an awful lot of pixels per square inch. Is the difference really detectable to the human eye? This is the next question people looking to save some money ask me.

The answer is, it depends. Your ability to detect different resolutions also depends on:

  • the size of the screen
  • how far away you are from the screen (viewing distance)
  • At about 9.8 feet away or closer, you’ll see a difference between 1080p and 720p with a 50-inch screen. You’ll notice a big difference when you’re closer than 6-and-a-half feet away. So, the answer?

    Small living room + big screen HDTV= 1080p for the best picture

    Incidentally, the optimal viewing distance for a 50-inch screen is about 5.5 feet away. So if you’ve optimized your home theater setup for the best viewing distance and angles, you’ll definitely want to get the best resolution available right now: 1080p.

    Regardless of the size of your home theater, family room or living room, with 1080p screens so reasonably priced now, why not buy the best picture you can?