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Understanding 1080p Resolution in Displays


Now let’s relate this to a video display. This isn’t new, by the way. The NTSC standard was established in 1940 by the Federal Communications Commission.  Part of that standard accounted for the size of an image as it relates to the eye’s ability to resolve the individual scanning lines of the display.  In the past the general rule was, for best perceived picture quality, to have an image with a diagonal measure no more than 1/5 the seating distance.  The advantage of HDTV (and EDTV for that matter) is that we can sit closer, thereby enjoying a larger image.  A movie theater screen subtends a viewing angle of 30 degrees or more and, with the introduction of HDTV and progressive scan displays, so can home video media!

Using a 50-inch Plasma display as an example the dimensions of the actual image are approximately 44 inches wide by 25 inches tall.  This yields the diagonal measurement of 50 inches on a 16:9 display.  The pixel size of the average 50 inch plasma set is about 0.8 mm square.  This translates to approximately .03 inches.  With a .03 inch pixel, a 44 inch wide image requires 1466 discrete pixels.  To keep the display consonant with current resolution formats, the typical product will offer a WXGA capability, which translates to 1355 x 768 (or possibly WSXGA at 1440 x 900).  For a 50-inch set to offer true 1080p resolution (and not 1080p compatibility) it will need a pixel .023 inches in size, or a 25% improvement in pixel density with an attendant increase in manufacturing cost.  Now that we’ve determined the size of the individual display elements, the remaining question becomes "How close must we sit to see individual pixels?"

Assume an average-sized living room.  We hang the plasma on the wall and position the sofa eight feet away.  Now we get to do some math to determine the limits of our ability to see image artifacts based on resolution.  Keep in mind this article is written in general terms, so you scientists out there don't need to stand in line to file corrections!  Using trigonometry, we find that our 50 inch display subtends a viewing angle of about 28 degrees.  We know this because half the image width is (roughly now) 2 feet and the viewing distance is 8 feet.  This creates a right triangle and, using the formula cosine x (half the subtended angle) = adjacent side length (8 feet) ÷ hypotenuse length (calculated to be approximately 8.25 feet), we find x=14.04 degrees.  Multiplied by 2, we find our total viewing angle.

The resolution of our eyes is 12 vertical lines per arc angle (one line per arcminute for 20/20 acuity) times 2.  Now 28 degrees x 12 lines x 2 = 672.  This means we really can't see a display component (pixel) smaller than 1/672 x image width.  Our minimum resolvable element size is about 0.065", or about twice the size of the pixels of the WXGA image! Put bluntly, from 8 feet away while watching a 50 inch plasma TV, the human eye is generally incapable of reliably distinguishing any detail finer than that shown on a true 720p display! 

Of course there are other factors that affect perceived image quality.  The way color is handled, the latency of pixel illumination, motion artifacts and the effects of the algorithms that fit the image data to the native resolution of the display (and more importantly the SOURCE) all play a part in a qualitative assessment of the image.  It‘s safe to say, however, that increasing resolution and image refresh rate alone are not enough to provide a startlingly better viewing experience in a typical flat panel or rear projection residential installation.

So What's the Big Deal? Size!

Now, does this mean that 1080p is irrelevant in most of today's home theaters? Absolutely not! We've just used a singular example to explain why it may not be such an improvement for users with fixed width screens in a particular viewing arrangement. And in truth, this example likely fits the majority of today's home theater environments.

But what does 1080p offer? Two things: increased screen size and closer viewing distances. In particular, 1080p displays (coupled with true 1080p source content like HD DVD and Blu-ray) allow those using front projection systems to suddenly jump up to screen sizes of 100-inches or more - from that same 8-foot viewing distance. So while that 50-inch plasma may not look much different when playing 720p or 1080p content, your new front projector just allowed you to quadruple the size of your display. Hey, that's not bad! The added bonus is that much of the HDTV content available via airwaves and through cableTV and satellite providers is transmitted in 1080i. 1080i content often looks fantastic on 1080p and allows the display to make good use of the additional resolution.

Special thanks to Joseph D. Cornwall
Business Development Manager, Impact Acoustics


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Recent Forum Posts:

Pyrrho posts on April 06, 2014 14:52
WndrBr3d, post: 1027121
Anyone want to hop in the way back machine with me to bring back up this article and how it relates to 4k UltraHD?

You might want to look at the calculator here and the chart and simplified calculator here. Here is the chart:


One thing to keep in mind is that they are based on having 20/20 vision. If you have worse vision, you can sit closer, and if you have better vision, you will want to be farther away than what is indicated there. But for someone with 20/20 vision, sitting only 8 feet from the screen, one would need a TV larger than 61 inches in order for it to make any difference whether one had 1080p or anything with higher resolution (like 4k). And if one is 10 feet away, one would need a TV larger than 76 inches for 4k to matter instead of having 1080p (again, assuming 20/20 vision).

The upshot is, for most people with the size TV and viewing distance that they have, 4k will be completely irrelevant. But many of them will buy it anyway, because when they are 3 feet away from the screen at the store, they will be able to clearly see the difference between 4k and 1080p, but then they will put it so far away from their viewing position that they will have completely wasted their money on the higher resolution. But people have long wasted money in their choices of AV systems, often spending too much on amplification and too little on the speakers, and thus they have inferior sound to what they could have had for the same or less money. But any fool can tell that 4k has more detail than 1080p, and that 120 watts is more than 100 watts. The thing is, often those are not differences that will matter in actual practice, depending on all of the other circumstances involved. And some of the things that matter are hard to quantify (like better speakers), and so people often don't take enough care with those things that make a real difference.
WndrBr3d posts on April 06, 2014 10:24
Anyone want to hop in the way back machine with me to bring back up this article and how it relates to 4k UltraHD?
agabriel posts on October 07, 2007 13:51
I should preface my post with I haven't had a chance to view 1080, my TV runs in 720p mode and for the most part I like it. I also don't run brand new equipment.

So this weekend I upgraded my receiver. I went from a Denon 3801 to a 3803; like I said I don't run new stuff and I wanted upconversion. So I notice two differences one of which is clearer audio and video (this really surprised me). I could never make out all of the audio in the comcast Bengals commercial, I can now. The video also appears clearer and a bit brighter. So, with that said, I think the differences will become more apparent in the next few years. HDMI, despite being a spec for a few years is in my opinion still young and only starting to come in to is own. I think it takes the manufactures and circuit designers a few iterations to really get it right. I think the differences I'm experiencing between the 3801 and the 3803 are perfect examples of this.

So, I think both sides of this topic are correct. I think with the right hardware people will see a difference.

Maybe I'm way off basis, but thats my impression.

Einomies posts on October 07, 2007 10:52
Just google “moire focus test for monitor tweaking”

I'm apparently not allowed to post URLs.
Kolia posts on October 06, 2007 09:39
Nice post Einomies.

Any idea where such a pattern can be found for testing my display?
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