720p and 1080p explained
720p is the shorthand name for a category of HDTV video modes. The number 720 stands for the 720 horizontal scan lines of display resolution (also known as 720 pixels of vertical resolution), while the letter p stands for progressive scan or non-interlaced.
Progressive scanning reduces the need to prevent flicker by filtering out fine details, so sharpness is much closer to 1080i than the number of scan lines would suggest. A 720p frame has about 1 million pixels. Compared to it, a 1080p frame has 2 million pixels so the amount of detail doubles. However in practice the difference between 1080p vs 720p is not as obvious as the one between standard definition vs high definition (480p vs 720p). For example a regular DVD isn’t even considered high definition because it is either 720×480 (NTSC) or 720×576 (PAL) but it looks much better than regular NTSC or PAL TV broadcasts and not as great as 720p. That being said, you do get more detail from 1080p than from any resolution if you have the “winning” formula for screen size, resolution and viewing distance – that is if you have the optimum conditions to get the most out of 1080p.
The number 1080 represents 1,080 lines of vertical resolutions (1,080 horizontal scan lines), while the letter p stands for progressive scan (meaning the image is not interlaced). 1080p can be referred to as full HD or full high definition although 1080i is also “Full HD” (1920×1080 pixels). The term usually assumes a widescreen aspect ratio of 16:9, implying a horizontal resolution of 1920 pixels. This creates a frame resolution of 1920×1080, or 2,073,600 pixels in total.
The only pure 1080p content comes from high definition DVDs like Blue Ray and HD DVD. Regular DVDs are way below that, having just 480p or 576p. You also get HD content from TV broadcasts but for now only 1080i and 720p. Basically 1080i offers pretty much the same amount of detail as 1080p but the quality of fast moving scenes is a bit inferior to 1080p. To understand this better read the 1080p vs 1080i guide. 720p content will of course look the same (or very similar) on a 1080p screen as it does on a 720p screen because what also matters is the content resolution not just the screen resolution.
Here is a sample with the difference between 720p and 1080p:
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